Strategy game from Eclipse. Reviewed by Rob Gibson.
Note: This review was originally written for the Illusions disc magazine well before Acorn Arcade was born, so we make no guarantees that this game will work on more recent machines. Many thanks to Richard Goodwin, Phil Coleman and Rob Gibson for allowing us to reproduce this review on the site.
So you've not read the book(s), you've not seen the film, now why play the game? If you're looking for something with the same elements of skill, luck and downright violence that the likes of Cannon Fodder gave, then this game is for you. Based loosely on some of the ideas from the film Dune (which makes it even further removed from the subtlety of the books), you select from one of three 'Houses' - which translates as 'gangs of capitalist space-gentry in varying degrees of psychosis' - and must battle for control of a planet against the other two.
Select your house...
Being an all-round good egg I of course chose to play as the 'good guys' (relative term), those blue-eyed boys the Atreides (before all the anoraks yell 'Fremen' at me, I'm writing figuratively). This choice affects what special weapons you get later on, the odd colour here and there, plus whether or not your guide is nice to you. Then you settle down to building up your territory and kicking rival butt by producing buildings and vehicles paid for by harvesting the all-important spice. You always start off with a few vehicles and troops, but the rock on which your construction building stands is pretty bare.
First you must produce a few concrete foundation slabs; four of these in a square and you can build the wind trap, which is the source of power on Arrakis (how eco-freindly); with this in place, and a few more bits of concrete, you are then allowed to build a spice harvesting plant, complete with harvester. This will then automatically wander off to he nearest available spice and start harvesting; when it's full it will return, dump the spice into storage, and this automatically becomes credits for you to spend. There's a sort of 'building curve', in that the list of structures for you to build won't show anything but a windtrap until you've built one, then you get a few more options, and eventually when you get to the point where you want a heavy factory to build tanks you must first build a light factory - which is a bit pointless as the light vehicles get creamed by the baddies in a very short space of time, but I suppose it's there to add a bit of realism.
Also there for realism is the way it takes time for your products to appear; a percentage done counter shows how much of you tank or palace has been built. This can slow you down a bit; your attack force has been wiped off the face of the planet, a huge assault is mustering just outside your territory, and your tanks are coming off the production line at about one every millennium (or so it seems when you're in a rush), and then when they are built they have to be moved around to the other side of the compound which isn't exactly speedy. But then if everything was too easy there'd be no point in playing.
Before you build the windtrap, you're not allowed to see what you can't afford.
So, you have your spice safely harvested, you've got a huge armoury of weapons, so what next? You go off and wipe out the enemy. Or more correctly, you go and try to find the enemy, then wipe them out. You have a fairly large play area to explore, all of which (apart from your home base) is completely black. As you move one of your vehicles or infantry units they will then 'discover' the area; they can see more of the land when at rest, so it helps to stop them every once in a while. It can seem a little odd at times; an enemy tank will come rumbling towards you, across a path that has been blazed by one of your earlier sorties, then promptly vanishes into a black bit, only to reappear on the other side. The same rules apply for your radar, which (when built) allows you to see an overview of the whole play area. So, it helps if you try to discover as much as much new land as possible when you're waiting for something else to happen.
The black bits are the bits that I can't see anything in, as opposed to the dark grey bits which are the ones I can see and are quite important to the game. Time to mess about with your monitor settings I'm afraid...
The major gripe with the earlier versions I played was that it crashed every so often, usually just as I was winning or otherwise got past a difficult bit; although you can load and save games at any point, when you're really getting into a game you don't want to be stopping every five minutes to save just in case the game is about to cheat - sorry, I mean crash. That doesn't happen so often with later versions, and with the right upgrade you can run it on StrongARM machines. Secondly, although the game was sold on the fact that it's got loads of sampled speech and music in it, you'll need the CD version for music, but at least you don't need a MIDI card to hear it.
I must admit though, frustrating as it was, I really enjoyed this game, and for the first time in absolutely ages stayed up until five in the morning to try and complete it. Sending off your little tanks, watching them crawl towards the enemy, then setting them up in a circle around an enemy palace and watching them pound it to bits, then turning round to blow up a siege tank whilst back home my bank of rocket turrets took on all comers gave me a great deal of satisfaction, and when things weren't going my way there was a great feeling of just-one-more-go underneath all the swear words. The vehicles etc. were fairly intelligent, and when they'd reached a destination I'd given them they'd guard the area, taking on any enemy craft that passed within range or perhaps going for a structure.
The graphics are good when compared with other Arc offerings (although quite dated when compared with other PC titles). However, I pity anyone trying to load it fom the eight floppy disks - it's not exactly speedy on a hard drive, and accesses pretty regularly to get pictures as you flick down a menu.
I've found someone who actually was foolish enough to try running the game from floppy disk. After about a quarter hour he got to the point where he could select the houses. Some time later he switched off. He says that one day he might actually wait long enough to see what the game's like. Probably after he gets a hard drive.
Hugely involving, nicely presented, good save facility, keep you going for hours.
No pictures of Franchesca Annis or Sean Young in tight rubber suits (or Sting in his underpants if that's more your style).