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Dungeon Keeper

Star Wars equally enthused and annoyed me as a boy. Regardless of the inevitable Rebel triumph over the mean and wicked Empire, I couldn’t help willing victory for Darth Vader and his minions. Stormtroopers seemed to symbolise the height of interstellar fashion, and the Emperor’s electrifying powers put the rebels’ mystical Force to shame. Surely I wasn’t the only one to realise just how cool the Dark Side was?

Fortunately this is Dungeon Keeper, and now you have the chance to seek revenge on all those irritating do-gooder types, albeit in the comfy depths of your medieval underground dwelling. With the help of an assortment of hideous creatures and some foul-smelling demons, it’s your job to systematically pillage and plunder the peace-loving communities of the countryside above. Oh, and how enjoyable it is!

Using a top-down view that can be tinkered with to your liking, you start out with just a few scurrying imps – but don’t underestimate their seemingly feeble frames. Imps are the backbone of any self-respecting dungeon. They provide the means of constructing and maintaining your home, from mining precious gold (your primary source of income) to reinforcing dungeon walls against the marauding hordes; although they’re inclined to sleeping on the job if they can get away with it, so it’s up to you to keep them in check by dealing out a few well-targeted slaps to the backside using the mouse cursor.

The first step to expanding your caves is to hook up with a local portal – to the damned, of course. This is your source of creatures, but they’re unlikely to make a home of your dungeon if it doesn’t boast the latest hellfire amenities. These include sleeping nests for those oh-so-impish naps, a hatchery to feed hungry goblins, and a treasure room to hoard your blood money. Progressive devastation of the above-land villages increases your room options to advance the technology of your dungeon, from creature training areas and spell libraries to jails and even torture chambers!

As if the slaughter of the innocent wasn’t satisfying enough, you also have to contend with other equally disturbing keepers vying for your precious dungeon space (and green blood, possibly). Things aren’t as bad as they seem. Being a malevolent keeper yourself, you are also a veritable necromancer and have a wealth of magic spells at your disposal. The possession spell is of particular merit, allowing you the option to experience the labyrinthine corridors of your dungeon through the eyes of any creature you choose. Whether to personally wreak suffering on an advancing knight of the realm or simply gain a more direct understanding of the lives of your brethren, the possession spell provides a welcome extra dimension to the game.

Initial levels provide a wealth of in-game help as a spree of handy tips introduce you to the managerial aspects of your dungeon, and presentation is mostly excellent, with the option of high-res SVGA (remember that?) radically increasing the clarity of those sometimes hard-to-distinguish close-quarter battles.

So what’s lacking in this largely playable strategy? On taking the plunge into first-person perspective the two-dimensionality of the sprites becomes glaringly obvious and pale in comparison with the realism of today’s first-person shooters, but DK can be forgiven for this by being damn old, and never setting out to compete with that genre in the first place.

Apart from this minor gripe, everything is in place and waiting for you to lead your cohorts to a sadistic reign of terror! Right, I’m off to confession.

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