Emperor: Battle for Dune Review

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Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Westwood Studios


Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC

Windows System Requirements: Pentium II 400 MHz, 16 MB video card, 700 MB HD space, 64 MB RAM, 4x CD-ROM

The Emperor is dead. Slain by the hand of a Bene Gesserit assassin, his demise has created a power vacuum that three great Houses seek to fill. Shortly before his death, the Emperor instituted a type of formal warfare between the three Houses of Atreides, Harkonnen, and Ordos. The battleground is Arrakis, a vast desert world known to the universe as Dune. Dune is also home to the Spice Melange. The Spice is necessary for space travel, and can prolong human life or inspire oracular visions. The Spice is power. The House that controls Dune controls the Spice, and the House that controls the Spice controls the Emperor's throne and the universe.

Emperor: Battle for Dune is the newest Real-Time Strategy (RTS) from Westwood Studios, set in the world created by Frank Herbert in his epic novels, and made a surreal reality by David Lynch's 1984 film. The player can command the military forces of any one of the three great Houses, in skirmishes or in extended campaigns for control of Dune. Each of the houses has an array of unique units, and can ally with five lesser Houses to add considerable tactical variety. The game is three-dimensional, and can be played alone or with up to seven other players.

Rating:
Kyle Ackerman


Emperor: Battle for Dune is an entertaining, but not groundbreaking game that will have a greater appeal to a hardcore RTS fan looking for a fix than the casual gamer looking for a new purchase. Even so, Emperor: Battle for Dune has a lot to commend it. The Dune universe is a rich one, thanks to many years of Herbert's writing, and the visually stunning (and stunningly odd) movie by David Lynch. This game works to capture as much of that depth as possible in its plot and graphics, and does so fairly well. The plot is involved (for an RTS), and different for each great House. There are enough cut scenes that each house merits its own CD, and they take you from your first, tentative assignment to victorious control of the planet. The acting is good by computer gaming standards (sketchy by any other), and fails to interact well with the beautifully rendered backgrounds and animation. The plot of the cut-scenes was also heavily weighted toward the beginning of a campaign, leaving me to slog through territory after territory until I reached another House's palace and earned an additional cut-scene.

The in-game graphics were appealing, but ultimately monotonous. The deserts and rocks of Dune are all you see, barring a few short trips to the homeworlds of the three great Houses. Perhaps my greatest concern with the graphics is the whole 3D engine. It was pretty. Infantry slowed when they climbed uphill, and mortar shells arced gracefully, but I don't really know what it added to the game. Westwood deserves credit for simple-to-use camera controls, but in playing two complete campaigns, I only ever zoomed the camera in once to take the screenshot you see below.

At the time I write this, I have completed the Atreides and Ordos campaigns. I thought that they were different enough in background story, units and objectives to be interesting. They also shared some common gameplay issues. The entire early campaign is simplicity itself. The endgame is then so difficult that victory becomes an issue of willpower more than skill. On most maps, extra units are scattered around the map, and will join the player that locates them first. Many a battle was won quickly by having one of my starting units find the Sarduakar on a map, grouping the Sarduakar units, and wiping out the enemy base. Be prepared to experiment, as the manual fails to fully explain the functions of some of the units. For example, the Ixian projectors (which create holographic units) can move after imaging units. I was terrified to move them for fear the holograms defending my base would disappear.

The campaign interface is a simple, appealing affair that gives you some control over the battleground. The number of surrounding areas you control influences the difficulty of the mission by determining the reinforcements you and your opponent receive. I did not find this to substantially impact mission difficulty. The chief benefit of the campaign is that it introduces some variability into the play, and all three campaigns taken together represent considerable play time.

Emperor: Battle for Dune has a number of problems that, while typically minor, as a whole detract from the experience. The manual is well designed, but is missing critical information about several units. Objectives are sometimes unclear. While the missions usually consist of destroying everything else on the map, the voiceovers sometimes led me to believe otherwise. Once, I even waited in confusion for a mission to complete, which it never did. I had sterilized the map, controlled tremendous resources, and placed scouts every few paces. Had there been some way to review mission parameters, I could have at least established this was the result of a bug, but was instead left in confusion. Furthermore, several game elements lead to painful micro-management. I would have liked to assign units to guard other units. Moving a group of fast and slow units across the map together is an exercise in patience, and hotkey/left-clicking. Even the use of Ixian Projectors, critical to my completion of several House Atreides missions, requires constant attention to create a holographic force.

I would like to be able to comment on multiplayer action and balance, but neither a fellow staffer nor I were able to set up a working multiplayer game of Emperor: Battle for Dune. I was forced to resort to playing every other game I own, in multiplayer, in some effort to troubleshoot. This was a major disappointment. While I could chat with others using Westwood Online, and even set up a game, I was never able to get past loading the battlefield.

Emperor: Battle for Dune is a decent and entertaining RTS game. While many aspects of this game are attractive and well executed, it is neither groundbreaking, nor is it a shining example of perfection in an established class of games. This game will offer many hours of entertaining play, but should be weighed carefully against your other options. If you love RTS, and are screaming for something new, you will enjoy this. If you prefer another genre and are looking for something with which to pass the time, you might pass on this, or wait until the price drops.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on June 27, 2001 6:08 PM.

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