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Dungeon Keeper

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The thief, the wizard and the fighter creep carefully into the dungeon. Making their way carefully along the passageways, the team of heroes easily bypass the traps intended to maim or kill them, and approach the centre of the underground complex. Suddenly, orcs and trolls leap out from the shadows, but the powerful fighter easily dispatches them to their doom. As they approach the treasure room, the wizard senses that a dragon lies in wait, and so casts a spell that sends the creature to sleep. The brave fighter takes the opportunity to walk up to the defenceless creature, and courageously lops off its head. The thief and the wizard seize the opportunity to fill their treasure sacks with copious amounts of gold and precious stones while the fighter stands guard, probably knocking off a few more worthy opponents in the process.

So basically, the good guys go in, have a few quick fights and then triumph over evil once more, bringing peace and harmony to the land.

Don't you just hate it when that happens?

Dungeon Keeper has a nice new approach that is like a breath of fetid air across a sunny meadow. Because what you have to do is rule over an underground kingdom of rooms and corridors, using chaos and violence to win over the hideous forces of the common good. Sounds fun to me too.

When you first start a game, you're presented with a pretty picture of bright colourful lands with happy inhabitants. But don't worry, you get to change all that. You view the lands from above, looking down from a high window in what must be some sort of Fortress of Evil, or possibly a timeshare apartment in Spain. You click on the land you want to conquer next, and you're off.

When you start the game, you'll probably think the graphics aren't that wonderful. But buried in the manual, it mentions that a quick whack of the Alt-R keys, and you're transported into a hi-res. mode. Now the graphics start to look nice. You view the dungeon from above in a fully 360-degree rotate-able, zoom in-and-out-able, 3D mode. (You can use a fixed 3D mode, where you can look from only four directions, but once you've had a quick look at it, you'll probably go straight back to the other, much nicer mode).

The first few games are all training games, getting you used to placing rooms, digging tunnels, and generally laying out your dungeon. Then you're introduced to the more interesting rooms in stages, and taught to use them. Different rooms attract different creatures, and you also have to make sure that the rooms you build are big enough. To dig corridors or build rooms, you'll need Imps. These are your workers. You mark out areas for them to dig, and they dig them. To build rooms, you just get your imps to dig out a wider area, and then mark the room for its intended purpose. There are 14 different room-types that you can build yourself, each with its own purpose and its own noises and graphics. Some rooms attract specific creature types who are better suited to that particular function, while others just increase the chances of other creature types joining your minions.

The basic rooms you'll find in the game are:

The Treasure room. When your imps dig out gold, they'll bag it up, and carry it back here. It's only when the gold reaches your treasure room floor that it's added to your kitty, so make sure there's room to expand if you want to build up your gold reserves.

Portal. You can't build a Portal, only claim existing ones. You need one of these to act as a doorway to allow new creatures into your dungeon.

Lair. This is where your creatures sleep, so it has to be big enough to accommodate all of them. Also some types don't get on, so you often have to build two lairs to keep them separated.

Hatchery. To feed all your minions, you build a hatchery. In here, you produce chickens, which the creatures then come along and scoff. Or sometimes change into a chicken platter and then delicately nibble, depending on the diner.

Library. Here your creatures can research spells and rooms for you to cast or build respectively. You need a library to be able to build any other rooms, although in some games you already have a selection of rooms available.

Other rooms include a Training room, to build up your creatures, bridge sections to cover water or lava, a Guard Post, a Workshop where doors and traps are manufactured, a Barracks to organise your rabble into a team, a Prison to sling the defeated enemies that venture into your realm, a Torture Chamber so you can play with them (and also extract information or convert them to your side, but that's just a bonus compared with being able to turn them into frogs, or whipping them, or swinging them around by their wings), a Temple, a Graveyard, and a Scavenger room where you can try and tempt enemy creatures away from their current master.

So who's in this dungeon then?

