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Emperor: Battle for Dune Review
developer: Westwood Studios
PII-233, 64MB RAM, 300MB HDD, 8MB 3D accelerator
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Jun 21, 01 (released)
|» All About Emperor: Battle for Dune on ActionTrip|
Branislav "Bane" Babovic
I have to admit that I was quite surprised after I started Emperor: Battle for Dune. Let's be fair, Westwood Studios did not make a single half-decent game ever since Command & Conquer: Red Alert, let alone a true hit. There was no more room for novelties and improvements in the 2D department. All they did was d'ją vu; all the basic principles were the same. It was as if though they had been selling the same game with slightly different graphics over and over again. It's not that the Emperor uses revolutionary different standards, but it sure introduced some novelties. Westwood enters the 3D world big time. As I already mentioned in the preview, Emperor actually pulled it off, and merged the interesting Dune atmosphere with the great 3D engine. The game features single-player Skirmish maps, random generated maps, three campaigns and the Multiplayer mode.
The story takes place some 2 years before Frank Herbert's novels. Herbert mentions the War of the Assassins, which is exactly what this game deals with. This temporal distance gave the designers all the liberty they needed.
After Emperor Frederick IV got murdered by his mistress, Lady Elera, who works for the CHAOM Guild, and the notorious Bene Gesserit order. The throne is empty and this presents the basic background plot. The Ordos, Harkonnen and Atreides will have to compete for this throne on the sands of planet Arrakis better known as the Dune. Only one house can prevail and its representative will be the new emperor. This will automatically give the prevailing house dominance of the whole universe as the emperor controls Arrakis. Regardless of the result, m'lange will flow.
The gameplay features all the classical C&C details: you start off with Construction Yard which is built on rocky terrain and then construct further objects on them. You will first need the refinery with the harvesters for extracting spice. Spice has a specific orange color it leaves on the sand abundant in it, and it also has interesting buds which explode from time to time spreading it around. Refining spice will give you credit for building specialized facilities for unit training and production. This segment is common to all three of the races, but what is most appealing in this game is that this is where most similarities stop. You will also have to supply your base with power, as different structures require different amount of energy for functioning. The only resource for power of this sandy planet is the wind, so all three houses have similar power generators called Windtraps. The more of these you have, the better, as it can be rather inconvenient if your new flame turret or something refuses to work at a crucial moment because it has no power. You will have to agree that these are all too familiar elements of old Westwood RTS games, yet the three dynamic campaigns guarantee that you will find enjoyment in them once again.
What I mean by dynamic campaign is that no mission looks the same twice. At the very start of each campaign, you are given a map of Dune, partitioned into a number of blue, green and red territories. Each of the colors on map represents one of the houses, and your goal is to eliminate your enemies on their territories. Think of this as a somewhat more complex game of Risk. The player can attack two or three territories per turn. When you choose a territory, you have to conquer it RTS style. After your turn, the other two houses get to play. If one of them attacks you can decide if you want to defend your territory or strategically withdraw your forces. Some border territories will be inaccessible because of wild storms, and on some maps you will get constant reinforcements if you have a nearby base. The eighth mission of each campaign will take you away from Arrakis to the homeworlds of the houses: Giedi prime, Sigma Draconis or Caladan.
The political power in Dune is gained only through wise strategic planning and, of course, brute military force. This is where the wide selection of military units steps in. The infantry AI is not as good as one might expect from a block-buster, and their path finding is not too good either (they are obviously not used to sand and sun, or what?). The infantry units are much the same for all three houses (they all have scouts, engineers, gas/fire/rocket/missile launchers), but the vehicles differ from house to house.
Atreides have advanced technologies and their units look like vehicles from the Mech series. The best of those is the Mongoose which can move in one and shoot in all directions. I would also like to mention the sonic tank destroying enemy structures and vehicles with its sound vibes. Atreides aviation is unsurpassed and pretty useful in the game. The Ornithopters seem weak, but they are ideal for swift diversions. I found Atreides least interesting for the gameplay, as I already knew all their units from Dune 2.
8.9 Very Good
Plot and the cut-scenes, standard gameplay with a new engine;
Poor unit AI and path finding, mission difficulty.