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Game Review: Dungeon Keeper -- SimCity's unreleased New Jersey add-on

Dungeon Keeper

For Windows 95

Bullfrog Productions Ltd.

Available in stores

By Mark Huang
Staff Reporter

A lot of people have compared Dungeon Keeper to Simfoo - letting foo be any noun including but not limited to City, Ant, World, and Brothel. Build, erect, enjoy, right? Not quite. Granted, Simfoo and Dungeon Keeper both require the same sense of rational utilitarianism and strategic analysis to play. But if you're a diehard Simfoo player and decide to blithely try out Dungeon Keeper, you'll very likely become immediately and terribly frustrated. You won't be praised by happy taxpayers for leading them to a brighter, happier, more Democratic future. You'll be deserted and backstabbed by your own hired minions when you renege on payday. You won't recreate the American experience and pave a city of 9x9 squares over once-pristine wilderness. You'll carve out torture chambers as quickly as you can out of solid rock and lace your misshapen lair with booby traps. Dungeon Keeper is not a nice game. It's for gamers who used to derive sick, repetitive pleasure from the "Godzilla" and "Earthquake" buttons of SimCity.

With that in mind, if you still have an itching need for a sim and can't wait until SimCity 3000, Dungeon Keeper's not bad, albeit a bit odd. Bullfrog, the makers of Syndicate, cheerfully raise the standard of slavery, dictatorship, and destruction as the banner to build a proper dungeon. As the lord of a well-greased Evil factory, you must expand your dungeon to attract minions and defend your gold against pesky two-bit heroes who wander your way from Diablo. It's a mean, incredibly detailed combination of SimCity's strategy, Diablo's plot, and Syndicate Wars' 3D engine. For good measure, Bullfrog threw in a Doom engine for the "Possess Creature" feature: usually (99 percent of the time), you view your dungeon from above, but when you possess a creature, you see through its eyes and can walk around. A fairly useless feature, but it does make for good back-of-the-box shots.

Your minions range from lazy Trolls to slimy Bugs to Bile Demons with severe halitosis. They don't need your constant attention, but they always need a good backslap from you to get them to work faster. There's something deeply satisfying about backslapping someone, which I think Bullfrog realized: trolls can take a fair amount of backslapping before getting mad. I could sit around for hours doing it. If slapping gets boring or dangerous, though, you can also throw your creatures into torture chambers resembling Hayden on a Thursday night. Its buddies will work up to 25 percent faster out of sheer fear. Try doing that to a city councillor in SimCity.

Such attention to detail is prevalent throughout the game. Heroes you slaughter don't just die they spew messily all over the place. Their corpses don't mysteriously disappear, either. They sit there and rot (and unsettle your workers) until you build a graveyard to store them. As soon as enough bodies pile up and decompose, Vampires rise from the dead and into your service along with the rest of your army. You have almighty control over your creatures. You can pick them up, move them, or direct them to perform certain actions with the mouse. The computer AI assists you in controlling them as little or as much as you require. I found that "Defensive" mode, where the AI only sends out your troops for defense and deals with minor administrivia, takes the tedium out of micromanagement. It leaves you to concentrate on more important things, such as killing heroes and casting spells. The spells you have on hand range from the mundane (Heal) to the awesomely powerful (Turn to Chicken). I personally enjoy Armageddon, Dungeon Keeper's solution for those of us with short attention spans. The spell teleports every creature on the map to the heart of your dungeon for one last, giant, bloody melee, sort of like Steer Roast.

The dungeons you build are short-term projects aimed at defiling more than a dozen of these areas of the countryside. Each mission only lasts about an hour or less, which makes the game seem quite short. Multiplayer option is available, but isn't really very fun. Like most Bullfrog products, Dungeon Keeper is well-coded and highly detailed, but a little too weird for the mainstream. It wasn't the anti-Diablo I was looking for, but it did highly entertain my twisted penchant for senseless violence for at least a couple of days.

Next week: Quake 2