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Platform

PC

 

Genre

RTS

 

Publisher

Electronic Arts

 

Developer

Westwood Studios

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

Q2 2001

 

 

- Looks and sounds great!

- Much, much challenge

- Solid on-line play

- Easy control

- Continues the Dune legacy

- Ride a sandworm!

- Sub-houses add another dimension

 

 

- Sometimes too hard

- Pathfinding not good enough

- Where’d the cutscenes go?

- Long load times

 

 

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Emperor: Battle for Dune

Score: 8.8 / 10

Dune II created a legacy that anyone would have a hard time living up to since it basically popularized and entrenched RTS games in the world of PC gamers. Not counting Dune 2000, Emperor: Battle for Dune (EBD) is Westwood’s return trip to Arrakkis and what a trip it is!

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The graphics are very good, especially with all the amenities turned on and the resolution cranked up. Depending on your computer, EBD can turn into something as choppy as a sushi chef, but the default settings that the game chooses work well so there’s not a lot of fine-tuning that needs to be done. Since EBD is completely 3D, you get the chance to move your point of view – panning way out to get that near top-down effect, or zooming in to see what each of your units is up to, or rotating around to change your perspective of the battlefield to possibly see an advantage. The mouse handles it all very easily, especially if you have a wheel mouse. The units, the structures, and the environments look great. House Atreides’ special weapon, a huge holographic falcon, is definitely a highlight, as are the sandstorms and giant sandworms (proceeded by arcs of lightning) that often appear to damage or destroy friend and foe. Some of the action takes place on the Houses home planets and they all look good, but I’m partial to the environment of House Ordos, Draconis IV. Each unit, infantry or mechanical, for all the houses look different but depending on their size, how many units are clumped together, and what perspective you’re using you may have trouble picking out specific units. To accompany all this on-screen splendor are good tunes and sound effects.

 

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EBD is all about strategic military conquest and the struggle between the House Ordos, Atreides, and Harkonnen. Of course you’ve still got to collect the all-important Spice to fuel your military machine and conquest of Dune. The method to accomplish this takes many cues from Westwood’s other RTS series Red Alert. Unit production can be cued up and waypoints established so you can avoid, for the most part, having a whole bunch of units pile up in front of your factory or barracks. 

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But the first part – collecting the Spice – can be a pain in the ass. Credit should be given to the developers for making it easier to do. It’s mostly automated. Once a Spice refinery has been built you’re supplied with a harvester and carryall. The carryall moves the harvester to and from the Spice fields quickly which allows for faster production since you won’t have to wait too long for more credits to roll in. As automated as it is, you better pay damn good attention to where your harvesters go. I offer this incident as evidence. There was a Spice field directly in front of a Harkonnen base and in range of it’s automated turrets. After upgrading my refinery, the new harvester brought in went directly to that particular patch of Spice and started collecting even under direct fire. Barely after the message, "Our harvester is under attack," did my harvester blow up and my carryall go down in flames. Okay, build another one. The harvester repeated the behavior, although this time the Harkonnens had more fire power in the area and it took only about one second before it was turned into a crater. I finished the encounter only by leading the damn harvester by the nose to a safe patch further away – something that really got on my nerves as I was trying to co-ordinate an attack. In short, the AI is not good enough. Units have trouble finding there way around objects and units blocking the path of another unit will not shift even a little bit to let them pass. If your opponent is using long-range weaponry on your units, they’ll just stand there and take a beating – ignoring the fact that they could take two steps toward the source and be in range to defend themselves. No, they’d rather get blown up. Or the bloody Sonic Tanks that make no attempt to move to a different position when taking aim at an enemy intruder. No, they’d rather shoot through whatever building or units that stand in its way. Some might say this adds to the tactical portion of the game, but I found it more annoying than anything.

On the other end of the spectrum, the enemy AI is good – too good at times. Often it was the case that I said, "I hope they don’t attack now," right before a squad of enemy units hoved into view. (In one instance playing as the Ordos against the Atreides, I had a line of units set up to attack. The Atreides sent a few units rushing toward the line but an advanced carryall dropped a Sonic Tank behind directly behind the line to split my fire.) To help your house gain power on Dune there are a few sub-houses that can be allied with and their technology utilized. There are those wild men of Arakkis, the Fremen, the flesh focused Tleilaxu, the Spacing Guild, the technology loving Ix, and those whacked-out Sardaukar. All the sub-houses add different elements to gameplay, but by far the most useful are the Ix which allow you to build small exploding squids (that’s not what they’re called) and the special Fremen unit, the Fedaykin, that can ride sandworms! Even with the extra help though, it’s still an uphill battle most of the time.

Before each battle you get to choose which territory to invade. Your mentat (military advisor) has a snippet of information on each area. If you go into the area and find yourself overwhelmed you have the option to pull back and try another territory at the same time creating a reserve force. During these "Risk"-type portions, the other Houses get a chance to go after territory they want. Sometimes they’ll fight each other but if they attack one of your positions you have to decide whether to "Defend" or "Resign." Clicking defend will launch you into an area you’ve been previously, but no matter how big your base was you’re given a default number of units and buildings. Never mind that when you left the area you had airbases, turrets, and factories all over the place – you’re stuck with a barracks, refinery, a couple of wind traps, a construction yard, and an outpost. Every time I had to defend a region I felt really ripped off and always considered just resigning so I could move onto something else. Conversely, the invading force will already have a massive force to send your way. Strangely, it can go the other way too. Sometimes I entered a new region and discovered the enemy still building their base with only a few token infantry to offer resistance. Quickly setting up a barracks and churning out engineers to capture the buildings allowed the mission to be over in under six minutes.

Control is easy to learn and most of the commands can be issued with the mouse, but to be a true master you have to be able to use the keyboard shortcuts, especially to create groups of units and keep them in loose formation.

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The biggest let down with EBD is the absence of cut-scenes. There are many great looking FMV cutscenes early on but then vanish almost completely. You’ll complete battle after battle and not see one no matter what House you’re fighting for. Lose a few missions then you’ll get a quick clip of your superior reprimanding you. There aren’t even a stable of CG scenes. The acting is about what you can expect from a computer game.

Multiplayer is fairly integrated into the game. It’s a snap to enter into a skirmish with another player of like ability. There are many different options offered in multiplayer and it will satisfy all those that need multiplayer games to be satisfied. I found there was more than enough challenge and replayability to be had from the single-player game since you can play all three Houses. Plus, you don’t have to worry about connection problems and you can save mid-mission and do something else. There’s no mission builder, but who actually uses the builders anyway?

In the final analysis, I’d recommend Emperor: Battle for Dune for RTS players and possibly to the new player that wants to see what all the hub-bub is about. The interface and environment are familiar, the locations interesting, the controls easy to learn, and the challenge good. The downsides – the AI, the lack of hallmark Westwood cutscenes, long load times – aren’t crippling even though they take some getting used to. Even with its flaws, I still found myself playing well beyond the fall of night to try just one more attack.

- Omni

 

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