Do you like PC games? Are you in your thirties? If the answer is ‘yes' to both of these questions, it's a fair assumption that you're pining for Bullfrog remakes. Phat Chopps and I have, between us, sent an impassioned email to Mr. Peter Molyneux, with a list of demands for what would definitely be the ultimate Syndicate remake. Never heard back, oddly.
But enough about me. Dungeons is Dungeon Keeper for the modern age. And don't they know it. You won't have got through the first two levels before veiled references to the Bullfrog classic crop up, as well as mention of a certain Diabolic point-and-click hack-and-slash classic by Blizzard...
Whatever you might make of it, Dungeons is not a game that takes itself too seriously. The entire premise is tongue-in-cheek, a gentle lampooning of the genre which actually transcribes into gameplay. Here's how it goes:
You're a Dungeon Lord, cast from your throne by your treacherous girlfriend and forced to start your dungeon dominating from scratch. The object of the game, in essence, is to build up prestige. Prestige is earned by kitting out your dungeon with spooky ornamentation such as coffins and shelves full of skulls (with Swedish-sounding names riddled with umlauts, suggesting that the Dungeon Lord does his interior design shopping at you-know-where). Your dungeon decorations (known as gimmicks) are purchased with gold and soul energy, both of which are harvested from heroes who enter your dungeon. But you can't just wait by the entrance and slaughter the little blighters as soon as they stick their +1 helmeted heads through the door. See, this is where things get clever.
In order to acquire the delicious soul energy you need to power your spells and buy your gimmicks, the heroes have to enjoy themselves in your dungeon. And heroes have different needs that you must cater to: Massive piles of gold for them to loot is a pretty good starting point, of course, but wizardly types like to hang around in well-appointed underground libraries (naturally), and warriors love them some armouries. And so on. Some adventurers get a kick out of hurting your guard-monsters, others enjoy being hurt themselves (pretty weird if you ask me, but it all makes sense in the mechanics of the thing). Essentially, it's up to you to cater to the needs of the local adventuring community, creating the ultimate fun park for dungeoneers.
And then, of course, when they're loaded with loot and grinning from ear to ear, you leap out from behind a sarcophagus and duff them up, taking back all of your loot and harvesting their soul energy. This is best done by chucking them into a cell, and then maybe torturing them a bit. It's good to be bad!
All of which makes it feel like a cross between a couple of really good games. So is it fun to play? Well, yes, actually. If you liked Dungeon Keeper, you'll probably like Dungeons. If you loved Dungeon Keeper to a rabid, fanatical extent, you'll no doubt be outraged at the slightly different direction Dungeons takes (controllable Dungeon Lord, catering to heroes' needs, etc.) Sometimes, you can find yourself standing around waiting for your goblin miners to dig tunnels (they insist in stopping periodically to trek all the way across the dungeon to bring you the 1 gold piece they've found in their mining exploits - the best way to avoid this huge waste of time is to stand over them and oversee their work personally, but this means you're only doing one really efficient excavation project at a time), and at other times you're stood around waiting for more spelunking fools to appear at the dungeon entrances. However, another criticism is that you need to do a lot of micromanagement in order to create the best dungeon (carefully placing your dungeon gimmicks to lure adventurers along certain routes you want them to follow), so picking the quiet moments to micromanage the dungeon décor is all part of the game. There are a couple of little niggling balance issues in places, but nothing that a bit of modding or even a thoughtful patch can't sort out.
The humour is pitched about right for this sort of game (somewhere between eye-rolling and groan-worthy), and the heroes are the right combination of dumb and crazy to make you giggle madly while taking them down, but the thing that really impressed me about Dungeons is the way the central premise was translated into gameplay. The idea of a dungeon as a huge underground bait to lure adventurers to have a good time, so you can suck the life force out of them is not just cool idea, but it also gives the structure necessary to hang the game on. The system requirements are about what you'd expect for this sort of thing, nothing a modern system can't handle. Standing at the back of a tomb-shrouded crypt, casting spells at a beleaguered dungeon-delver who is being set upon by hordes of your skeletal warriors, raised from their eternal sleep by your evil will... Well, that's a feeling that can't be beat.
Written By: Stuart Thomas