GameOver Game Reviews

Game & Publisher Dune 2000 (c) Westwood Studios - A Second Look




Note to the readers: The point of this review, as opposed to the review by Dtoxr, Prolix and Ned is to present Dune 2000 in the view of two original Duners, people who look at this game not from the point of view of how it compares to Red Alert or Total Annihilation, but how it plays as a Dune. If you wish to acquaint yourself with the point of view of people who look it from the contemporary gaming theory, please click on the link above to be taken there. The reviews below represent somewhat more of a nostalgic outlook on it. - Pseudo Nim, Jackal

Divider Left By: Pseudo Nim Divider Right

'Dune. The land of sand... home of the Spice Melange'. You've most definitely heard of Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty, released back in 1992 by Westwood (unless you've been living in a trailer park and using smoke signals to communicate with the world). The infamous ancestor of all RTS games, Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty has recently been recreated by Westwood... and it's a really mixed bag.

Much can be said for and against the new Dune, but one thing's for sure - it, unfortunately, is not the same ground-breaking game as Dune II was. Many things in Dune 2000 are straight derivations from the Command and Conquer series (for those of you who'll argue C&C is a Dune ripoff, you're right - but so much more shame for ripping off a ripoff). However, there's much more to it than might seem from the first impression.

The concept is the same as that of Dune II. You control one of the three Houses that came to fight for the Spice on Dune - House Ordos, House Atreides, or House Harkonnen. The choice of weaponry is rather similar between all the houses with a few subtle differences. The insidious Ordos, helped by the smugglers, mercenaries and other for-profit organizations, posess the Raider Trike, which is a vastly improved version of the normal Trike. They also have the evil Deviator, that is a sample of banned, illegal biological weaponry provided by the friendly grey-area marketeers. Its action is to psychologically afftect the targeted unit and let you gain control of it for a certain amount of time. The Harkonnen are a heavily domination-and-destruction-tilted House, with the weapon power far exceeding that of the other houses - and they have the Elite Troopers, the Sardaukar, and the Devastator Tank to prove that. And the Atreides ... the Atreides is the only House in the game to possess the Ornithopter (heretoforth referred to as the 'Thopter), which is the only flying offensive unit in the game. The Atreides also have the Sonic Tank - a tank that emits a high-amplitude sound wave which shatters armor and bones.

There are more interesting units, one of which is the Carryall. Contrary to the name, it doesn't 'carry ALL' - you can't transport arbirtary units to arbitrary locations, however, you can use them to transport Harvesters to and from the spice fields, as well as pick up units that are to be repaired. Given that they travel by air, it's a truly great companion to the Harvester, since they're just about indestructible from ground and travel at very high speeds.

On the complaint side, I find the game was somewhat 'dumbed down' from the original. For example, no longer can you build the Heavy Troopers on the Harkonnen side; no longer do you have the different building names for different Houses (or specialized buildings, such as the Wor for the Harkonnen Heavy Troopers). Also, the buildings no longer get damaged by wind and the environmental factors - you're no longer forced to check on your base every five minutes to see if a light infantry unit can take it out in one shot. And on the cosmetic side, I find the Quads look a slight bit too small compared to the Trikes and the general infantry units, and dammit, what did the Westwood people do to the original cute-looking Harvester?! It looks like a damn ... harvester now! It used to look like some sort of cute insect before, though, befriending you and making you want to protect it from the enemy.

The gameplay in the game is great. Though some may complain about the graphics or lack of difference of units, I believe that's a high point for the game in this case, given a) the historical values and b) the simplicity of play. No longer do you have to experiment with Templars to see how many Zerglings can eat it alive, or with Stealth Bombers to see how many of them you need to take out a Plasma Cannon - provided you played the original, you're set to go. And the graphics... they just match the style of gameplay. You're not on some lush green landscape, or on some ice-covered obscure planet - you are on Dune - The Land of Spice, and the sandy look and feel is but one of its properties. Were you playing a game with a North Pole setting, would you complain that there were no lush green landscapes with critters jumping around, chirping and trying to bite your leg off? Didn't think so.