Well, I'm glad you asked. There are 17 different minions that can creep, crawl, fly or run about. The Imps, already mentioned, can fight, but are really for work. Other creatures also have specialities as well, such as researching, guarding or building things. The full list of creatures that can join you in your hellish crusade against the forces of good are Beetles, Bile Demons, Dark Mistresses, Demon Spawns, Dragons, Flies, Ghosts, Trolls, Hellhounds, Horned Reapers, Orcs, Skeletons, Spiders, Tentacles, Vampires and Warlocks.

But of course, that's not everyone. What's the point of having all these things wandering around, ready to do your evil bidding if there's no-one to fight? Well, besides having to combat enemy Keepers who have the same creatures you do, there are, of course, some nasty Hero's to kill, maim, turn to chickens, torture and slap about a bit. And yes, you can do all of the above. Some of the loathsome do-gooders you will encounter include Tunnellers, Thieves, Archers, Dwarfs, Barbarians, Wizards, Witches, Giants, Samurai warriors, Monks, and Fairies. Each land also has a Lord, called (wait for it) the Lord Of The Land. You must usually defeat him to conquer the land. The final challenge will come from the Overlord of the land, called the Avatar.

All creatures, both the disgusting, perverse and grotesque things wandering around in the dark, and your ones, all have their own attributes, such as skills and experience. Your creatures can train to improve these skills in the Training room, but the enemy's creatures are usually a decent level to start with. To move your creatures around in the dungeon, you can pick them up, and drop them into another room. If it's a room the creature can do something specific in, such as train or build, then they will do just that. If not, the go back and do whatever it was they were doing before you so rudely interrupted them.

There is another way to move your creatures around the underground complex you've created. You can possess them. What this means is that you cast a posses spell over them, and then you become that creature. Your view changes from top down to Quake style first person, and you walk around the dungeon (or fly or swim, you get the idea), and fight enemies, explore new areas, or get killed by traps, all through your creatures eyes. Although this looks good, it's a little impractical to use if something important is going on. That is achieved much better through the normal view.

Lord and Master of all you survey.

On the main game screen, it's laid out with a mini-map in the top left, which is independently zoom controlled, and under that is a status bar. On the bar are a selection of panels which you use to monitor things that are happening within your realm. Things such as Rooms, Workshops, and Creatures all have their own panel that you can use to control or access things within the game. Down the right-hand edge of this panel you also get pop-up information tags, telling you when something new has been researched, or that a battle is going on. Battles can get hectic, and are usually better controlled by a combination of the creatures panel, and the pop-up battle window.

Fancy a spell at this?

Overall, this is a cracking game. I haven't even mentioned the plethora of spells available to you or your creatures (things such as disease, turn to chicken, lightning strike, cave in and fart are all available). I haven't gone into the manual, because it's like a politician's brain (small, hardly used, but nice to have to hand for those odd occasions when you need to refer to it). I haven't even mentioned the excellent sound effects, which add huge amounts of depth to the game, whether it's the sound of water dripping, the clank and rumble from the training rooms, the low chanting noises from the temple, the light pitter-patter of the enemies' Imps as they run from your Horned Reaper, or the frantic sounds of battle.

But one thing I will mention is the AI. It's a little poor. It's not crap by any means, but (especially on the later levels), it's definitely less than challenging. But fear not! Those jolly nice chaps at Bullfrog are working on a patch for this as we speak, so this little problem promises to be only temporary. Other than that, the game is damn good, and well worthy of anyone's 30 quid.

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Go on, go and buy it. Be a devil!

Score - 9/10

Dungeon Keeper by Bullfrog
Specs O/S Processor RAM Graphics CD-Rom Soundcard MMX Direct3D
Required DOS 6.22 or Win95 DX4-100+ or P75+ 8Mb or 16Mb+ SVGA X4 speed All major cards No No
Tested On Win95 P166 32Mb 2Mb Mach64 x12 SB16 ASP N/A N/A

Tim Still for Game Over!

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