Jan 8, 2013

A Step Back in Time - Dune (Cryo, 1992)

I'd been having a break from adventure games for a few weeks. Sometimes I need to step away from the methodical, slow pace of such games and spend some time on something more reflex based, more immediately satisfying. After finishing my playthrough of Redneck Rampage the other day, however, I was definitely ready to take another look at adventure games. My choice was, of course, Cryo Interactive Entertainment's 1992 title Dune.

Dune somehow manages to reuse assets multiple times and still remain visually evocative
Normally I find myself quite suspicious of Cryo games - my experiences with their works in the past has often left me wanting of more from their games. Indeed, my time spent with various games by the developer has left me underwhelmed. 1992, however, was a fine year for games, and I am incredibly pleased to report that Dune - the company's very first title under the Cryo Interactive name - ranks as a highlight even among the splendid offerings on show for the period.

The art direction is moody, unique and perfectly atmospheric, with bold palettes and daring designs
Mention Dune in regards to video games and one undoubtedly thinks of Westwood's real time strategy title from the same year that paved the way for Command & Conquer - a real time strategy title whose influence is felt even in modern RTS games. This, however, is a rather different affair. It's still a strategy title - you must manage resource collection, troop training and deployment and such things - but it's also an adventure title as well. The concept seems a little odd at first, but I quickly grew familiar with it, and realized exactly how brilliant the formula is.

It's still a strategy game, but seamlessly blended with the wonderful adventure elements
The effect is almost like a strategy game with a playable story that takes place at the same time. Rather than the cutscene heavy style of games like the Command and Conquer series, the story unfolds at the same time as you're exploring and managing your resources. One minute you may be sending miners out to collect equipment, the next you may be looking for a new sietch to rally to your cause, the next you will be attending to a drama at the palace. It all unfolds in real time, with a delightful day/night cycle, a decent plot to uncover (albeit with some elements feeling a little hasty, such as the instant romance) and memorable characters.

Sand worms don't fail to impress when one finally encounters them
This can all become a little complex, but thankfully the game starts off quite simple, holding your hand through the introduction and explanation of the elements one by one, gradually giving you more options, abilities and problems to solve. It feels whole, a symbiotic pairing of story and gameplay which can be unfortunately rare in the medium. The sound and graphics are perfectly blended with these elements, and I am particularly impressed with the art design which is at once arrestingly immersive and yet uncompromising in its boldness.

Dialogue with characters is essential to moving forward in the game
Westwood's Dune 2 changed the world, establishing many hallmarks of the RTS game and is still an extremely relevant title over 20 years after its release. Cryo's Dune, however, explores a style which never really took off, which I think is a mighty shame. The blending of two wildly different genres has rarely been executed with as much style, sensibility and playability as Cryo managed to do here, and Dune manages to inspire long after its release. Definitely one to try.

1 comment:

  1. I loved this game. I don't know if I've ever met anyone else who played it but it was so good and so Dune.