The missions are very thoughtfully designed. Although parallels can be drawn between the three Houses' paths to power, the challenges are different and the conditions of victory are different. The AI is a bit lacking, though - too often did I find myself swearing at the dumbness of the Combat Tanks that'd go around to the front entrance, which is usuually well-protected - rather than waiting for my 200 units to go through the narrow passageway that I opened up in the back. A neat feature is, though, that you can select many units at the same time. And by many I mean many - so many in fact, that I didn't see a limit yet, and I'm absolutely sure I had at least 60+ selected at a time. And it's not slow, either - on my P200 the speed's just right.

A few disappointments to mention, when drawing parallels to the original, which I'm sure some people would find to be pluses instead, and some people wouldn't even notice. One is the interface: it's 100% derived from the C&C games. That doesn't feel right... I want the old status bar that would tell you what was happening; I don't want the Construction Yard toolbar to be available (I still prefer the old way), and, most of all, I don't want the Power Meter - I'd rather appreciate being able to click on the Windtraps to get the accurate output/used reading from it directly. I understand that the C&C interface is a trend, but, in a way, it's similar to a console Unixer who just doesn't want a GUI - he loves his command prompt, and so I love the old style of Dune. I'm sure it wouldn't have been too hard for Westwood to have a menu option to switch interfaces... oh well.

On the sound note, it's a mixed bag as well. The music is incredible - while being somewhat quiet it has this epic feel to it, and somehow adds to the atmosphere of the game. However, the speech, at least that of the House Ordos, is simply appalling. The speaker has a British accent, which is usually a great asset, since it's stereotyped as either a speaker of the aristocracy or a speaker that possesses high power - but it has been completely screwed up in Dune 2000. The voices sound like they're coming from a well - and like the person talking has a metal bucket over his head. Not only that, but an echo/noise effect has been added to them in SoundForge. Result? Totally metal voices, without any life or emotion to them whatsoever, and sounding like, well, voices from a well covered with a metal bucket. The other houses are somewhat better, at least.

Some more differences with the original (I keep jumping from this topic to general description and back to this topic): you can no longer select sandworms to see how much you've damaged them. They're still destructible - but you don't know how close you are to killing one. and it doesn't give you much benefit to kill one, either - as another will come in a few minutes from the neighboring war area.

A word has to be said about videos. It seems that the tradition of Westwood has become to, no matter what the gameplay is like, to spice up the game with incredible cinematics (Blade Runner, anyone?). It stays true for Dune 2000 - the videos are filmed, with just the right balance of acting and computer animation. The acting isn't bad; however, I didn't find it to be the film-quality acting of the Wing Commander cast. It is, however, worlds beyond the Crusader acting, which remains, so far, the absolute worst acting I've ever seen (in a game that I totally adore, that is - I'm sure there are lots of budget titles with crappy cinematics and crappy gameplay). And the intro... it's the original, great intro redone using fancy computer graphics and spiced up with artistic-sounding voice acting... which absolutely broke it for me. The voices in Dune speak much too fast, without paying due respect to the graveness of the story, without pausing at statements that should raise thoughts, fears, anger, sadness, happiness, joy - all that is absent, as the only real feeling you get from the videos is that the actor wants to get his speech over with. On the other hand, even the original Dune's speech sounded with a PC speaker (read: off), especially in the intro, where the only way to hear the beautiful intro music was to switch to PC speaker mode.

