Emperor: Battle for Dune
Emperor: Battle for Dune is a follow-up to Dune II, which is widely considered to be the first RTS game. This installment follows the struggle of the three "Great Houses" of Atreides, Harkonnen and Ordos to control the planet Arrakis, also known as Dune. The storyline borrows from both the literary and feature film versions of the story for the world setting and general feel of the plot.
The story begins following the assassination of the reigning Emperor. Prior to his death, the Emperor had set in motion a great war for control of the governorship of Arrakis, in the hope that the great Houses would destroy each other and thus eliminate all competition for his position. The three Houses now compete for the Emperor's vacant position. The prize will go to the House capable of controlling the most territory and thus the spice Melange, which exists only on Arrakis; the spice is the secret to extended life, space travel and other such things.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Gameplay is pretty typical RTS fare. The majority of gameplay revolves around building a base, defending the base, collecting resources, building troops, finding and killing the enemy. A few of the missions include objectives such as rescuing a lost commander, but most are typical "destroy the enemy and take over his territory" type missions.
In the single-player mode, you may choose either a single skirmish battle in a variety of game locations, or campaign mode in easy, medium or hard difficulty settings. You may play as any of the three Houses, and the storylines and units vary somewhat depending on the chosen House.
One place where Battle for Dune does differ from many RTS games is that it offers some degree of non-linearity in the campaign mode. You are presented with a simple Risk-like map that represents the territory controlled by the various factions. You may choose one of several different territories, which represent various phases of the campaign, to pursue. Unfortunately, there are usually only two or three choices at a time, so the game is still fairly linear.
Another interesting gameplay feature is that you may choose to form alliances with various sub-Houses, such as the Fremen warriors made famous in the Dune movie. These alliances allow for the construction of special units unique to the sub-House with which your House has allied. Attacks from the invincible Sand Worms and sandstorms that can damage your units and buildings provide additional obstacles to victory for both sides.
The interface is fairly straightforward. You are presented with an on-screen button menu; click to select functions such as constructing buildings, training new infantry, repairing or selling buildings, and setting patrol routes. A radar screen is also provided for viewing the game map and maneuvering over large distances.
Collecting spice is the only real resource-gathering event in this game and is more or less automated once you have constructed a refinery. The menu buttons make base construction a snap. Controlling your troops can prove to be a more difficult and often frustrating experience.
While both the mouse and keyboard shortcuts provide some means of "grouping" various units together, it is still difficult to get your troops to function well as a team. They will often run into each other and just stop, and you must go back and manually move troops around to get them where they are going. I also found it difficult to move individual units into good attacking and defending positions quickly enough to be of any benefit in the generally fast-paced battles.
Both enemy and unit AI leave something to be desired. Units will often ignore height advantages, walk right into enemy gun turret fire, and get run over by vehicles when they could easily avoid these situations. Getting your troops to behave in a semi-intelligent manner when attacking or defending requires a large amount of tedious micro-managing.
The game provides support for up to 4 players via LAN or Westwood Online's matching service for skirmish and deathmatches. You can customize the amount of money, starting equipment and various other features or even set up your own custom match. Two players may also elect to play a co-op campaign, in which both players are given units and may work together to accomplish campaign goals.
The matching service is fairly speedy and lag wasn't much of a problem when I played. The skirmishes and deathmatches were more interesting than playing a skirmish against computer AI, but I found myself getting bored with them fairly quickly. I enjoyed the two-player co-op mode more than the skirmish mode, though it also failed to capture my interest.
Battle for Dune is set in a fully 3D environment. The buildings and units look pretty good, but the terrain is uniformly blah. Although battles take place in environments as diverse as a desert, a water world and an ice-covered planet, the only real difference in the look of the terrain is the color. The buildings and infantry units suffer from too much similarity as well. The Harkonnen troops are usually easy to pick out because of their red color, but the colors of the Atreides and Ordos troops are very similar and it can be easy to mix up which infantry belongs to which side. The cut-scene movies benefit from very high production values and resemble the feature film Dune. However, they do suffer from some amount of graininess and overacting. Overall, the graphics don't hinder gameplay that much, but they don't do much to enhance it either.
The audio for the game is very nice. The game includes a variety of digitized speech that ranges from updates on the status of reinforcements to mission objectives to interesting, sometimes amusing quips from the various units in your army. Westwood did a good job of giving the various units distinct personality through their lines when you select them or give them a command. The music has a nice sci-fi movie score sound to it. The sound effects from the vehicles, units, and other special effects are all fairly convincing.
Pentium II 400 MHz or faster processor, Windows 95/98/2000, 64 MB RAM, 700 MB hard disk space, 4X CD-ROM drive, 16 MB video card, DirectSound-compliant sound card, 3D hardware accelerator
Unfortunately, Emperor: Battle for Dune doesn't rank high on the originality front. The game has a very old-school RTS feel to it and while it incorporates some interesting ideas, it doesn't do much with them. The Dune-flavored units and obstacles add something different to the game world, but overall the game feels more like Command and Conquer in Dune clothing than an entirely new game.
Fans of "classic" RTS gameplay and the Dune books/movie will probably enjoy this game. Westwood doesn't do much that is new with the RTS formula, but they don't really do anything to screw it up either. For those looking to move beyond standard RTS gameplay, this is not the place to look. While Emperor: Battle for Dune has no glaring problems, it also has no standout features to separate it from every other RTS game out there.
I found myself getting bored with this game fairly quickly. The battles can be tedious. The cut-scenes are often silly and almost always over-acted, and as you move deeper into the game they taper off rather than building up to a big finale. The replay value is diminished by the fact that even on the hardest setting the game is more frustrating than challenging, and the Houses do not differ enough from each other to justify playing the campaign again as a different House.
The bottom line: The story is ok. The graphics are ok. The interface is ok. The game is ok. However, there is nothing about Emperor: Battle for Dune that will make the average player sit up and go "wow." To paraphrase a friend of mine, it didn't suck, but it didn't knock my socks off either.