Dungeon Keeper 2 - PC - Review
Bullfrog has long been one of the most creative studios developing for the PC. They virtually invented the “god-sim” genre with the original Populous, and introduced gamers to protagonists of questionable virtue in their Syndicate series. Both of those concepts met with Dungeon Keeper, the game that turned the tables on years of playing the hero. It was “good to be bad” as the game says. Now with the release of Dungeon Keeper 2, Bullfrog has refined the concept into a very playable and entertaining cross between a real-time strategy game and a simulation.
Working in a 32-bit, fully 3D environment, you, the Dungeon Keeper, carve out your little piece of purgatory to attract the evil minions of the netherworld to inhabit it. Build them a lair, a training room, a library for researching spells, and a prison to hold the hapless adventurer when he wanders into your dungeon. You can even build a temple, allowing your fortunate peons to pay proper homage to their master.
The hierarchy of characters/buildings will be familiar to strategy game players: build certain rooms to provide for and attract certain creatures. You must build a prison to get skeletons (the result of prisoners dying). Build a treasury to attract thieves or a library to attract a warlock. Work quickly and make good use of the gold your imps mine, and the manna accumulated. Set up your goblins at guard stations to alert your forces to any intruders. Once the fight begins, it is, for the most part, in the hands of your minions, although you may have to administer the back of your hand to an orc who loses his nerve. After the battle, you can haul the losers off to the torture chamber, and “delicately” extract the location of that stash of gold or enemy stronghold.
There are several different ways to play DK2. A full single-player campaign, multiplayer, or “Pet Dungeon” mode. The pet format is basically a simulation. There is no time frame or risk of enemy attack. You can methodically fashion the evil bastion to your exact specifications, then, when satisfied, call in some heroes to test out the fear traps or give your vampires something to chew on.
The single player campaign is an entertaining and challenging romp through an unsuspecting kingdom. Each scenario pits you against a different lord or duke, and the variety keeps the game interesting. Your goal may be to stop a cowardly king’s escape, steal the gold from a greedy duke, or the takedown of a knight and his forces. You are goaded along the way by Horny, your narrator and “guardian devil,” and can occasionally conjure him up in your dungeon if you get in a particularly sticky battle.
The multiplayer option allows you to set up head-to-head games with 2 to 4 people over the Internet or a LAN. These games can be played with teams or everyone for themselves, and the host can select from a variety of winning parameters.
The graphics are up to the quality we expect from Bullfrog. The dungeon is imaginative and well rendered, with warped walls and flickering torches. The muddy floors and soot filled halls do any housekeeper proud. The creatures are fully animated and textured 3D characters, with about the quality of the Unreal or Quake II models. The artists paid close attention to detail and it shows throughout the game. For instance, when a demon walks through a swamp, his footsteps leave steam; but as he moves onto dry land, he leaves burning embers. Very nice.
The sound and music in DK2 are excellent. The narrator’s voice is perfect for the part of “Horny” and his occasional chides and encouragements tend to be amusing (the compliments ring so hollow that they make me laugh).
Bullfrog has gone a long way to not take the theme too seriously. Some will surely be offended with the mere premise, but I found it to be presented in a “Nightmare before Christmas” style; a macabre subject presented in a ludicrous way with enjoyable enough results. The campaign cut scenes give a hint to Bullfrog’s sense of humor. In one scene an orc plays handball with a chicken, and in another, a skeleton removes his eye to use it to look around a corner. Whimsical and silly, but never at the expense of making a good game. This well-polished product is the way to go if you’re tired of raiding the deep dark dungeons and want to try your hand at ruling it instead.
Installation: 8 No problems to speak of. Install takes a healthy 250+ megs.
Gameplay 9 Intuitive interface. Easy to get into. Experienced gamers might forgo the manual. Smooth flowing, well done mix of strategy and simulation, with some action thrown in for good measure
Graphics 8 A little clipping in the characters, but the colors and design look great and it’s fully accelerated, with multiple resolutions.
Sound 9 Great voice acting, and overall very professional. “Horny” could be the Darth Vader voice of computer games.
Concept 8 Original (well this is a sequel, but it was their idea in the first place) and really the only game in this style. Glad to see they didn’t cut corners.
Difficulty 6 Not real difficult, but then it is part sim. The multiplayer feature makes the game as difficult as any human can be.
Value 7 Longevity depends on whether you get into the multiplayer. If not, it loses some playability over time. The dungeons aren’t nearly as complex as the cities in Simcity or the parks in Roller Coaster Tycoon, so after the campaign, there isn’t much else to do, but hey, it was fun while it lasted!