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Updated March 10, 2005

Dungeon Keeper 2
If slapping imps, torturing noble knights, and commanding foul legions of the undead gets your juices flowing, then Dungeon Keeper 2 is the Unholy Grail you've been looking for!

Once upon a time, in the Sunlit Kingdom of Heroes, King Reginald the Just vanquished the forces of evil from the realm of Harmonia. But while the good guys celebrated their victory, the forces of evil simmered in the darkness below, biding their time, waiting for the opportunity to forever erase goodness, honesty, and nobility from the land above. In Dungeon Keeper 2, players reprise their role as a wicked underground lord charged with raising an army of evil minions that will sweep out of the shadows and inflict countless horrors upon humanity.

When Dungeon Keeper 2 was announced, many wondered if Bullfrog would be able to maintain the same twisted sense of humor and excellent gameplay that the 1997 original boasted, especially since Bullfrog co-founder and original Dungeon Keeper designer Peter Molyneux had departed. Thankfully, those fears were unfounded - Dungeon Keeper 2 is every bit as enjoyable and humorously sadistic as its predecessor.

Just as in the original, players control an all-powerful Hand of Evil to build and manage their domain of unpleasantness, viewing their handiwork from various birds-eye perspective. Fans of the first game will be pleased to learn that the clunky interface, which hogged up a third of the screen the first time around, has been replaced with a slim icon bar that places everything within easy reach.

In terms of gameplay, DK2 maintains the foundation created in Molyneux's classic original. Building a successful dungeon is a matter of balancing two resources, gold and mana, and creating special purpose rooms to attract new denizens, all the while ensuring sufficient defenses for when the good guys inevitably come calling. And while there are no difficulty settings, the pre-set curve ramps the challenge up nicely as you progress, while new mission parameters are constantly introduced to keep play from getting repetitive.

One of the reasons the game works so well is its innovative AI design. Unlike traditional real-time strategy games where players micro-manage each unit, DK2 takes a hands-off approach; the various creatures pretty much go about their business once assigned to it, be it building traps in the workshop or slaying intruders. Players can still step in and direct the action themselves, but for the most part, the game lets players concentrate on creating their dungeon and pondering the grand strategy for each level.

The politically correct among us will be unhappy to learn that DK2 is filled to the brim with all sorts of ghastly humor. We'll say this now: If your sense of humor isn't blessed with a dark streak, this is probably not the game for you. The game's sonorous narrator takes extreme delight whenever players do something evil, such as slapping the imps who make up the basic workforce. The Mistresses seductively shriek and moan as they are tortured, and creatures like the foul Bile Demon let off one string of obscenities, verbal and otherwise, after another. If you're looking for new recruits, simply have your imps drag unconscious good guys into your prison, where they rot away until they become skeletons, which you can then command.

With a completely revamped graphics engine, the dungeons come to life with horrifying beauty. DK2's graphics are just amazing. The subterranean architecture is highly detailed, with a nice touch of Tim Burton-inspired wickedness, and the sprite-based characters of the first game have been replaced with fully polygonal creatures that show a wide range of emotions and actions. All that prettiness comes at a price, however, and folks with slower systems will suffer through some slowdowns.

The variety of viewing modes lets players zoom all the way down to the floor of their dungeon, letting them watch Goblins train, Trolls devour chickens, and Mistresses whip victims (or themselves) into submission. But it's in the first- person view (accessed via a magic spell that allows you to possess the body of any dungeon creature) that the game's engine really shines. The level of detail is astonishing, far and above anything seen in the first game. Unlike the original, where the first-person mode was little more than a novelty, the gameplay now requires that you get down and dirty on the dungeon floor, since many of your fiendish creatures are endowed with special abilities that only become available when the player possesses them. The Vampire can hypnotize enemy creatures and make them attack each other, for example while the Dark Elf has a sniper mode that lets players pick off those damned do-gooders from a distance.

