I was browsing through the Google Play Store the other day, trying to find a new game to pass the time with since I’m totes done with Control Craft 3 and its pointless gameplay, and guess what I saw? A very familiar icon straight out of my childhood.
Dune II… on Android? Could it be? Of course, with the Google Play Store (and mobile gaming in general) being the hive of cheap knock-offs it is, I couldn’t be sure if it was just some crappy game stealing an iconic icon. So I took a closer look, and lo and behold, it was an actual port of the most influential RTS game of all time.
I downloaded it without thinking twice, but to be honest I really just intended to watch the opening cutscene (“The planet Arrakis, known as Dune…”) and maybe play the first couple of levels just to pretend I’m 13 again. Well, as of this moment I’ve completed the Atreides campaign and I’m over halfway through with the Harkonnen campaign.
I guess I underestimated this game yet again.
Let’s rewind to 1992, which was one of the most memorable years in my gaming life for two reasons, and they were both sequels that played nothing like their predecessors: Star Control 2 and Dune II (I’ll write about Star Control in another post). Dune II was like nothing I’ve ever played before. The way I got to control an army in real time was awesome, and I just couldn’t get enough of bombarding turrets with missile tanks (complete with amazing digitized sound effects thanks to my SoundBlaster Pro card). And let’s not forget how cool those heavy troopers were. Well, they looked good in the opening intro anyway; they were just a bunch of pixels in the game.
At the time, I knew this was the future of strategy games. Then came Command and Conquer and Warcraft, and my prediction was spot on. Westwood also tried to revisit the Dune universe with Dune 2000 and Emperor, but I couldn’t really click with either (no pun intended).
So how does Dune II hold up after two decades? Surprisingly well, especially on a phone. If I played this on a PC, I might be frustrated with the lack of unit grouping and hotkey short cuts; features that only came out in Warcraft and Command and Conquer. But this is on a phone and I wouldn’t be able to do that stuff anyway so I didn’t miss it. And since the game was balanced for that archaic control scheme (small maps, only 25 units at a time, a really predictable AI etc) I didn’t feel handicapped by the touchscreen interface at all.
The game still has its charms too. The retro Westwood VGA art style (which you also see in its Kyrandia series) is great, the unit designs still look awesome (especially those heavy troopers!) and the campaigns were just the right length.
On the flip side, the three sides aren’t quite as balanced as the three races in Starcraft, with House Ordos really being the underdog with their useless Deviator tanks and that Saboteur palace ability. That said, the strategies and storylines for all three are pretty much the same too, and the only reason to play through all three campaigns was to see the final cutscene. Laying concrete foundations for the buildings is still a tedious task, and oh… I should mention that every map looks exactly the same. It’s all just endless deserts.
Will you enjoy taking a stroll down this particular memory lane? If you enjoyed it 20 years ago, then probably. If you’ve never played this game before, you will be turned off by the lack of RTS features that we now take for granted.
Still, it’s a landmark game and any student of the industry should play it.