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Can Funcom Live Up To The Expectations of the Dune Universe?

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Dune

After almost 20 years, Frank Herbert’s Dune universe is set to return to video games. Previous forays have been both exemplary and deplorable, so the new development teams have a mixed heritage to live up to. Funcom has picked up the licence, aiming to deliver at least three games across the deal’s six-year lifespan, but can the veteran publisher live up to the expectations?

One of the games has been the recipient of preliminary details. Conan Exiles development team Funcom Oslo is set to begin production on an open-world multiplayer game this year. The multiplayer billing comes as a disappointment, but if this game is anything like Exiles, single players will be looked after.

Furthermore, following the model of the developer’s previous effort would be a wise choice. The setting of Arrakis is an inhospitable desert planet where water is the scarcest resource of all. As such, a survival game casting players as a Fremen could make for a hardcore experience like few others. Providing a sense of balance to the barren world would be the greatest difficulty, as the giants sandworms ensure that few things survive in the desert.

Successfully recreating the unique requirements of survival on Arrakis will require some fundamental rethinking of traditional mechanics. However, developers in the genre have proven themselves capable of adapting to unique scenarios—think of Green Hell. Movement and building will need to be rethought, while an absolute premium on water conservation will need to be built in. In short, a Dune survival game cannot simply be a cookie-cutter effort.

Elsewhere, Funcom is collaborating with Petroglyph Games on a Conan RTS. Notably, the founding members of that team were part of Westwood Studios, which developed the highly acclaimed—some even say archetypal—RTS Dune II. If Funcom is to expand the partnership beyond Conan Unconquered, it could result in something of a homecoming for Petroglyph. Additionally, the resource-gathering aspect of the RTS genre fits well with the overarching conflict between Houses Atreides and Harkonnen for control of Arrakis and the invaluable resource of spice.

Alongside those two possibilities is an action-adventure adaptation of the upcoming movie. However, a number of obstacles present themselves to that vision. Firstly, developers and publishers have increasingly moved away from such efforts. Secondly, Funcom has minimal experience in games of that kind, its latest being the middlingly received The Park. Finally, a year-and-a-half long development cycle to launch alongside the film would likely be disastrous, the result lucky to be on a par with 2001’s Frank Herbert’s Dune.

On the other hand, the publisher could push the release date and focus on making an adventure that fits the Dune mould, whether it follows the first book or possibly even one of its sequels. Hard-hitting action, varied locales, and the various forms of training in the Dune universe could make for a truly remarkable action RPG in the vein of Assassin’s Creed or God of War.

Mutant Year Zero

Nevertheless, the publisher has found success in partnering with developers capable of bringing a fitting vision to their adaptations, as in the case of The Bearded Ladies’s Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden. Even an extension of that partnership could bear ripe fruit, as a tactical strategy game, requiring players to traverse the desert and infiltrate Harkonnen bases, could make for a tense experience.

Some gamers are mistrustful of Funcom, feeling that Exiles was too bland and remains too broken to believe that the team can create a game that does justice to the much-loved Dune universe. More positively, Legendary Studios (the company behind the upcoming Denis Villeneuve-directed film) will be involved in some capacity, hopefully ensuring that a standard of quality is maintained. However, even that is no guarantee, as critics of the Star Wars Battlefront games will attest to.

Despite having more than 25 years in the industry, Funcom remains an emerging publisher. In some ways, the company has the potential to be a perfect custodian of the Dune licence, bearing the vision and wherewithal to create games that are as fitting to the universe as they are unexpected. However, the question of quality is another matter entirely, as the team is yet to prove itself capable of turning out consistently good games.

What are your thoughts on the news that more than one new Dune game in on the horizon? Let us know below, and make sure to bookmark OnlySP and follow us on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube for all the latest.

