Somewhere in time and space lies the planet Arrakis, also known as “Dune.” It’s surface is a gigantic desert, inhabited only by the “fremen” and the ferocious sand worms. And yet it is of vital interest to the Empire, because it is the only known source of the spice Melange, a drug with truly wondrous powers. The scenario starts out with the Emperor in dire need of great quantities of spice. In order to increase the harvesting, he offers a contest to the three most powerful families on Dune: the family who produces the largest quantity of Melange will be given exclusive harvesting rights. So the righteous Atreides, the cunning Ordos and the treacherous Harkonnen get down to battle it out among themselves. You play the role as Chief of Staff for one of the three houses of Dune, bound to win nine battles in a war for total domination of the planet. Each house offers its own specialised units, and also represents a different level of difficulty. Each battle starts out with a short briefing by your advisor, after which you get to the main game screen. It consists of a large map area, with a command box to the right. Just below the command box is a small radar screen that can display an overview of whole playfield. From two sort-of menus at the top of the screen, you can get help about the game. An option window allows you to load and save games, set game speed, and such.
Scattered around the map are your buildings, vehicles and soldiers – usually called “units” in that genre. You command those units by clicking on them to activate them, and then selecting an action from the command box. Depending on the type of the unit, your choices vary. For example, to create buildings you instruct your construction facility to do so. Step by step, you build up your base complete with factories for armored vehicles, power generators, and perimeter defenses. Most vital of all are the spice refineries, because only by harvesting spice and processing it can you gain the money necessary to build up your outpost. Once you feel up to it – or whenever your opponent feels up to it – the battle starts. Dune II features an impressive array of mobile and stationary weaponry that can be put to good use. Orchestrating a battle on Dune can be much fun, but it also takes up a lot of time. While the earlier conquests can usually be handled in a few minutes, they get rapidly more and more taxing while the game progresses. Also, between conquests, there’s a tactical map display that lets you select your next battle, so there are 66 scenarios in all to explore. And the ending? After having finished the last battle, you find yourself in disgrace with the Emperor – so the battle will possibly continue in one or several Dune II Data Disks. Like the original Dune game, the graphic presentation is quite convincing. While the game itself doesn’t depend solely on its graphics, they certainly enhance the gameplay.
The sound effects accompanying the game are nice. Basically, it’s atmospheric background music interspersed with “action” sounds like shells going off, and unit commanders responding with “operation complete” and such. Maybe they’ve gone a bit too far by letting soldiers die screaming when you hit them with a truck. Overall, the game control is very intuitive, so you can get right down to playing once you have understood the basics of the game. Since each level of the game offers more and more hardware to play with, the fight for supremacy on Dune never gets dull. Your computer opponent isn’t too smart, but he’s got some quite effective offensive maneuvers up his sleeve. However, at no level the computer player exposes the same cunning as an expert human player would do. If you like playable retro strategy games, this one’s for you.