Emperor: Battle for the Real Time Strategy Oscar

The band Toto did the music for the movie "Dune". They had nothing to do with the game, but I really hate them.Seeing as how I am a fairly large fan of real time strategy games and an even larger fan of the books and David Lynch film of Dune, I picked up "Emperor: Battle for Dune" last week. I had read in reviews that it closely emulated Westwood's classics "Command & Conquer" and "Red Alert" so I assumed I would find it fairly enjoyable. Based on my experiences in "Red Alert", where during every other cut-scene someone drank poisoned tea and flopped around on a table gasping for five minutes, I came expecting some horrible overacting and cheap set pieces intermingled with above-average CGI animation. I was not disappointed.

Here is a sample of dialogue from one of the scenes in "Emperor: Battle for Dune", it takes place near the end of the Atreides campaign.

Duke Achilles (Michael Dorn): THE GUILD HAS ATTACKED ARRACKIS! WE MUST GO! THEY MUST BE STOPPED! THEY ARE BREEDING A GIANT WORM FOR APPARENTLY NO REASON OTHER THAN TO KILL EVERYONE INCLUDING THEMSELVES!

Mentat (Tom Bosley): My Duke, I have failed you, I will tender my-

Duke Achilles (gesturing wildly): DON'T PLAY THE FOOL! WE WILL HAVE THE SMUGGLERS TAKE US, THE ONES THAT I HAVE MENTIONED FOR THE FIRST TIME JUST NOW. PLEASE JUMP UP AND DOWN LIKE I AM DOING.

Mentat (picking pieces of the set out of his teeth): Yessssss, the smugglers can take us there, you are a GENIUS my lord! (Turns to face the camera). Sometimes Maddie Hayes can be a bit annoying, but the girl has a lot of class, if you ignore the way she drinks a coke. I think we can solve this case for Blue Moon, what about you? Yeah…that's what I thought too.

Duke Achilles (lighting himself on fire and going down a slide naked while illuminated by spotlights): WHO ARE YOU TALKING TO MENTAT?

Mentat (pretending to absently brush lint from two-dollar unitard): No one sir. Just making the plans, you know, the smugglers and all. THE SMUGGLERS, AIIIIIEEEE (drinks poison tea and rolls up and down a hill while faking convulsions).

Duke Achilles (swinging on harness with flashing Christmas lights covering his body): LONG LIVE THE FIGHTERS! LONG LIVE THE FIGHTERS! Long live the fighters. LONG LIVE THE FIGHTERS!

In a conceptualized but never filmed scene for the game, Duke Achilles gestures wildly and shouts about "THE FIGHTERS!" while a Guildsman imagines his evil plot.The plot of the game is a hollow mockery of the first book of the Dune chronicles, with House Harkonnen and House Atreides pitted against one another. Westwood has again added their own House Ordos and included a number of fairly neat smaller factions like the Fremen and Sardaukar with whom you can align yourself during the course of the game. Then they ruined all this by taking a big old literary shit on the script of their game and adding in complete nonsense about the Guild making a giant Emperor Worm using some machine while the guildsman cackles madly. The guildsman is unfortunately hairless, making Westwood's desired "mustache twirling" sequence impossible. For continuity reasons they also had to omit their "sandworm in wig tied to railroad tracks" scene.

Game play is straightforward and fun and not at all revolutionary. In fact, the game plays exactly like a prettier version of all of Westwood's previous RTS games with some new units and the setting of Dune. The game is true 3D but the camera movement is somewhat limited. The path finding is passable and the AI ranges from decent to fairly bad. As is the norm in RTS games, the AI is excellent at resource management and production and horrible at recognizing an impenetrable static defense and adapting to it. Playing as the Atreides I would frequently dump a line of heavy vehicles at the entrance to my base and station a repair vehicle or two behind them and not even pay attention to the endless wave attacks that the computer threw at me. On the flip side of the coin the computer would relentlessly pursue my Tiberi-err…spice harvesters, forcing a need for frequent spearhead attacks on the enemy's mobile forces.

The computer opponent enjoys doing the following:

Jeff K attempts to spell his name by building bunkers in Emperor: Battle for Dune. Oh wait, that's Red Alert 2. Close enough.

  • Building 50 refineries and 200 factories in the time it takes your infantry barracks to produce a very large and fancy hat for your general, who should emerge from the barracks at around the same time the computer has covered the whole map with tanks stacked ten high.
  • Launching an atomic weapon at your construction yard roughly every five seconds despite the fact that you fully repair it in between these useless attacks. The computer also never seems to want to "waste" one of these precious missiles on the five thousand infantry you have massed in the corner of your base.
  • Making sure every centimeter of your base is coated with scouts who have no weapon and are invisible unless an infantryman literally walks into them. It obviously wants to know exactly where all the units you are massing for an attack are so that it can under no circumstances launch an atomic at them.
  • Sending a crushingly large tank force to your base where they then assume "parade formation" for your defensive units who "applaud them" with incessant attacks until the rousing finale of the parade where the last of the computer's stupid units explodes.
  • Attacking heavy tanks with long range anti-infantry artillery that forces me to take precious time out of my schedule and make my sleepy unit move two inches forward so that it can shoot at it. Yes, my units are just as stupid as the computer.
  • Pursuing invisible infantry all around its base. Apparently the computer has outfitted all of its tanks with "psychic infantry detectors" that allow it to sense where you have hidden scouts and the like.
  • Building huge masses of power generators in the shape of a giant target so that you can more easily eliminate all of the computer's electrical capacity.
  • Sending a constant trickle of infantry to your base to be "processed" by your units who fire at and obliterate them from halfway across the screen. The computer also likes to introduce Engineers and Saboteurs in this manner, rolling out the red carpet for them and "shaking hands" with long range artillery.

With as much fun as I have poked at the game's cut scenes, I would like to point out that "Emperor: Battle for Dune" still seems to have higher production values and acting on par with the Sci-Fi channel miniseries based on Dune. The Fremen in the game look convincingly like the Fremen from the theatrical movie and the in-game unit detail shows its roots to be similarly with Lynch's film adaptation. I was particularly fond of the tiny Sardaukar infantry who had glowing green faceplates that emit light. The game is entertaining but highly flawed, I recommend it for die-hard Dune and RTS fans only.

– Zack "Geist Editor" Parsons (@sexyfacts4u)

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