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May 1998

Dungeon Keeper and Deeper Dungeons
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Dungeon Keeper and Deeper Dungeons, (extra levels for Dungeon Keeper)
Developed by Bullfrog Productions, 1997
Australian Office of Film and Literature Classificiation rating: Mature (15 years and over) low level animated violence.
A modified version of this review appears in Ethel the Aardvark#75
"So yer wanna be an hero? Eh? Well, looky here, Mr Goody Two Shoes, just come snoopin' ‘round my dungeon and I'll git my gang of evil minions to provide you with a li'l bit of you know what for! Yeah, I know, your fancy party of pissy elves, farty dwarves and tragically good for nuthin' wizards and monks are only out to steal my gold and cause me grievance. Go ahead then. This is my domain. This is my labyrinth. Here, I am the Dungeon keeper and I'm gonna kick yer butts."

- His Evil Lord of the Tunnels of Putrification and Stench, Renaldo.

Bullfrog Productions' latest offering to PC gamers is an excellent strategy cum dungon simulator by the name of Dungeon Keeper. Craftily taking the cliched Role Playing Game theme and turning it on its head, the player wears the mantle of a vile lord of subterranean realms and it's your job to defend your catacombs from the unwanted intrusions of heroes, good guys, and other dungeon keepers. Here you get the wondrous opportunity to design your own dungeon and stock it full of sticking lairs, treasure chambers, prisons, temples, graveyards, etc, and populate it with slimy ghouliebears of the most unwholesome variety. So when those God forsaken lousy heroes do decide to turn up, it's time to unleash your army of giant beetles, bile demons, vampires, hell hounds, dark mistresses and dragons onto ‘em and kick their pretty little white butts back up to the crummy surface where they belong.

Dungeon Keeper is a real time strategy game the likes of which only Bullfrog could produce. To start with, your dungeon doesn't come ready made but each level begins with at least a Dungeon Heart, the source of your evil power, and a handful of hardworking imps who do your digging for you to excavate rooms and passagesways from the surrounding earth. From this point you construct a network of tunnnels and to a portal so monsters can access your real; a big enough lair for each beastie you accumulated wealth pays for your employee monsters; a hatchery where chickens are bred so your menagerie of evil is kept well fed. Workshops, prisons, torture chambers and other constructible rooms attract different types of creatures. Once the dungeon is built, the amount of detail and activity at any given time is impressive to watch and the various inhabitants will go about their duties automatically.

The interface is mouse and keyboard controlled giving the player easy command of Dungeon Keeper's many features, many of them icon-based, and a main viewing area easily scrolled around in any direction you please, thus making any part of your slimy dungeon readily accessible. The default view is isometric and the entire screen is fully 360 degree rotable which means you can examine rooms and hidden corners that would otherwise be obscured by walls.

Dungeon Keeper is not the kind of game that fits neatly into any single game genre easily. Its disparate elements make it a unique strategy title and is most unlike the popular Command & Conquer. To pick up this game and expect to play a C&C clone will ultimately lead to disappointment. Dungeon Keeper is a living environment where the creatures on hand do as they please or act on their own agendas. Place ‘em into a training room and they'll train. Doing so will increase their abilities but cost you gold. When they get tired they'll retire in their lairs. Hunger will drive them to the hatchery where they'll feast on chicken dinners. Deprive them of appropriate activities, work, training, sleep or food and they'll become annoyed. Ignore their demands for too long and they will desert your dungeon, leaving you without a trained army. Each monster has it's own set of statistics that provide you with extra detail ranging from how long it's been in your employ and enemies it's killed; to it's skill level, how satisfied it is, and how much gold it receives on payday, et cetera, et cetera ... In this respect the Dungeon management aspect of the game is akin to owning a vast and wild tamagotchi on your PC with dozens of evil electronic critters as your responsibility.

Most traditional Role Playing Games are based upon a first person perspective that allows a character's eye view of the environment around them. Indeed Dungeon Keeper also supports this mode of view as well as the isometric default. Casting your ‘Possession' spell on one of your infernal denizens will zoom the point of view down to the level of dungeon's rooms and passages. Effectively, this provides you with the opportunity to wander about in your underground world and inspect the various nefarious activities conducted by your evil horde.

