Saturday, August 18, 2012

Dune II For MS-DOS

Today I'd like to talk about the classic DOS game, Dune II. Unfortunately, I can't seem to get past the copy protection, so most of this is going to have to come from my memory. My crappy, crappy memory.

Dune II is a very early real time strategy game. It was released in 1992 by Westwood Studios, who would later develop classics like the Command And Conquer and Red Alert games. Though it may not be the first, it established nearly all of the elements a modern RTS game follows, such as a tech tree, base construction and resource gathering. You play as one of three houses in the Dune universe, each vying for complete control of Arrakis. House Atreides, Harkonnen, and Ordos. The Atreides sport the most durable buildings and sophisticated vehicles, but their equipment costs the most. The Harkonnen troops and vehicles pack the most firepower, but their units are slow and their buildings are prone to decay even when they're not under fire. The Ordos rely on speed and subterfuge as well as their trade skills rather than raw firepower. They are the only house that can purchase units instead of building them, and they have units at their disposal that can coerce the enemy into fighting for them. 

The setup for Dune II should be familiar to anyone who's ever played an RTS: In most levels, you start with a small outpost, some spice for currency and a handful of units for defense. You harvest more spice, build up your base, construct combat units, and sick your strike force at the enemy. Once they're wiped out and you control the current region, you select another region to invade from the world map until you control all the regions of Dune. As your influence grows on Dune, you'll face the combined forces of the two other houses, and eventually the Emperor's own Sardaukar army.

Dune II is an impressively complex game that's still very playable 20 years after it was released. Since the three houses have their individual strengths and weaknesses, they each require a unique strategy. The Atreides are probably the most powerful house, while the Ordos offer the most challenge. The VGA graphics are detailed and colorful, but they're pretty low-res, making the individual units look more like piles of Lego blocks. The sound, however, is spectacular. Dune II makes extensive use of digitized voices in the same manner as a modern RTS (alerts for completed buildings, units, etc.) which is impressive for a game originally distributed on a stack of floppy disks. RTS veterans will be frustrated by the inability to give orders to more than one unit at a time, as well as the rather stupid unit AI, which will often sit idly by as enemies march right by them. Looking back from today, I'd say Dune II's biggest failing is its lack of multiplayer. In 1992, networked gameplay was rare to say the least, but these days, RTS games live and die by their multiplayer support. Without it, Dune II doesn't have the near-infinite replayability of later RTS games like Starcraft or the Red Alert games. Nevertheless, it's great fun, and an important milestone in the history of video gaming. 

Thanks for reading my review! Next week, we battle the Ur-Quan Masters for control of the galaxy in one of my all-time favorite games, Star Control 2.

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