There was a time when Dune could've been a behemoth of a franchise. Alejandro Jodorowsky's early treatment from the 70s became a legend in its own right and even inspired the likes of Star Wars and Alien. After David Lynch's underwhelming adaptation, the SyFy channel brought it to the small screen in the early 2000s with a small budget to match. So far, it's the best there is (that is until Denis Villeneuve gives us his inevitably awesome take) but I cannot forgive it for siring Frank Herbert's Dune, Cryo's broken attempt at a video game on PC and PlayStation 2.
Developed by Widescreen Games under the guidance of Cyro's publishing division, Dune would ultimately be the last ever game from that notorious French studio. While it came out on PC in some European territories in November 2001, other countries, including those in the English speaking world would have to wait until April 2002. Europe also got a PlayStation 2 port at the same time. It doesn't seem like anything was done in those extra five months beyond cajoling Dreamcatcher Interactive into handling some of the distribution. It remains a broken, almost unplayable mess - to the point where they couldn't even spell the author's name right on the title screen.
Who's this 'Franck' Herbert I keep hearing about? (left PC)
The PC version's "Exit Game" option won't work. Press Alt-F4 to quit (right PC)
Let's begin with the PC version. You can tell something is off from the very first cutscene. While these tiresome story beats are commendably portrayed using the in-game engine, the timing and editing is all off. Dialogue has obviously been programmed to coincide with an on-screen action but it hasn't been calibrated to actually fit. As such, the voice over will carry on and overlap the beginning of the next sentence. From what I've played so far, no other cutscenes suffer from this and the PS2 port attempted to fix it by slowing down the video but not the audio. It's a hasty fix that has the unfortunate effect of making every sentence end with a long, awkward pause. From what I can gather this is not due to an error on modern computers - I found one user review from much closer to the time (2003 to be exact) that mentioned it too. I expect the professional reviewers felt it would be fixed before release or not worth spending the time over. How IGN gave it 82% I'll never know!
When you finally get to the main menu, you have the option to play a tutorial. I recommend going through it at least to get to grips with a somewhat quirky yet functional control scheme. It will also go through a number of puzzles and situations that you will encounter frequently throughout the game, in particular, the stealth takedowns.
You can attack from behind using your knife named Krys (left PC)
or clumsily aim your laser gun to shoot (right PC)
We begin the main story on the desert plains of Arakkis - also known as Dune - where Paul Atreides escorts his mother to the safety of an underground city of the native Fremen. You see, there's a war on Arakkis between the Atreides and the Harkonnen families over control of a spice known as Melange, an elixir with mystical properties that prolongs life, and this has led to much of Paul's family to be slaughtered.
This spice is all over Dune and can be seen in the opening section of the game. Pay attention to the colour of the sand. The darker orange areas are Spice but for the purpose of the game will act like quicksand and slow you down. It won't be long before you encounter a colossal sandworm, an imposing beast that swims through the Arrakeen sands, and it is here where you'll encounter some major issues with the gameplay.
While this set piece remains visually impressive, surviving the attack will not just frustrate but aggravate. The camera is now locked into a position that initially suggests you'll have to run right but after a couple of game over screens, you'll realise you need to high-tail it towards the screen, just where any obstacles - like the molasses that is Melange - are hidden from view. First-time players will no doubt die several times before they make it to the end of this stage (I had to watch a playthrough to eventually find the right route). Their punishment: watch through every lengthy, terribly edited and unskippable cutscenes again.
You can gather mission info Sietch HQ (left PC)
Starting a new mission (right PC)
Things get a little better after this opening section. You are placed in the Fremen rebel HQ known as the Sietch where you are seen as their foretold saviour. You can explore the area freely, chatting to the residents or visiting market stalls. It also acts as a hub of sorts between missions.
Missions mostly consist of stealthily dispatching enemies with your knife before inevitably being spotted. If you are, you're knife suddenly becomes useless and the only damage you can inflict will be with your laser gun. You can't just shoot like any other standard third-person actioner, as you'll first need to lock on by holding the right mouse button. It's clunky, unnecessary but thankfully the game rarely gets chaotic enough for it to be truly an issue once you get to grips with it.
Drinking water replenishes some of your health (left PS2)
Fill up your water gauge by taking down enemies with your Krys (right PS2)
What will be an issue is the obscene lack of ammo. The game wants you to be stealthy and pick off the enemy guards one-by-one with your knife. Yet, they're so sensitive to your approach that 60% of the time you'll have to resort to a gun fight. Each guard takes 2-3 hits (in the early sections at least) and there simply isn't enough bullets for each of them. If you allow enough errant guards to spot you, it could be a long time before you realise you're stuck. There's nothing left to do in this situation but die. Or restart the level. Or quit playing, which is my prefered option.
Ammo reserves may have been botched by the development team, but the health system fares somewhat better. There are two gauges at the bottom left of the screen. The green bar is your physical health but the blue bar is your water reserves. Due to the harsh desert environment of Dune, water is scarce and can have an invigoring effect on the body. You can drink some water for some health at any time which would be commendable if the shooting mechanics weren't so weak.
Pickups are few and far between. Treasure your ammo (left PS2) and water distillers (right PS2)
There are different things to like and hate between the PC and PlayStation 2 version. The former has better visuals and framerate (naturally) while the latter is locked to a slower 50hz thanks to its European exclusivity. On the flip side, the emulation means you can take advantage of save states and a turbo feature - a godsend for such punishing trial-and-error gameplay. The PC original will only save in between missions, and some of them can be quite lengthy. Apart from some testing, most of my playthrough was on the PS2 version for this reason alone, and the support of a control pad doesn't hurt either. It lacks a dedicated walking button that's useful for the stealth takedowns. Instead, it relies on the analogue stick for speed of movement, but I found it to be overall a more polished experience by comparison. It's all relative though.
Beyond the bugs, boredom and bad design, Frank Herbert's Dune is filled with wasted potential. It was pushed to market too soon to try and recoup some money to save the struggling Cryo, but its poor sales did nothing for it. Cryo closed its doors soon after. I'm not the biggest fan of Cryo - they were always style-over-substance, graphics-over-gameplay - but they often had an off-kilter experimental streak that made for some curious oddities. Sadly, Frank Herbert's Dune is not one of them. Avoid.
To download the PC game, follow the link below. This is a custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses dgVoodoo in conjunction with DxWnd to run on modern systems. nGlide 3D Wrapper (included) must be installed. Manual included. Tested on Windows 10.
File Size: 391 Mb. Install Size: 555 Mb. Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ
To download the PlayStation 2 version, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses PCSX2 to emulate the game on PCs. XInput (X-Box One / X-Box 360) controllers supported. Manual included. Tested on Windows 10.
File Size: 479 Mb. Install Size: 718 Mb. Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ
Frank Herbert's Dune (the game) is © Cryo Interactive
Frank Herbert's Dune (the mini series) is © Victor Television Productions Inc & Beta Film
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me