It's a poorly designed 3D action-adventure game that actually has precious little to do with the source material and equally little to recommend it.
Frank Herbert's Dune is one of the towering monuments of imaginative fiction. This massive novel brings feudalism to the far future, creating an unforgettable story of a messianic hero, political intrigue and betrayal, mysticism, and more. Not surprisingly, Dune has spawned a number of games and films. On the gaming side, Westwood's Dune II helped create the real-time strategy genre on the PC back in 1992, and it was followed by a number of sequels, like the recent Emperor: Battle for Dune. With movies, Dune fans were first treated (or subjected as the case may be) to David Lynch's controversial 1984 adaptation, which was visually unforgettable but infamously incoherent. More recently, SCI FI Channel ran a six-hour miniseries called Frank Herbert's Dune. Directed by John Harrison, this Emmy-winning adaptation unquestionably stuck closer to the spirit, if not the letter, of the source material than Lynch's version did. It also featured some fine acting and high production values. Now Dune films and games meet in Frank Herbert's Dune, a tie-in for the miniseries. Unfortunately, it's a poorly designed 3D action-adventure game that actually has precious little to do with the miniseries and equally little to recommend it.
In the game, you'll assume the role of young Paul Atreides, scion of a noble house that's been sent to administer the desert planet, Arrakis, also known as Dune. Dune is the source of the invaluable spice that lies at the core of civilization, commerce, and space travel. With the aid of the Emperor, the evil House Harkonnen plots against the Atreides family, resulting in the death of Paul's father the Duke, as well as most of the royal house. Paul and his mother, Jessica, survive by escaping to the desert. The game plays out during the time that Paul and Jessica spend among the fierce desert warriors known as the Fremen, as they bide their time for revenge against the Harkonnen. You'll lead Paul from a third-person viewpoint as he carries out raids on Harkonnen and spice smuggler bases.
You'll quickly learn that just trying to move Paul during these missions can be a real chore. Throughout the game, he constantly gets caught on objects and other characters, even when he's only in their general vicinity, and the camera is often blocked by walls, rocks, and other objects. In the horribly ill-conceived second mission, you're forced to avoid a giant sandworm by actually running toward the camera, into its blind spot. That wouldn't necessarily be so bad--as awkward as it is--if it weren't for the fact the ground is littered with hard-to-spot patches of quicksand.
That sort of poor design carries over to the majority of the game. To view detailed information about your inventory items, you need to cycle through a slow-moving, clumsily animated menu system. Just trying to start a new game can be a hassle because of the awkward interface for naming your game session. You have to scroll through letters like you do in a console game interface instead of just typing them in. The game is also beset with lengthy load times, a lack of difficulty levels, and the inability to save the game during the overly lengthy missions.
The structure of the actual missions isn't handled well either. These story-based tasks contain a mixture of stealth, action, and light puzzle solving, and the tension from sneaking around can be genuinely enjoyable in brief spurts. However, instead of mainly having to use your head or your reflexes, you'll often need to resort to blind trial and error. You'll also find that the missions play almost identically every time: The utterly moronic guards will be standing in the same places and will appear out of thin air every time you activate a hidden trigger. The missions would play a lot better if the guards you needed to kill patrolled more, letting you gauge their movements so that you could sneak past them or eliminate them from behind. Many just stand there, though, forcing head-on confrontations.