It's hard to rate Dune 2000. More so, given this is not a review per se, no rating is attributed to it - some people would rate it at 40, some at one star, some would give it a 90, some five stars, and there'll be zillions of reviews in between (all according to the almighty Bell Curve). I believe it's a mid-80%'s game, but then again, I might have some personal bias towards it. It's a great Dune follower, but it's not an amazing technology breaker like the original was. It has its fortes, it has its weaknesses - for example, the whole C&C interface idea really saddened me. On the other hand, I don't know if the idea of Westwood was to create something groundbreaking or just to create something with nostalgic value, or just a usual cash-in, which wouldn't be too much unlike Westwood, given the long line of C&C games. The technology breaker will, most likely, be C&C2, but... I still believe that Dune 2000 is a great game, given the fact that it's a Dune. Period. For the kiddies who want the flashbang graphics, Aureal 3D sound, 3Dfx-accelerated tanks, and colored lighting, go look elsewhere - this belongs to the category of games which you play out of plain love and respect to the series. And in that respect, Dune 2000 most definitely succeeds.



  

  
Divider Left By: Jackal Divider Right

Dune 2000: Is it worth your while?

Ned's answer: no. That's a reasonable response, Ned raises some pretty good points against Dune. It offers nothing new in gameplay or game engine. The graphics are good, if this were 1997, but they look dated out of the box. The sound is adequate, but nothing special. There are already a pile of clone and conquer games out there, so why add another to the heap, especially since seemingly has nothing new to offer? All true. Yet I say there is value in Dune 2000. It may seem derivative, but that is only because it is a remake of the proto-typical RTS game.

When Westwood produced Command and Conquer, which I'm sure was, for most of you, your first real time strategy (RTS) game, it was originally going to be Dune III, but it was decided early on in development that there wasn't enough to the dune franchise to warrant the game, not when C&C could potentially be a more mainstream product. So what did Westwood do? They took the basic game design, and added the Dune II wishlist- multiplayer, bigger armies, more units, more maps, better graphics and sound. And they had a hit, C&C, as we all know.

Dune II was a great game, for its day. It is also the first real RTS game out there. Imagine all the fun you've ever had, playing RTS, in a single package - well, that was it back then. Some of us played it to death, much to the detriment of real life, which had to take a back seat. Some of us learned all the nuances of the game, the way the music would pick up in intensity just before a big attack came down on you, how to kill a harvester or tank with just a single rifleman, how to sneak and divert the enemy forces, how to win.

Following the success for C&C the industry responded with clones. Every publisher had to get a product out in this new genre, and much crap was produced. Some of us, the early adopters of RTS, became somewhat jaded, and refused to get fully on board the RTS bandwagon, just as many of you have now hopped off. While I haven't played Dune II for a few years now, it did stay on my hard drive for at least three years, which puts it up there with other classics, like Railroad Tycoon and Civilization. Classics can be dated and still be fun.

Whatever Westwood's thinking, and Ned is probably right, I expect this is a quick cash grab since they had a now redundant engine in Red Alert sitting on the shelf, Westwood has hit a certain niche with Dune 2000. Dune 2000 answers most of my complaints with Dune II. It has multiplayer, the starports work correctly, the screen is larger, the army/base size is unlimited. Give me the same old game, the fixes above, and suddenly I'm a happy guy.

There is much that is unchanged - thankfully; and most of the changes are positive. The game itself is, for the most part, the same. The level maps are pretty much the same, the strategic map is unchanged. The units, the buildings, their characteristics are all the same. I'm glad Westwood resisted the temptation to add new units, if they had done so, they would have robbed Dune 2000 of it's raison d'Ítre - to be what Dune II should have been. The music quality is better, but the composition has suffered. I was happy to hear some of the original music re-scored but there isn't enough of it. The new music lacks the intensity of Dune II, and music really is part of the Dune 2 experience. When battles occurs, the music would pick up, during a lull, the music softens. Dune 2000 fails to do this - what a shame.

Summary:

If you are looking for a cutting edge gaming experience, with wiz bang graphics and sound, new gaming concepts, new things to do, this is absolutely not the game for you. It has nothing to offer that has not been done to death already.

If however, you are looking for a bit of nostalgia or are curious to see what started the RTS gaming trend, check this out. It certainly is not worth the shelf price, but it's worth your while to give it a try.

I welcome your comments.