Dune. (computer game) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Wayne N. Kawamoto
What's so special about a barren planet, some spice, and two warring factions drawing lines in the sand? When combined with the theme of Frank Herbert's renowned novel and Virgin Software's technical wizards, you get the computer version of Dune.
While Dune purists will scoff at any computer (or movie) version of their beloved book, Virgin's Dune flawlessly blends adventure with strategic elements (while taking liberties with the original story). It offers compelling game-play, good characterizations, and stunning graphics influenced largely by the David Lynch movie. And unlike most movie-based games, it succeeds.
Dune is the sweltering planet whose redeeming feature is its exclusive natural resource--melange. The ability of this spice to prolong life and bend space and time makes it the most valuable commodity in the universe.
The emperor, who controls the spice, offers mining rights to your House of Atreides. Your bitter rivals, the Harkonnens, have been successfully mining the spice at the expense of the indigenous population--the Fremen tribes, who have been enslaved to extract the ore.
As Paul Atreides, you must provide the leadership to persuade the Fremen to side with you against the Harkonnens and eliminate their threat from the planet. This involves slowly recruiting and building your forces.
But there's more. In return for the right to mine the spice, the emperor demands an ever-increasing percentage of your yield. Cross him, and his collection agency stops at nothing short of killing you (game over) for failing to send his cut. So you must also maintain your shipments of spice and ensure that your forces are diligently mining it.
Supernatural elements also play a key role in the game through visions, mental communication, and the Fremen prophecy of a great leader who will release their people from bondage.
As your forces grow, you have to keep track of your troops and assign them to the various tasks, including prospecting, spice mining, and military training. Besides dealing with the emperor and outright attacks from your friendly neighborhood Harkonnens, there are the giant sand worms (which play an important role later in the game) that destroy your mining operations.
The interface is straightforward and easy to use--especially with a mouse. The main screen depicts the scene through Paul's eyes, and an options window tells you what you can do in each scene.
The game's graphics--particularly in the character closeups and the travel sequences through various times of the day--are excellent. Also, the music and sound effects are first-rate (with an audio card).
The only negative aspect is the sparse manual. The authors seem far more concerned with providing biographies of the game's designers (who, admittedly, deserve a lot of credit) than adequately explaining how to play the game.
In Dune, the hours fly by like the sands of time, and the game succeeds with a strategic line that is refreshingly different from those of other adventure games, with a strong sense of theme and character.