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Dune: The Battle for Arrakis (Genesis) artwork

Dune: The Battle for Arrakis (Genesis) review

"Dune: The Battle for Arrakis doesn't need extras to know how to rock."

On a console dominated by shoot-em-ups, platformers featuring animal mascots with attitudes, and side-scrollers with macho one-man-armies, Dune: The Battle for Arrakis offered a refreshing alternative. A real-time strategy title taking place on the planet Arrakis, a desert habitation littered with spice, three Houses from three ruling planets send their armies in an attempt to rule the world. Each House has a radically different personality to separate them from the others: the ruthless Harkonnen, the righteous Atreides, and the deceptive Ordos, and are displayed accordingly in the game's play mechanics.

You don't have to know the original story by Frank Herbert to appreciate the setting of Dune, because it's easy to be engrossed by the power struggle between Houses, as each go all out for the planet. Helping to pull you into this universe are the advisors that converse with you before and after missions, offering hints and insights in their own characteristic ways. It's always amusing watching the greedy Radnor from Harkonnen talk about crushing the opposing threats, or Ammon from Ordos, always one with the absurd quotes, such as "We cannot allow the mythical value of fair play to impede our progress."

Now, from a modern day point-of-view, from the eyes of gamers that have only played titles like StarCraft II and similar offerings, this game probably sounds like it has aged terribly. It's as basic as it gets, tasking players to harvest spice for credits, which you use for buying more useful buildings and armies, which in turn is used to defend your base and, eventually, destroy the competing force on the map; no extra modes and even lacking a two-player mode, this would make most modern day gamers vomit violently trying to play this "archaic" release.

But, just because a game is lacking in features, does not make it a mundane product. Fighting for conquest of Arrakis is anything but a stroll, as you're forced to endure the planet's hellish conditions. If you think you can abuse the terrain to your advantage and construct anywhere you please, then you're playing the wrong game. As you start the first mission of any House, you begin in a secluded area of the map, on rock foundation, with the rest shrouded in darkness. Then you build, construct, expand your base with the chump change you begin with, until it's time for a Refinery, a building made to turn spice into credits. The Harvester boldly ventures into the unknown, searching for the much sought-after spice. Then you see it: sand. A whole lotta sand. Every map in the game consists of at least 50% of this kind of terrain, and you aren't even allowed to build on it, for very obvious reasons.

Though, you quickly learn to deal with the limits, and if you're daring, find solutions to counter this supposed weakness. But the struggles of Arrakis don't end there. At the start of the third mission, you open with your routine of constructing, setting up guard, and readying the Harvesters. As you're still in the zone of settling down, something happens... you hear a new, disturbing sound. You hastily scan the explored parts of the map, only to find nothing. That is, until you realize your Harvester has gone missing! You're low on credits, don't even have enough for a new Refinery, and the only thing left to do is watch the eventual destruction of the doomed base.

You choose instead to restart the mission, avoiding humiliation.

This time, with curiosity in tow, you seek to discover the disruption of your temporary sorrows. The end result is the appearance of this thingy:

Curiouser and curiouser, you watch the ball of sand move towards your spice-gathering contraption, eventually moving below it.


And here you thought the other invaders were going to be the only threat. Now, instead of just protecting your property from another House, you also have to keep an eye out for the silent, natural predator of Arrakis, the dreaded Sand Worm. Not only can this troublesome creature single-handedly destroy your mini-economy, but it's really difficult to annihilate, displaying a ton of health and amazing maneuverability.

Can you believe this is just the beginning, the first step down a dangerous path on the desert planet? As you fight towards the final conflict, you'll encounter numerous sneak attacks from a new, mysterious House, and deal with each House's new, unique combat vehicles, like the Harkonnen's Devestator, a beefy tank that explodes in a fiery mess, or the Atreides' Sonic Tank, which fire sound projectiles through structures. But the best is saved for last, as one of the final building options become available: the Palace. Once constructed, each House's Palace can launch special attacks.

Atreides have Fremen, deadly troops with absurd health and firepower.

Ordos have the Saboteur, a lone, fast soldier which kamikazes a target with brute force.

But the Harkonnen, oh, the Harkonnen have the Death Hand, a powerful missile that causes tremendous amounts of damage... the thing can easily devastate half of a base if it hits a sweet spot. And you know what? The launching of the missile always signals one of the greatest moments in the game, as the announcement of "DEATH HAND APPROACHING!" will always send chills down a player's spine, as they sit and watch, powerless in the face of possible defeat.

Don't you see? Don't you get it? Dune: The Battle for Arrakis doesn't need extras to know how to rock. It's a simple, single-player experience that's enjoyable to play, thanks to its exotic setting, interesting characters, and plenty of drama during gameplay to keep you occupied for all three House campaigns. Even if the basic nature of Dune sounds like a turn-off, respect should be given for it being the template for a generation of real-time strategy titles to come. You wouldn't have releases like Command & Conquer and StarCraft if it weren't for this "primitive" game.

"Well," you say, "that only applies to PC gamers!" All I can say is: bull. On a console dominated by shoot-em-ups, platformers featuring animal mascots with attitudes, and side-scrollers with macho one-man-armies, Dune: The Battle for Arrakis not only offered a refreshing alternative, but presented a new genre to console gamers that were only familiar with the former. This one game, in a sense, acted as a bridge, giving players a taste of what's to come in this then-blossoming genre. It, in turn, introduced many to PC gaming.


pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (May 07, 2011)

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