DUNE 2 / Virgin Interactive / PC
Virgin/Westwood's first Dune game ignored the book, movie and all your fanfics, rewriting the story of Paul Atredies and his House to fit into an adventure/strategy game format. The sequel does it one better by not only ignoring the previous game, but cutting Paul and all the other major characters out.
What you end up with is basically an RTS that uses the Dune world and setting without any of the plot or individual major characters. Houses Atredies, Harkonnen and newcomers the Ordos battle it out on Dune for control of the spice trade there. You choose what House you want to align yourself with as a low-level military commander, and then proceed to rise through the ranks by crushing the armies of the opposition, seeing them driven before you, and hearing the lamentation of their wimmins.
Dune 2 was not really the first RTS game, but it was close, and it was sort of a watershed game and set the tone for the genre, establishing a lot of recurring trends. Some of these are good, and some are not. The mouse-based interface and smooth flow of the game and resource management are, as well as the graphical detail and the audio communication from your units. Having to micromanage all your troops due to bad pathing and AI, and slog-fest wars of attrition that take hours to finish are things that the genre could have done without, but would continue to be issues for years to come in the genre's most high-profile releases.
The game initially seems too hard - because the CPU is basically cheating by having virtually unlimited credits constantly on hand - but once you've played for awhile you see how it's compensated for by their total PWEDICTABOness. The enemy generally only attacks you from one direction - usually the straightest path from their base to yours - and sends predictable clumps of unit types at predictable intervals. And while they will repair damage to their structures, they never seem to replace destroyed buildings. Which is actually good, I guess, given that with their spice cheating the game would drag on forever as they constantly rebuilt all their shat.
Each of the Houses has their own scenario, and branching paths through that scenario, which makes it initially seem like there's a shit ton of maps to play. Unfortunately all the maps are pretty samey and there's really only ever two objectives - Generate X Credits or Wipe Out Opponent.
That might seem like a lot of negativity there but I'm just being honest about the game's limitations, keep in mind this was literally one of the first RTS games and a 1993 release. Given that, it's actually really impressive and still surprisingly engrossing to play today. Westwood established a rep for good, detailed VGA graphics and well-thought-out interfaces and this one is no exception, and company vet composer Frank Klepacki contributes yet another one of his excellent musical scores. And while the maps can feel samey, you are drip-fed new upgrades and troop types at a good pace, and each of the Houses has distinct enough units and super-weapons to make it interesting enough to play as all of them. Despite the primitiveness and repetitiveness of it the game is still fun, compelling and packed with enjoyable little details. A classic rts and PC game and should definitely be checked out if you haven't already.
* Dune 2 Legacy (freeware remake project)
* The Making Of Dune II
* Map editors
* Gameplay Video