This review first appeared in WindoWatch
Are you sick of being the good guy in the game? Are you ready for some evil in your life? Does the mention of small cute furry creatures such as rabbits make you want to reach for a large knife?
If the answer to any of the above is yes, then you deserve to treat yourself to Dungeon Keeper. This is a strategy game in which you are the dungeon master. You must build a dungeon well enough to take complete control over the local domain. If your dungeon is constructed well, then you will get monsters making their homes in your dungeon. You start each level with imps (your basic dungeon builder, useless for fights but vital for construction) and some gold. All levels of the game have a goal which must be met to finish the level.
Each level starts with a quick verbal description of the nauseatingly nice realm, under which you will build your dungeon. I *love* the voice that does this. You also have an overview of the land, and when you begin the game, all the kingdoms are pretty and green. You left click the flag to start the level. Each game ends if/when you have conquered the Lord of that realm or taken over the Dungeon Heart of an enemy keeper. When you do this, you get a quietly smug description of the devastation you have done to the kingdom. When you return to the overview, you will see a black smoking hole that was a green and pleasant land. Isn't it nice?
Of the options on the first menu, there is new game, load game, continue game, multiplayer and options. New game and load game are exactly what you expect. Continue allows you to continue the game in progress from the above ground scene. If you save a game while in the middle of a level, you will need to load the game in progress. I like the continue feature though, if you exit the game between levels, you don't need to do a specific save. I haven't tried the multiplayer option, but it should be fine, given how well the rest of the game works.
This game has 5 training levels, followed by 15 normal levels. Since you have to go through the sequence, there is no real need for normal hints here. As with most strategy games, watch carefully what is going on. You need to keep your gold reserves up, don't let the enemy kill your imps, and try to anticipate when you'll need to expand your rooms. Expansion of your dungeon is your most vulnerable time, if the imps haven't had a chance to put up a reinforced wall, the enemy will find it easy to get in. Of course, this goes the other way, if they have just expanded, you'll find their walls are easy to breach.
You have no control over who comes into your dungeon, or how many monsters will arrive. The manuals explain what monsters are attracted to which types of rooms and how big those rooms must be before the monsters start arriving. Of course, this is assuming that you've found and taken control of a portal that monsters can use to find your dungeon. You do have some control over relative timing, if you build a library before you build a training room, you will get warlocks before you get demon spawn. Until the warlocks have completed a certain amount of research, you won't get any of the more powerful monsters attracted to your dungeon.
Once you get beyond the training levels, you will find that you can build any one of five basic room types from the start. All other room types (there are 15 types of rooms) need to be discovered by research (or sometimes you take over an enemy room.) Rooms have several attributes associated with them; health, capacity and efficiency. Health has to do with if the room has been subjected to enemy attack. Capacity is simply how much of the available space is used. Efficiency is based on room shape, the most efficient shape for any type of room is a square. Less efficient rooms are less productive.
Room types include wonderful places like prison, torture chamber, graveyard and temple. If you forget to feed your prisoners, they will die. The torture chamber can be used on your monsters, or on imprisoned enemies (and you can torture the opposing lord of the land at the end of a level. The temple is to the dark gods and so sacrificing creatures may bring benefits, if you pleased the gods with your sacrifice. You can also put an unhappy creature there to which will raise their happiness level. In other words, this is not a game for the faint of heart.
Monsters need a place to sleep, something to eat and gold to keep them happy. You need to ensure that you have these on hand so that the monsters keep settling in your dungeon. There is a lot of information that you can learn about individual monsters, you can control them to some extent by dropping them where you want (a monster dropped into the training room will start training, one dropped in the hatchery will eat, etc.) Also, at any time, you can possess a monster. At that point, you will experience the dungeon as the monster does. Possessing a monster is not necessary in the early levels of the game, but if you group monsters together for an attack, you will need to lead the group yourself.
When you finish a level, you get some overall statistics on the top of the screen, under those are some more specific statistics. The overall statistics include efficiency, style, time spent and so forth. If you cannot see the humour in statistics such as "Hopes dashed", "Backs stabbed" and "Promises broken" then you really avoid this game. So far, I've dashed thousands of hopes, stabbed a few backs, but I don't seem to have broken any promises. Yet. I'm working on it.
This game is rated for mature audiences. Since you can do things like slap one of your minions, and there is a torture chamber, you certainly wouldn't want young children to play with it. If you have a warped sense of fun, a long-standing fondness for Addam's, Gorey's or similar gruesome cartoons, you should love this. Given the level of violence inherent in many of these types of games, having one that is specifically *evil* seems quite natural. The bad guys are supposed to like murder and mayhem, unlike the average good guy.
My system does not match their minimum requirements. The game still runs just fine, as far as I can tell. It is entirely possible that they just never tested it with a 486x100 but I've had no trouble with it thus far. Or perhaps mine runs slowly, but I like it that way anyway. The opening movie was the only thing seriously affected by the speed of my computer.
I first heard about this game back in about January 1996. Even then I thought it was a great idea for a game. It has been a long time in coming, but they have done a splendid job with it. It does live up to the promise.