Damien Lawardorn is an aspiring novelist, journalist, and essayist. His goal in writing is to inspire readers to engage and think, rather than simply consume and enjoy. With broad interests ranging from literature and video games to fringe science and social movements, his work tends to touch on the unexpected. Damien is the former Editor-in-Chief of OnlySP. More of his work can be found at https://open.abc.net.au/people/21767

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Editorial

Three Single-Player Games to Watch Out for in May 2019

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May

May offers no respite from the big, bold games that have released so far in 2019, bringing with it a host of games almost certain to appeal to gamers of every stripe.

Close to the Sun

Release Date: May 2, 2019
Platforms: PC, consoles later in the year

May’s first major release may also be its most intriguing. Close to the Sun has regularly attracted comparisons to BioShock for its art style and premise, though the relationship between the two titles is, at best, spiritual.

Players take the role of journalist Rose Archer as she steps aboard Nikola Tesla’s ship, the Helios in 1897. Like Andrew Ryan before him (or after him, depending on perspective), Tesla has created a microcosm in which scientific freedom is unrestricted, with disastrous outcomes. Rose’s first impression is of a quarantine sign at the entrance to a still, dead ship, but she presses on regardless in search of her lost sister.

With Close to the Sun, developer Storm in a Teacup aims to provide an intense horror experience. The Helios holds none of BioShock’s shotguns or Plasmids. Instead, players have no means to defend themselves, with gameplay focusing on hiding from and escaping the threats on board.

Check out OnlySP’s final review of the game here.

RAGE 2

Release Date: May 14, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

For anyone to whom the slow, meditative approach does not appeal, Bethesda is busting out the big guns with the long-awaited, little-expected sequel, RAGE 2.

This time around, id Software has tapped Just Cause and Mad Max developer Avalanche Studios for assistance in developing an open-world game. The result, if the trailers are any indication, is a breakneck, neon-fuelled experience that focuses on insanity and ramps up all the unique aspects of the earlier game.

One focal point of development has been ensuring the interconnectedness of the game’s structure, and the teams have promised a greater focus on narrative this time around. Perhaps in keeping with that, RAGE 2 is being distanced from its predecessor, taking place 30 years later with a new protagonist and a whole new story, though some callbacks will be present.

Although id’s legendary first-person gunplay is a driving force throughout the game, it will be supplemented by some light RPG elements, robust vehicular combat, and post launch challenges and support (though the developers deny that RAGE 2 is designed with a games-as-a-service model in mind).

A Plague Tale: Innocence

Release Date: May 14, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Out on the same day as RAGE 2 is the vastly different A Plague Tale: Innocence. A historical adventure, the game challenges players with overcoming obstacles with brains rather than brawn.

Players become Amicia, an orphan girl struggling to survive in a plague-infested medieval France while also keeping her younger brother safe. With the landscape rife with rats and members of The Inquisition, one of the core tenets of gameplay is reportedly the need to use these threats against each other. As such, though Amicia has a sling to use, the gameplay is designed more as survival puzzles than combat ones.

Developer Asobo Studio is not a household name, though it has a lengthy history of adaptations and support on major titles, including Quantum Break and The Crew 2. Furthermore, even though A Plague Tale is yet to release, publisher Focus Home Interactive has displayed remarkable confidence in the project by extending its partnership with Asobo.

Honourable Mentions

Although RAGE 2 is the incontestable action-blockbuster of the month, gamers in search of another kind of frenetic may want to wait until May 21, when Curve Digital drops American Fugitive, which has a more than passing resemblance to the earliest Grand Theft Auto games. Alternatively, PlayStation VR owners may want to look into Blood and Truth come May 28.

Sega also shines this month, dropping Team Sonic Racing on May 21 and Total War: Three Kingdoms two days later.

Anyone looking for an RPG has indie’s answer to The Outer Worlds, Within the Cosmos, to look out for on May 30, while those looking for slower stories get the latest episode of Life is Strange 2 on May 9, Observation on May 21, and the fjord-noir Draugen at a yet unspecified date.

Have we forgotten anything that you’re excited for? Let us know down below or on our Discord server.

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