Dune 2: Battle for Arrakis
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The Genesis release was just called "Dune" - the "2" is to differentiate it from this "Dune"

"Dune 2: Battle for Arrakis" is an undisputed classic. If you've ever played a real time strategy game on your PC, you pretty much owe it to Westwood and "Dune 2". "Dune 2" may not have been the first ever RTS (That was probably "Herzog Zwei", at least for consoles anyway), but it was certainly the one that made the genre popular. If you've heard of a little ol' game called "Command and Conquer", then you may know that "Dune 2" was the basis for it.

Don't know what I'm talking about? You have a map (far bigger than the visible screen, which you can scroll around), you can start to build a base, the bad guys are building their own base, you both have to compete for resources, and one of you needs to control the whole map while making the other guy's base a smoking ruin. As the levels advance, you can build more and more involved and interesting buildings and offensive and defensive units, as well as upgrading existing ones. Essentially, it's just like "Sim City" except you get to blow shit up. As with "Sim City", all of this happens in real time - it's not turn based like a lot of other strategy games - which makes for big fun, in my humble opinion. To be brutally honest, if this kind of thing appeals to you, you're better off trying it on a PC, as a MegaDrive isn't exactly the best venue for RTS games.

Don't know what Dune is? Dune was a classic science fiction novel, then a series of novels, then a movie by David Lynch, then some really shitty prequel novels, then a couple of miniseries on the Sci-Fi Channel in the US. It's essentially a space opera and a coming of age story, and an excellent read. Start with the first book, stay away from the prequels. The movie is good, but will be more enjoyable if you read the book first, and the miniseries are also decent, and probably explain things marginally better than the movie did, if a bit less artistically. Special note for trainspotters, the second miniseries actually covers both "Dune Messiah" and "Children of Dune", and in my humble opinion, they did about as good a job as could be done in the process, at least without making a movie that's 12 hours long and about 20 people would want to see.

To spell it out a bit further, there's a galactic empire which uses the spice melange to create Guild navigators which can fold space, thus allowing feasible travel between solar systems. This spice is only found on one planet, Arrakis, and everyone wants a piece of the action. Arrakis is a rather fierce desert planet with giant sandworms and native tribesmen called Fremen who don't exactly like outsiders. The plot of the game itself is that you join one of three Houses of the empire - the insidious Ordos, the evil Harkonnen or the noble Atriedes (the Atriedes are the heroes of the novels, the Harkonnens the villains and the Ordos.. made up, more or less). Each house has specific vehicle types, and later in the game, special powers via palaces.

The version of "Dune 2" that the MegaDrive got is a surprisingly effective conversion. The control system is reasonably fluid, and there's not much evidence of slowdown. About the only thing you'll miss (and you won't miss it if you've never played an RTS game on a PC before) is the ability to select multiple units at once. It does get rather tedious sending, for example, eight tanks to attack the same target.. click on one, then click on its target, then another, then… etc.

The graphics are, well, representative, and not a million miles away from the original PC game.. there's even some rather nice (initially, until you get bored) speech when you click on each unit, and some good tunes which also get boring after a while - if you're playing the same stage for an hour and a half, and believe me, it'll happen, the music can get old. Password save between missions lets you play it a bit at a time, but once you're a few missions in, they can take up quite a bit of time to finish, and there's no mid-mission save.

I love the game, but I have to admit that's more a halo effect from all the good times I had with the PC version back in college. Still and all, I completed all three houses on the MegaDrive version, and it was one of the few carts I kept from my previous, earlier MegaDrive collection, so that should tell you something.

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