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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Games based upon popular forms of media normally can be grouped into two categories:  extremely well done or extremely lacking. Unfortunately for the PC game developers at Widescreen Games, its latest title Frank Herbertís Dune happens to fall in that latter category. Although its base theme and writing is quite impressive, mirroring that of the original sci-fi epic series of books as well as last years TV movie adaptation, the gameplay within Frank Herbertís Dune is so poorly designed that it overshadows almost every positive feature that could be found within the title.  With that in mind, even the most avid Dune fan and PC gamers might find some difficulty keeping this particular title onto their computer system.

The late author Frank Herbert is hands-down one of the most prolific sci-fi writers of all time. Just over 15 years after the writers untimely death, this authorís unique vision of humanityís distant future as seen in the Dune series of novel still remains one of the most popular science fiction writings to date. Within the past several years, fans have been blessed with all-new Dune material based on Herbertísí once lost notes and memoirs (completed by his son, writer Brian Herbert) as well as a new feature length film released last year on TV, based upon the deceased writerís first epic novel.

The ever industrious game development community has not turned a blind eye to the growing popularity of Herbertís Dune universe. Theyíve also not forgotten that one of the most popular titles of all time happens to have the Dune moniker attached to it:  the first real time combat strategy game, Dune II. Unlike that title, however, most games based upon a popular and very detailed form of other media (not unlike the Dune series of novels) tends to fall into two categories most of the time:  very successful, or very disappointing. Sometimes the magic is captured, making the title a very enjoyable one to playÖother times, the release in question jumps straight from the shelves to the cheap bin at the back of a half rate game shop.  Unfortunately for the latest game based in the intrinsic Dune universe, Widescreen Games release of Frank Herbertís Dune falls into that not so lofty second category.

Over the many years that this reviewer has played PC games, a great number of titles have come across as being truly a poor gaming experience. Although not quite that low in caliber, Frank Herbertís Dune was rather disappointing game as a whole and didnít live up to the lofty expectations of a fan of PC adventure gaming. On the other hand, fans of the Dune novels and films might find the game slightly more palatable, if they can perhaps get past the numerous gameplay flaws that seem to be inherit throughout Frank Herbertís Dune.

Developed by the indy gaming company Widescreen Games and distributed by the fine folks at Dreamcatcher Interactive, Frank Herbertís Dune is set in the year 10191 during a time of strife in the Imperium of the Known Universe. Two major players in the royal feudal society, House Harkonnen and House Atreides, are waging a bloody battle for control of the barren desert planet Arrakis (also known as Dune). This planet has a significant importance to the galaxy due to the fact that it is the only known location where the spice Melange can be found: a substance that is not only crucial to space navigation but that also extends the life of those that ingest it regularly. The noble House Atreides has only recently been massacred and decimated by the forces of the evil Baron Harkonnen, forcing the only two surviving members of the Atreides family to flee to the barren wastelands of Dune. Young Paul Atreides (heir to the House Atreides Ducal Throne) and his witch-like Bene Gesserit Mother Jessica must now survive the hardships of the planet with help of the natives, known as the Fremen. 

Playing the character Paul, gamers will explore Dune, learn the secret of ancient battle techniques in order to fight the legions of enemy soldiers that now controlling the planet, disrupt spice supplies, and learn the secrets of the giant sands worms of Arrakis. In the end, you must defeat the evil House Harkonnen and his secret ally, the Emperor of the Galaxy in a battle that will not only decide the fate of the Fremen people who follow you, but also that of the known universe.

Frank Herbertís Dune follows along nicely the original storyline and premise of Frank Herbertís now 30 year old Dune novel, which in itself is a nice touch. The writing, based on back stories that were only barely touched upon in the original work, fill in the empty spaces nicely and give fans of the book and both the TV mini-series and big screen release a more detailed look at the clandestine operations that Paul Atreides and his Fremen warriors engaged in.

The detailed plot and lengthy in-game cut scene are complemented very well with a highly detailed and intricate graphics scheme, reminiscent of the sweeping visuals presented in the TV mini-series.  The environments found within the game are incredibly realistic as are most of the other in-game 3-D locations, showing that the developers did their job when researching the backdrop of Dune. The game engineís incorporation of a highly refined dynamic lighting and particle system only adds to the realism of the game, especially evident when viewing the dust cloud burst created by the giant Arrakeen sandworms.

Though the positive elements within the game are plentiful and worthy of note, as a whole they just were not enough to save the overall gameplay found within Frank Herbertís Dune. The game developers for this title went to some great length to incorporate every little nuance and intricacy that can be found in Dune, offer gamers a realistic interpretation of Frank Herbertís sci-fi universe: a very commendable feat. What they slacked on, however, was the design of the basic adventure game mechanicsÖsomething that can actually be detrimental to a game as a whole no matter how well the theme is developed.

Frank Herbertís Dune plays as a 2nd and 3rd person adventure game, reminiscent of Tomb Raider and other similar titles. Unlike other games, however, the control scheme for your in-game characters were so poor it almost made playing the game unbearable. The over-the-shoulder orbital camera tended to move on its own quite a bit, floating around without any provocation from the playerís mouse. Not only annoying, but it made outright control of your character during pivotal situations almost impossible during certain situations, like turning around corners of building and the like. In-game combat also tended to suffer from this same problem, making precision attacks against opponents (even in the covert game mode) almost impossible.

Another problem with the game lies with its control key mapping. Everything is locked in its default setup, forcing players to utilize the often cumbersome control scheme for action keys and inventory. Though this has been a problem for other games in the past, action key commands for Frank Herbertís Dune are truly difficult to master, even with the in-game tutorial walkthrough and the game manual at your side.

After players finally learns how to overcome the inherit control flaws within the game, Frank Herbertís Dune does play out very nicely. Through seven different levels, players must use covert tactics, espionage, and straight out weapons fueled carnage to complete various stages of gameplay in order to win back Dune. The game itself uses animated character designs similar to the latter Final Fantasy titles, giving it that pseudo Japanese Anime quality that may not be realistic, but plays and looks better that your normal rendered character scheme. The in-game cut scenes found between missions are very detailed, following closely to the storyline and situation found within the books (which should entertain most Dune fans). However, some of them tend to be a little long winded for anyone that isnít familiar with Herbertís vision of the future, and could possible slow the pace of the game down for those individuals.  

All in all, Frank Herbertís Dune was slightly disappointing as a full fledged action adventure game. Its in-game control system was the main culprit in the games design flaw, making character control and extraordinarily difficult task for a majority of the gameplay. On the other hand, the overall theme, graphics, and storyline were incredible to behold. The developers went to great lengths to incorporate every little detail and nuance of Frank Herbertís Dune universe into every single aspects of their PC game.  Fans of the books and films will no doubt be impressed with the high quality of storytelling and stunning graphics and visuals found in the game, possible making this title more of a niche selling than a game for just the casual gamer with no interest in the rich Dune theme.