As far as a serious strategy game went. Dune owed more to ‘It Came From The Desert’ than ‘Sim City’; but a strategy game it was – nonetheless, and a bloody good one at that!
Developed by Cryo Interactive and released by Virgin Games in 1991, what made Dune so special was the vividly realised graphics and sparse electronic music. Much like its 1989 Infogrames predecessor; It Came From The Desert, this game had atmosphere in buckets and spades.
You play Paul Artreides, son of Duke Leopold Artreides and member of House Arteides; fresh from landing on planet Arrakis/Dune and ready to seek co-operation from the indigenous tribes (known as Fremen) to mine Spice for the Emporer, just like in the book/movie.
So the game is split into two main parts : overhead strategy game for controlling your Spice production and training/sending your Fremen troops into battle (with House Harkonnen). Secondly, a first person point and click adventure when you are in the Artredies palace, visiting a Fremen Sietch [base] or overseeing a battle.
Once you had located a Sietch and persuaded the local Fremen Leader to work for you. You then had to decide whether you wanted the tribe to specialise in mining spice, fighting – or later cultivating greenery. You coild also move the troops around the map to other Sietch’s to build huge armies.
This gave Dune a partial (at least) non-linear open aspect to the game. You had to honour your spice shipments to the Emporer but other than that, you were free to command the Fremen troop as you wanted.
So you were seriously multitasking : training and moving troops around, locating new Spice fields, befriending new Fremen tribes, requesting the Fremen Prospector’s prospect an area – prior to spice mining, trading equipment with the smugglers, fighting off hostile Harkonnen forces and overseeing your regularly increasing Spice shipments back to the Emporer. Phew!
Above all else, the Emporer wanted his Spice shipment in full – and on time. He didn’t care whether a worm had swallowed your Spice harvester or whether the Harkonnen’s had taken your Fremen troop prisoner, you had to deliver.
Inbetween all of this manuoveuring; is a backstory about your character Paul Atreides discovering he is a chosen one called ‘Mua’dib’. Fremen for “shadow of the moon”.
Who in Fremen legend, will rally all of the Fremen under one banner and lead them into a prosperous new age. You are also developing some limited psychic abilities due to Spice exposure.
This ability comes in handy for controlling your ever expanding empire. In the early days, you have to fly from Sietch to Sietch in your trusty Ornihopter to coordinate everything, which takes up valuable time.
However, once you begin to develop these psychic abilities, you can contact your sietch’s psychically (without ever leaving the safety of the palace). And because the game happens in a kind of real time, this ability is a must to ensure you keep your whole troop (who are spread all over the planet) – under control and your ever increasing spice shipments, upto date.
Eventually, after you have befriended enough Fremen, you are offered a chance to drink the ‘water of life’, deep in the Fremen Sietch; which will give you full psychic second sight – or kill you, stone dead!
Once you have drunk it, your psychic ability now stretches over the whole planet and Fremen previously indifferent to you now flock to you, to offer up their troops and spice fields.
You also learn to ride the huge sandworms which allows you to travel anywhere on the planet
(including to scenes of battles between your Fremen troops and Harkonnen’s. You can’t fly your Ornihopter in or it gets shot down).
There is also a subplot about cultivating the land green which serves no better purpose in the game but does give a nod to the end of the movie and a nod to environmental issues, which were very prevalent in the early 90’s.
As a game about the Frank Herbert novel / David Cronenberg movie, it has to sandwich alot of backstory in, which it manages through a varying clutch of companions who accompany Paul throughout the game. Whether it be Gurney Hallack, your trusty mentor; or Stilgoe – High Chief of the Fremen. They all provide useful titbits of information – or background on your travels, to help you on your journey.
The character’s – Paul Artredies and his mother Jessica, look exactly like their movie counterpart’s as does Sting Harkonnen. Everyone else though is pretty stylised. Especially the Harkonnen’s, who in this game look like something from a Dan Dare comic.
The strategy element comes in mainly when you train your troops. They begin with Kry knives but later you can trade spice for Weirding Modules and eventually nukes, to turn them into a crack fighting force.
Your spice harvesters benefit from Ornihopters to warn them about passing sandworms, who swallow them whole and interrupt your Spice harvesting.
Above all, this game captures the feel of the Dune universe perfectly and is very atmospheric and not too difficult in terms of a strategy game.
At 5 hours its lastability is ensured. Its fun aswell, especially when you kick the Harkonnen’s asses in a battle, take their base, or ride the sandworm through the desert.
Longplay Youtube vid by Cubix55.