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by Westwood Studios / EA

Arrakis. Dune. Desert Planet.

02-01.jpg (5818 bytes)You know what I'm talking about. If you didn't you probably wouldn't be reading this review. The epic storyline created by Frank Herbert has extended its grasp from a series of fantastic novels to Movies, TV and video games. And so far, Westwood studios has stocked every aisle in the Dune RTS Megamart. Westwood forged the pathways of the Real Time Strategy gaming genre with its first RTS Dune game, Dune 2. The game was updated when Dune 2000 came out, which was pretty much the same game with nicer graphics and sound. Now Westwood has broken new ground with the third Dune RTS: Emperor: Battle for Dune.

05-01.jpg (6353 bytes)Emperor: Battle for Dune takes place after the events of the original Dune novel. The Emperor of the known universe has been assassinated and the Spacing Guild is offering the Emperorship to one of the Three great houses of Arrakis: Noble House Atreides, Evil House Harkonen and Insidious House Ordos. The victor of a controlled war on Arrakis will win the control of Dune and thus control of the Spice Melange. The Spice is the only thing that makes space travel possible and it only exists on Dune. Of course, there are always various organizations willing to offer open and secret alliances to the various Houses. The Spacing Guild, the native Fremen, inhabitants of Ix, genetic mutants of Tleilaxu and the Sardaukar Warriors are available to help you throughout the game.

12-01.jpg (6686 bytes)The first thing that jumps out about Emperor, compared to the older Dune games is its fresh new 3D look. The Graphics are amazing and are rendered with a very nice 3D engine. It still has the isometric feel, but you can rotate, scroll and zoom in the 3D world. The cool thing is, Westwood made the navigation simple enough that the 3D system doesn't conflict with the strategy element of the game. Unfortunately, the fantastic new look comes with a price. The game requires fairly high end systems to run, and an extremely high end system for optimal viewing. Westwood’s saving grace is the multitude of advanced graphics settings in the options menu. The resolution can be set to anything that your DirectX drivers will support (640 x 480 all the way up to 1200 x 1600). You can also set the quality of Color, Shadows, Modeling, Textures, Landscape, FX, Hardware Multi-Texture and Hardware Transform and Lighting.

07-01.jpg (7027 bytes)The sound FX and musical score for the game are outstanding. Much of the music is straight from the 1984 David Lynch movie. The explosions are realistic and well timed and each unit has a voice track that is varied and unique to that unit. The options also let you control the various aspects of sound, music and FX in the game.

01-01.jpg (7526 bytes)It seems that Westwood was focusing on simplicity when they designed the control layout. You can pretty much play the entire game only using the mouse! Some of the keyboard quick keys do give you a distinct advantage, and setting up unit groups using CTRL+1-9 is invaluable, but the rest of the gameplay is entirely point, click and drag. Units are selected by a left-click or by dragging around a group of them. Once one or more units are selected, a left click on the map will start them in motion and a left click on an enemy will start them attacking. Mouse motion scrolls around the screen, while dragging the mouse left or right with both mouse buttons pressed results in smooth rotation. The mouse wheel zooms your view in and out. A control panel floats above the battlefield, allowing you to control all of your manufacturing from one location. The control panel also contains a map of the surrounding terrain for quick navigation and several icons for game management. Some other features that are available from the control panel are guard settings, building sales, repair and upgrades.

03-01.jpg (8186 bytes)The assault units vary among the three different houses. Each of the houses have three different foot soldier types, a Scout, an Infantry and a Heavy Assault trooper type. Each of the houses also has an Engineer that can be used to take over enemy buildings. Each of the houses can also construct Harvesters for spice, Carryalls and Advanced Carryalls which can be used to pick up nearly anything, even opponent’s units. The real variety starts appearing in the war vehicles. The Harkonnen have heavily armored, heavily weaponed machines, but are often slow and cumbersome. The fastest Harkonnen vehicle is the Buzzsaw, which sports a huge spinning blade for cutting down teams of infantry. The Atreides have a balanced air and ground military, and are most often faster than the heavy Harkonnen tanks. The Atreides Ornithopters are excellent for air defense and assault. The Ordos units support heavy shields and regeneration ability. The Ordos land vehicles can sustain much damage while still operating at full capacity.

04-01.jpg (9195 bytes)In addition to the standard units available for the Houses, Organizations and Sub-Houses throughout the universe are willing to lend help to an ally that they believe may benefit them. The genetic engineers of Tleilaxu offer Contaminators and Leeches as mindless drones to send in as a front line. The Ixians are masters of technology and provide Projectors and Infiltrators to aid in your deceptive and stealth missions. The Imperial Sardaukar are a fearless military that never stop attacking. The Native Fremen are skilled warriors that know the landscape of Dune. The Fremen can even summon and control the Shai-Halud, the worms of Arrakis!

09-01.jpg (9296 bytes)Dune offers the Ability of Multi-Player action through the Internet or over a LAN. The game comes with 4 CDs, each of which can be used to play one player on a LAN game. It’s very convenient to be able to play a LAN game with 3 of your friends without having to buy 4 copies of the game. Unfortunately, the LAN game is where I saw some of the major performance issues in the game. With a medium-large sized map and the graphics cranked down to a moderate level, we were able to begin a good three-player game. As we uncovered more and more of the black Shroud, the game became noticeably slower. Hopefully, the auto-updater that ships with the game will download an upgrade that improves network communication.

10-01.jpg (10347 bytes)Overall, Emperor: Battle for Dune is a beautifully worked game with some amazing features. Westwood is still on the front lines of Real Time Strategy. Emperor is a complex game with an easy to control interface, an interesting storyline and plethora of visual treats. The slowdowns during Multi-player mode are slightly annoying, but nothing unbearable. Emperor held my interest for several hours on end and just the fact that your Fremen can ride the worms keeps me comin’ back for more.

Tim Johnson   (10/11/2001)


Ups: Nice graphics; good variety of units; great for Dune fans; one game copy supports multiplayer LAN.

Downs: Slowdown in multiplayer; hefty system reqs.

Platform: PC