Cryo Created Arrakis To Test The Faithful
Dune had everything going for it. It's based on one of the most epic of science fiction novels, released to coincide with the arrival on DVD of the eponymous TV mini-series and features a mixture of third person adventuring and Metal Gear Solid style stealth combat missions. Unfortunately it falls far short of its potential. Things get off to a promising start with an excellent training mission which teaches you the various moves that Paul "Muad'dib" Atreides can pull off. The animations are slick and life-like as Paul scrambles his way over a pile of boxes and backs up against a wall, edging along it before peaking round the corner and then rolling past the opening. Sneaking up behind a guard on tip toes, you take him by surprise and click your mouse button to "neutralise" him, causing the game to switch to a dramatic camera angle as Paul grabs him and slices his throat open. This has the added benefit of providing you with the victim's all-important water, which can be recycled by your stilsuit and used to boost your health if you are injured. The rest of the combat system is somewhat less slick though, requiring you to "lock on" to an enemy before you can fire your weapon. This tends to be a rather hit-and-miss affair and firefights are unnecessarily clumsy. While this is a stealth-focused game, sometimes you have no choice but to gun down an enemy and there's no reason why it should be this awkward. It's also annoying that you can only use your knife if you take your enemy by surprise; if a guard is alerted to your presence he will just keep backing away from you, firing his gun as you futilely wave your knife around in his face. Later in the game you can use "the voice" to temporarily paralyze any nearby guards, but for some reason this option is only open to you when you are almost dead. Given that the voice is a precursor to Obi Wan's Jedi mind tricks, this lacklustre implementation is something of a cop-out.
It Is By Will Alone I Set My Mind In Motion
The developers have also squandered many of Dune's other assets, such as its epic back story and host of outlandish characters. The game is set during Paul's exile in the deserts of Arrakis but all of the main action takes place off-camera, with no real explanation of what's going on or who most of the characters are. If you're not familiar with the book or one of its movie adaptations you're going to be left utterly bewildered. It doesn't help that two years of action is distilled into a scant half dozen missions, interspersed with sections set in the Fremen "sietch" where you can wander around the caves, chat with the natives and pick up weapons and equipment you will need for your next excursion. These sorties can be frustrating as it's sometimes not entirely obvious what you're supposed to be doing, and you have to pay close attention to any in-game cutscenes and conversations to get through some sections. There is also no save system, so if you get killed you have to start the mission over from scratch. As there is no way to skip cutscenes this can rapidly get irritating. And some of the missions are just plain bloody minded. Your introduction to Dune comes right after the Harkonnen invasion, with you and your mother Lady Jessica stranded in the desert next to a crashed ornithopter. After a short trek across the sand you find yourself being chased by a massive sand worm, one of the most impressive sights to grace a computer game in recent years. The problem is that the camera switches to a low close angle facing backwards to show the worm rearing up behind you, leaving you unable to see where you're going. The obvious thing to do is follow Jessica, but as soon as the worm appears she runs off screen and disappears. You can't run back to the safety of solid rock either. Instead you must act like a brainless action movie star and run directly away from the worm, avoiding the darker patches of sand which can bog you down. Because of the way the camera is positioned you can't see what the sand is like more than a few feet in front of you, leaving you floundering helplessly with no clear idea of where to go or what to do. It took me more than a dozen attempts to finish this short section, and if I hadn't been reviewing the game I probably would have given up at this stage and demanded my money back.
Which is a shame, because underneath the awkward combat system and shoddy presentation (the title screen proudly declares this to be "Franck Herbert's Dune") there is a great game trying to get out. There are rare moments of genius and sections which can be a lot of fun, but overall it's a mostly frustrating and disappointing experience. If Widescreen had been given a few more months they could perhaps have made something of it, but as it is this Dune is a waste of a good license.