Anyone who has ever played Bullfrog's original Dungeon Keeper will have some idea about what's in store for them in the sequel. But, therein lies the tiniest part of a problem with Dungeon Keeper 2 -- in certain ways it is simply more of the same. However, that isn't intended to discourage fans of the first game because the overall presentation is nothing short of fantastic. Dungeon Keeper 2 is a case where the means don't quite justify the end but the means are so fulfilling that you may not really care.
What's right with DK2? Just about everything except the somewhat anti-climactic battles that occur when you've finished hacking your dungeon's many required rooms out of solid rock that cater to an extremely diverse and magnificently rendered population. Of course, you'll design traps, provide "work" for the exquisitely designed creatures, quickly learn to smack them around to make them do your bidding and occasionally "possess" one of them in order to handle things on a more personal basis from a first-person perspective.
Bullfrog obviously listened to consumer feedback and adjusted and tweaked many of the aspects of gameplay. For example, you can now build a casino and a training pit -- both integral aspects to being successful. The casino keeps idle creatures busy and, in a backhanded (get my drift?) sort of way, earns you more money, as simply smacking lucky casino winners makes them drop their loot. The training pit is even more important because when creatures reach a certain level, they can't advance any further unless they partake in the training sessions you set up for them. Be careful, though, since unsupervised training can result in the death of fighting partners.
The environment in DK2 is almost too perfect for words. Tremendous strides forward in the graphics and ease of management showcase the beautifully articulated surroundings, as much as an underground dungeon set in the bowels of the Earth can be. Quite simply put, DK2 is a visual delight in nearly every way. The designers built 3D acceleration into the game's coding and the results are phenomenal.
Unlike the first game, DK2 possesses a fairly comprehensive storyline, but chances are not too many fans will really care that much about it. The basic pleasures of playing the game are found in building your dungeon's many rooms and catering to and supervising all the various minions available (and more become available as you progress in the game, which is a very nice design feature). If that doesn't float your boat, you can design diabolical traps, create magic doors and torture chambers, apply your "landscape" development skills and perform dozens of other capabilities much too numerous to list here.
The ultimate goal, of course, remains fairly consistent with the original game, namely, to beat the stuffing out of those creatures and nasty enemy lords who presume to encroach upon your territory. As combat was something of a sore point in the original game, Bullfrog addressed the problem and made several innovative and very welcome changes. Unfortunately, as good as they are, the end result is still a combat system that can be so wildly chaotic that you eventually throw up your hands and simply hope for the best. But, this in no way denigrates the efforts the designers made and credit should be given where it is due. Beyond this one gripe, DK2 shines in all respects.
Some interface changes are quite inspired. Examples include the unobtrusive and clever way you are informed of new events occurring in your realm, the announcement of new creatures as they become available and viewing perspectives that seem unlimited. With the enormous number of creatures to keep track of, this aspect is handled in an amazingly fluid and seamless manner. Information screens, on-screen pop up data and extremely handy conventions for finding particular creatures within your ever-expanding dungeon are just a few of the extraordinary game management functions. If only there was some way to apply it to the big, sweaty piles of combatants during especially large skirmishes.
Speaking of skirmishes, Dungeon Keeper 2 provides you with the wherewithal to practice against just about any foe you wish. Also, in the My Pet Dungeon module of the game, you can customize the action to your heart's content. For example, toggle off the invasion aspect and spend hours building and perfecting your dungeon while trying out the many traps and design features available for creating the penthouse of dungeons -- all without enemy interruptions. You can, however, dictate not only which enemies are released into your custom dungeon and when but the frequency as well.
For such an involved game, the learning curve is fairly easy, helped considerably by the in-game tutorial-like guidance that is presented orally in the announcer's decidedly "sinister" sounding voice. Absolutely top notch! The sound is probably the best I have ever heard in a computer game and complements the drop-dead gorgeous visuals completely. The music is better than average but not always in tune with on-screen action. Given the terrific impact of the overall audio program, though, it's a minor point. Animations of individual creatures are unbelievably well-done, especially from slightly zoomed out perspectives and the antics of many are extremely humorous. Adding to the visual feast are clever and amusing cut-scenes encountered throughout the campaign.
Both the lighting effects and sounds that build and recede as you walk about the dungeon are superb, with each type of room having its own special effects and ambient sounds. Likewise, each creature has specific characteristics and will face combat in his or her own particular way. Some are cowards, some Rambo-esque, some belligerent and yet others are eager (soon to be dead) over-achievers. Regardless of how you approach Dungeon Keeper 2, rest assured you'll be challenged by the frenzied pace and the frenetic manipulation needed to control all your creatures. But rather than be dismayed if you can't keep up, simply reload and try again, and again, and again. You won't be sorry you did.
Graphics: Attention to detail and incredibly designed environments are absolutely delightful.
Sound: Ambient sound and voiceovers are some of the best I've ever encountered. Only the music drops this rating slightly.
Enjoyment: Everything about the game is well-done, entertaining and challenging. Unfortunately, the chaotic nature of the combat still disappoints to some degree as detailed and complete hands-on control is not always possible.
Replay Value: Multi-player mode plus modifiable gameplay functions, along with skirmish and planning modes make the game imminently replayable.
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