dune: awakening

Ranking the Dune video games, from worst to best

From not spicy to 6M Scoville.

Denis Villeneuve’s movie adaptations of Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi novel, Dune, has become a cultural and commercial hit. That’s big for Team Hollywood, but I still have a hard time believing that Dune has done more for movies than it has for video games — so long as you ignore the kerfuffle over whether it influenced Star Wars.

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Even though the Dune games are far from occupying our most vivid memories of the real-time strategy boom of the ’90s, the whole genre owes its existence to this series. Also, there’s more to Dune games than just RTS. Not all of the series’ forays into other genres generated success, but even its failures have stories worth telling. Let’s rank all Dune games out there.

7. Frank Herbert’s Dune (2001)

This was Cryo Interactive’s final game, a French studio that now solely exists in the memories of many as the creators of average to not-very-good games. That’s an unfairly uncharitable description, but more on that later!

Even though it was not their best work, most knew Cryo for the Atlantis series of adventure games — which they wrote off as boring Myst ripoffs. Whether the haters were right or not, even at their blandest, those games were at least playable. Frank Herbert’s Dune was not. Cryo developed it during its death knell and the game ended up coming out in a clearly unfinished state. The result is an attempt at a stealth-action game with political elements woven in that didn’t work on any level.

Frank Herbert’s Dune got an expectedly poor reception from players and critics alike as a myriad of bugs prevented players from even getting to the just mediocre parts.

It’s saddening that the worst possible adaptation is the one that puts the name of the poor guy who came up with the story right there in the title. If even David Lynch disowned his merely average adaptation of Dune and credited it to Alan Smithee — a nonexistent guy Hollywood directors made up to pin their failures on — then imagine how much farther poor Frank Herbert would’ve tried to distance himself from this.

Luckily, over twenty years later, Funcom seems to be hard at work on a Dune experience that’ll revive the game series much like the movies just did.

All out war
Image by MobyGames

6. Dune 2000 (not from 2000)

We might be living in the remake era right now, but remakes were already a thing when Dune 2000 came out back in, ugh… 1998.

Dune 2000 is the remake of a much better title that I’m not going to talk about here because that’d be just disrespectful. Dune 2000 added those sweet C&C-style cutscenes with CGI backgrounds, but it simply failed to improve much upon a game that was just five years old at that point and also didn’t bring anything that new to the table. It’s not terrible, but it doesn’t feel that much better than its predecessor — nor as good as the Command & Conquer games of its time.

5. Emperor: Battle For Dune (2001)

The good news for fans of Dune, back in 2001, was that Cryo’s unfinished game wasn’t the only Dune game to grace that year. Though probably too heavy on the average systems of the time for its looks, Emperor: Battle For Dune was gorgeous nonetheless.

The first (and only) fully 3D Dune RTS still echoes in my mind, as I sometimes remember the first time I saw a massive sandworm showing up to destroy my army, just because it could. Battle For Dune was a visual feast, though not all that innovative when it comes to gameplay, and that’s why it doesn’t get higher on this ranking.

Image by DunemodsDB

4. Dune Wars (2009)

I find it hilarious that whoever holds the rights to Dune seems to always be either all too eager to sell the rights, or not at all. Dune Wars came about at a point when the fountain was seemingly dry, as it’s a mod for Civilization IV and not an actual licensed Dune property. Still, it’s too good to ignore. It’s also a unique title on this list because it’s not another RTS or political strategy sim, or in Frank Herbert’s Dune‘s case, an unplayable mess.

Give this turn-based foray into this universe a try if you want a new approach to a familiar thing done inside an already great game.

3. Dune: Spice Wars (2023)

If Dune Wars isn’t a spicy enough title for you, then perhaps you’ll like Dune: Spice Wars. To avoid confusion just for the sake of a great joke, I have to inform you that the two games are completely unrelated. This is an actual official release by Shiro Games that seems to accompany the 2021 film, bringing the Dune name back to its former glory.

It’s a 4X strategy game, which means that it gives players a mix of real-time and turn-based strategy mechanics that they can use to bring Arrakis to their feet. It also invites new great houses to the fold, looks great, plays great, and should get anyone hyped to see the future of the series under Funcom.

2. Dune (1992)

Hah, remember all the merciless clowning on that Cryo suffered throughout the years? It’s time for the studio to get its revenge, Atreides style. Way back in 1992, for DOS and the Amiga, Cryo made a political strategy adventure adaptation of Dune that interwove the story of the book with some of the looks from the actual movie — and it was damn good.

Dune was Cryo’s finest hour, not just for combining so many complex elements, but also because it featured one of the best soundtracks in the history of gaming. Yeah, much like David Lynch’s poorly received adaptation, the game also featured a banger of a soundtrack. Why am I talking about this? Because if that’s of any interest to you, the soundtrack of the original Dune game has been remastered, and it’s just beautiful.

Image by MobyGames

1. Dune II (1993)

Sadly for Cryo, even its finest hour wasn’t good enough to prevent the company’s greatest accomplishment from getting overshadowed by something even better. In a move that history would later repeat, Cryo would end up having its Dune game competing with a different Dune game.

Despite a title that indicates a continuation of both the themes and the mechanics of the original game, Dune II was anything but. Heck, Dune II wasn’t even made by the same company as Dune. It was helmed by Westwood, the studio that would later create the highly successful Command & Conquer series, and you guessed it, this is where they wrote the blueprint that would dominate the gaming landscape for a while.

Though the old-time graphics might look off-putting nowadays, this game is still the stuff of legends. Dune II was not just a fresh concept by the time of release, but already a fully-fledged near-masterpiece all on its own. We’ve all been waiting for a new Dune RTS for too long now, and the task of dethroning this emperor is one that will still prove a hefty challenge.

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Tiago Manuel
Tiago is a freelancer who used to write about video games, cults, and video game cults. He now writes for Destructoid in an attempt to find himself on the winning side when the robot uprising comes.