Every now and then I come across a game and wonder "what the hell were they thinking?" Frank Herbert’s Dune is one of those games. Every aspect of the game was either rushed or just not given the TLC it needed. Whatever the reasons, this is one of the most lackluster games I’ve ever played. Not since Take 2’s 1994 abysmal "Hell: A Cyberpunk Thriller" and the 1996 bomb "Battlecruiser 3000AD" have I felt this strongly.
The first obvious sign this product was rushed is the fact that the box, manual and Dreamcatcher’s website clearly state the game requirements must be Windows 98, XP or ME. This game installed and played perfectly fine on my system running Window 2000 Professional. I’m guessing the Windows 2000 non-professional version would work just as well. Oops! Once you finish installing the game you don’t need to keep the CD in your drive to play. Not disclosing information about Windows 2000 being supported is forgivable. After all, Windows 2000 owners will pass on this game if the game doesn’t support their Operating System.
The cinematics aren’t truly cinematic like Blizzard’s titles are. Dune’s cinematics use the same game graphics (ala Soldier of Fortune). I understand that not every studio can afford talented cinematic animators. Nonetheless, if a company is going to include cinematics, regardless of what type of rendering they decide to use, they should at least make them cool and in line with what the Industry standard is and what Gamers expect. The character models used during the cinematics use sub-par models. You can clearly see the polygon lines on the face and around the nose.
When characters speak they don’t exactly "talk"; it’s more along the lines of jerky facial ticks. On some characters (e.g. The Beast Rabban) the effect is kind of absurd. If you decide to watch the cinematics with sub-titles the available feature doesn’t sync up the content with what is being verbally said. Occasionally sub-titles don’t use the same words that are verbally spoken. For example, in one scene Stilgar is giving Paul credit for a job well done and Paul’s sub-title response loosely reads as "Stilgar, your kindness is much appreciated," yet the voice actors uttered a simple "Thank you."
The game isn’t entirely bad. They at least do a good job of mimicking the feel of the television mini-series. Yet there are a lot of missing scenes. For example, all of the scenes between the time Paul and Jessica escape the Sandworm until the time Paul’s sister Alia is born are left out. Even during the mini-series those scenes contained a lot of vital information. Removing those scenes that are based on a book, which begirds a rich story line, doesn’t seem right. Adventure games aren’t time restricted like a television mini-series’ is. This game could have easily elaborated on the television mini-series in addition to the 1984 motion picture.
The two major problems are the voice acting and the plot. Excluding the voice that supplied Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and only slightly the Beast Rabban; the overall cast voice acting was horrible and nondescript. It as if they were handed a script and told to read the lines and that’s it. The game’s plot is absolutely broken. I’ve read a portion of the book and seen both the motion picture and mini-series well enough to have a good understanding of the plot. For a newcomer to both Adventure games AND more importantly Dune, their experience will be confusing. A perfect example of this transpires when during an errand mission I meet up with Jessica and Alia. They start revealing information about the Quizaks Haderack, Paul’s dreams and other deep stuff that I felt didn’t quite fit in with my current progress of the game.
I usually try and keep sounds out of a review. Most of the time they are appropriate. Dune misses on sounds in a variety of ways. Ambient sounds are nearly absent. The only sounds heard are those of footsteps and an occasional background character talking with another. The footsteps don’t necessarily sound like footsteps per say. They never change when walking over different surfaces and sometimes if the character walks off-screen the footsteps transform into a kind of rapid-fire machinegun sound. According to Dreamcatcher’s site, Dune allows you to "become a master in the art of infiltration and strike the enemy when they least expect it." The sound of enemy footsteps is so completely mono that it’s devoid of any depth or direction, thus makes becoming "a master in the art of infiltration" next to impossible. Although the sound was bad, on the other hand the music is quite nice. Mostly it is the same music from the mini-series.
Other little oddities that hindered the overall enjoyment include, but weren’t limited to: Not being able to reassign the keys. The game forced me to use the arrow keys for movement, enter for action and the mouse to look around. The game could just as easily incorporated all of these controls into the mouse.
At certain times, hitting the ENTER button to chat with characters didn’t initially work. Yes, my keyboard is lint-free.
If you play the credits you’re stuck watching them. The same goes for all cinematics. There are no buttons you can press to skip them that I know of. (Believe me, I pressed all keys; even contemplating CTRL + ALT + DELETE).
During the intro cinematic Princess Irulan (I believe that’s who it is, I couldn’t tell) talks about the history of the two great houses and Dune in general. The kicker is the pronunciation. The voice pronounces Arakis as "ah-raw-KEYS" with a strong British or Australian ascent. I almost feel out of my chair. It’s "ah-ra-KISS". The name is even spelled A-R-A-K-I-S.
The issue that takes the cake is the almost total lack of any enemy AI. Most of the enemies just "react" to you and do their predefined set of actions; making it very easy to pick them off.
The ironic thing about Frank Herbert’s Dune is this game was co-developed by Cryo, the same company that developed and released through the publishing giant (at the time) Virgin their 1990 game "Dune." Dune 1990 was a sort of hybrid adventure/strategy game that set a lot of standards in graphic adventure gaming for its time. It was also one of the very few games that had good original gameplay. Pending you have the old-school version of (MS)DOS here is a link to download the game for free! http://www.theunderdogs.org/game.php?name=Dune
Had Developers Widescreen Games and Cryo Interactive spent a little more time on this game it would’ve been a lot more fun. As it stands, its misinformation about platform support, awful cinematics, forcible controls, and total lack of AI makes this a lackluster title worthy of only two gems. We recommend this game to the die-hardest of fans for the television mini-series ONLY. Fans of the book will undoubtedly find this adventure a complete bore.
"Long live Muad’Dib!"