The eventual videogame adaptation of Dune was bound to happen sooner or later. Frank Herbert's award-winning science-fiction masterpiece had captured a whole generation's imagination; his saga sprawling a massive six volumes, the original of which was made into a film in 1984.
Directed by David Lynch, the film version of Dune wasn't exactly what you'd call a commercial success in industry terms, but the film has since become a bona fide cult, fondly remembered as a spectacular, unique and horrendously flawed in its ambition to transcribe such a vast and detailed literary universe into a coherent 2-hour script.
Can a game succeed where the film did not?


Released in 1992, the Dune game is a vast, enchanting and compelling story-based wargame, developped by Cryo Interactive Entertainment. It presents itself as a curious, adult-orientated mix of point-and-click strategy gameplay and progressive storytelling that remains more or less faithful the first Dune book, but also refers to the film in some elements of its design (excerpts from the film can be watched on the CD-ROM versions).
The game begins as Paul Atreides and his family arrive on Arrakis, the desert planet also knows as 'Dune', whose vast deserts are the only known source of the 'Spice', the most precious substance in the universe. These deserts are also crawling with Fremen - the planet's native desert nomads.
House Atreides has been contracted to harvest the precious Spice Melange for the Emperor, all of this whilst their sworn enemies, the Harkonnens, are also on Dune. Paul (the player) must locate and recruit as many Fremen troops as possible, and train them in one of three skills: spice harvesting, military training, or ecology. Ecological development depletes Spice reserves, so by creating a delicate balance of Spice, Army and Ecology, you must slowly but surely gain control of the entire planet. By carefully harvesting and stockpiling Spice Melange, it is possible to buy weaponry from smugglers, and begin the 'Holy War' against the Atreides' sworn enemies, the Harkonnens. The familiar storytelling mixes well with the gameplay - always pointing the player is the right direction. It's a bit strange that ecological development is ultimately pointless, though.


Once the stage has been set, it's all point-and-click from there on in as you race around the clock recruiting as many Fremen as you can find, whilst frantically harvesting Spice to pay off the ever-demanding Emperor. This structure works remarkably well - the learning curve is perfectly set, and the game becomes instantly engrossing thanks to its superb art direction and musically ambient atmosphere. The interface is smooth and to-the-point - with a mouse it become a second thought, and you can tell that a lot of effort has gone into the design.


A success then? Well it's not particularly that special, but Dune does have its place in videogame history. Besides being a reasonably enjoyable wargame, it's also one of the very first PC games to be specifically developed for the CD-ROM medium. PC disk and Amiga versions were also released, but it's the PC CD-ROM version that easily provides the best package: it benefits from extra animations, voice acting for every character (in English), video excerpts from the film, and a slick techno-ambient soundtrack by Exxos.
A version for the Mega Drive Mega-CD was also released by Virgin in the US and Europe, but not in Japan.


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