Single-player gaming goodness aside, it's disappointing to report that DK2's multiplayer mode is a tad weak. First off, the game tosses AI-controlled heroes (even on maps designed for two players) into the matches, which taints the experience. Too often the majority of the match is spent fighting the AI opponents, with just a brief flurry of combat between the two Keepers toward the end. Every fiendish resource should be dedicated toward the torture and maiming of our human opponents - the addition of the heroes only serves as a distraction. Why should my Mistresses be torturing AI wizards when they could be interrogating Whitta's wizards? Even more distressing is that the promised (and much-anticipated) Good Guys-versus-Bad Guys multiplayer option didn't make it.

Multiplayer also suffers from a few technical hiccups. Sometimes you can't get back to the main menu after the end of a match, forcing you to reboot your system. And while finding a game using the Internet Dungeon Watch program is easy and straightforward, the game will often dump you back to Windows upon exiting a game room. The game also locked up a couple times when trying to join a server. Though these are pretty much the only major bugs and will undoubtedly be addressed with a patch, they're still annoying and should have been fixed before the game shipped.

Beyond multiplayer, there are two additional modes of play, My Pet Dungeon and Skirmish. My Pet Dungeon places the focus on dungeon creation, where the player has complete control over every aspect of their dark quarters, including when and if the valiant heroes attack. The Skirmish mode is essentially the same as multiplayer, except solely with AI-controlled opponents. Bullfrog is also promising to release new maps as time goes by, which should help add to the game's replay value.

Dungeon Keeper 2 succeeds because it delivers outstanding gameplay and shows (much like the original) that you can make a real-time strategy game about things other than warring factions in space or apocalyptic survivors vying for Earth's few remaining resources. The gaming world would be a much better place if there were more offerings as darkly imaginative - and as fun - as Dungeon Keeper 2.

-William "Imp Slapper" Harms


 FINAL VERDICT
HIGHS: Amazing graphics; wonderfully twisted sense of humor; addictive gameplay.

LOWS: Multiplayer is lackluster and buggy; lack of difficulty settings hampers replay value.

BOTTOM LINE: We've said it before and we'll say it again -- it's good to be bad.
PC Gamer 89%

   

100% - 90%
EDITORS' CHOICE - We're battening down the hatches and limiting our coveted Editors' Choice award to games that score a 90% or higher. It's not easy to get here, and darn near impossible to get near 100%. Games in this range come with our unqualified recommendation, an unreserved must-buy score.

89% - 80%
EXCELLENT - These are excellent games. Anything that scores in this range is well worth your purchase, and is likely a great example of its genre. This is also a scoring range where we might reward specialist/niche games that are a real breakthrough in their own way.

79% - 70%
GOOD - These are pretty good games that we recommend to fans of the particular genre, though it's a safe bet you can probably find better options.

69% - 60%
ABOVE AVERAGE - Reasonable, above-average games. They might be worth buying, but they probably have a few significant flaws that limit their appeal.

59% - 50%
MERELY OKAY - Very ordinary games. They're not completely worthless, but there are likely numerous better places to spend your gaming dollar.

49% - 40%
TOLERABLE - Poor quality. Only a few slightly redeeming features keep these games from falling into the abyss of the next category.

39% - 0%
DON'T BOTHER - Just terrible. And the lower you go, the more worthless you get. Avoid these titles like the plague, and don't say we didn't warn you!


Drakan: Order of the Flame  69%
Driver  78%
Drome Racers  59%
Ducati World Racing  28%
Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project  75%
Dune  25%
Dungeon Keeper 2  89%
Dungeon Siege  91%
Dungeon Siege: Legends of Aranna  80%
Earth & Beyond  80%
Earth 2150: Lost Souls  80%
Echelon: Wind Warriors  79%
Elder Scrolls III: Bloodmoon  84%
Emergency Fire Response  70%
Emergency Rescue  24%
Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom  72%
Empire Earth  85%
Empire of Magic  68%
Empire of the Ants  56%
Empires: Dawn of the Modern World  80%