Also while in possession of your selected bogeymen you can witness and fight the intruders in first person glory — excellent stuff. While the graphics in ‘Possession' mode are nothing an essential element of game play. Beating up hapless heroes in first person mode from the viewpoint of a level ten dragon is enough to make anybody drool in anticipation.

Eventually, after some time constructing your evil subterreanean kingdom, heroes will try to invade your domain and, among other things, steal your gold and destroy your Dungeon Heart — which must be defended. Heroes come in a multitude of sizes, shapes and types. You'd probably be familiar with some of ‘em: archers, thieves, dwarves, fairies, wizards, etc. Yep, even samurai manage to swallow their bushido pride and crawl into the dank depths of your dank underworld empire.

Dungeon Keeper has such an impressive depth of detail the first five levels are tutorial in nature to help ease the player into the various complexities of running a dungeon. After that the difficulty level gradually builds with each successive mission until about the twelfth level where the game decidedly takes on a more challenging tone. This graduation of difficulty provides the player with the opportunity to grasp all of the game's many features before they are tossed into the deep end of the latter levels. Which is a good thing, really, coz the final levels are a real rage in Hades. Tweny levels make up the game, and though a certain amount of repetitiveness exists each successive level offrers new rooms and/or creatures to develop and manipulate.

Multiplayer dungeon keeping is a different challenge again as up to four players must battle it out to vy for control of the land. Set aside at least two hours to play multiplayer games as it does get quite involving when pitted against human opponents. The game comes with it's own set of specially designed maps for this purpose.

If you've played any other Bullfrog Productions titles (Populous, Sydnicate Wars, Magic Carpet, Theme Hospital are a few), you'll recognise elements of each in the game's design. Plus there are elements of Sim City, Hexen and nearly every other Fantasy Role Playing Game thrown in for good measure. More importantly, it stands on it's own many jointed legs as an original piece of real time strategy gaming. Dungeon Keeper is a game with few shortcomings and is a thoroughly well balanced — albeit eclectic — example of PC gaming marred only by strange quireks of the AI for the CPU controlled opponent.

The Deeper Dungeons

The Deeper Dungeons is the official add-on pack for Dungeon Keeper and starts at the difficulty level at the end of the original game. On the CD ROM you will find an extra 15 single player maps that will keep you playing for hours longer than the game's original 20. These levels are truly curly in content. Some are real ball-breakers to challenge even the most dedicated player. The structure of Deeper Dungeons is not successively mission based but rather any of the 15 levels may be selected from the opening menu. This is a good thing because you will get stumped sooner or latter spending many hours developing your trap laden cavrns, fighting off scores of heroes and defending yourself against other dungeon keepers' armies with little more than a dozen well trained minions. Don't be surprised if you find yourself horrendously outnumbered by superior forces. Ugh. It can get rather challenging very quickly.

Unfortunately there are no extra monster types for you to useand it's up to you to optimise the use of your minions. Likewise, there are no additional room varieties or traps or doors for you to develop and build; and many useful ones already familiar to the player are deprived in specific levels. This makes life awkward. It is critical to train up your creatures quickly and then maximise the use of doors and traps — particularly boulders — deploy them wisely.

The artificial intelligence for the CPU controlled opponents has been improved. The AI now sells its own rooms to afford t pay its minions and to complete other projects, monsters act smarter and some strategies that worked well in Duneon Keeper are doomed to failure in the Deeper Dungeons. To offset the good points, though, the AI still does some pretty stupid things like building inefficient rooms and carry out other foolish instructions that the player can just stare at in a dumbfounded manner and ask "What on earth did it do that for?"

If you found the original game a ‘walk in the park' to complete then give the Deeper Dungeons a go.

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ISSN 1328-8008
Published in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
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Filed: 5-Mar-1998 : Last tested: : Last updated: : Last compiled: 10-Aug-2014
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