There's something immediately unsettling whenever Bullfrog turns out sequels. Best known for its original game designs like Populous, Syndicate, and Theme Park, the mere thought of Bullfrog working with an already-existing concept instead of introducing an entirely new one makes sequels such as Dungeon Keeper 2 seem less ambitious than their innovative predecessors. All the same, the original Dungeon Keeper, a real-time strategy game in which you'd construct a subterranean labyrinth within whose corridors you'd kill the goodly heroes looking to rid their land of the likes of wretches such as yourself, was one of Bullfrog's best ideas in years. In hindsight, though, it wasn't as outstanding as it might have seemed at first, and suffered from being a little too formulaic and at times too chaotic. And so Dungeon Keeper 2 seems like the right way to make amends, to take a brilliant game design and perfect it. Which is why, in spite of this game's absolutely remarkable detail, it doesn't end up being all it might have been - under the surface, it's too much like its predecessor for its own good.
Although Dungeon Keeper 2 shares the original's half-silly, half-scary visual design, the graphics have undergone an incredible refinement since the first game, lending Dungeon Keeper 2 some of the best graphics you've ever seen. A dark, subterranean setting such as this one constantly runs the risk of looking colorless and too despondent, but Dungeon Keeper 2 succeeds in conveying its claustrophobic hallways beautifully, thanks to subtle but terribly effective light and shadow effects that bring your catacombs to life. The various dungeon components, from paper-strewn libraries and glittering treasuries to more sinister developments like cold graveyards and intricate torture chambers, are all readily distinguishable and beautiful to look at right down to the finest detail. And you can zoom in as close as you like from the default isometric view to appreciate that detail.
A wide variety of wicked denizens find themselves right at home within your underworld, and these are the real stars of Dungeon Keeper 2. Most every one of them looks outstanding in full 3D, from the wimpy, wiry goblins and skeletons on up to the gracefully wicked vampires and dark angels. These creatures' various affectations, the way they move about, what they like to do in their spare time, how they deal with their enemies, all make Dungeon Keeper 2 distinct and often very funny.
And while the graphics are vastly improved since the original, Dungeon Keeper 2 also sounds better than the first, which sounded fantastic in the first place. In fact, even in spite of its visual quality, it's Dungeon Keeper 2's sound effects that make this game as amusing as it is. Vampires cackle suspiciously to themselves, rogues sound like they're up to no good, and trolls talk even goofier than they look. Every room comes replete with its own ambient noises, which blend seamlessly as you scroll around, surveying your handiwork. A somewhat inappropriate though catchy enough techno soundtrack kicks in when your forces inevitably clash with the forces of good, and a perfectly evil-sounding narrator will alert you whenever something is amiss, just as he will introduce all your minions and facilities as they make themselves available. It's impossible to give Dungeon Keeper 2's sound design enough credit - certainly its graphics seem more impressive at first, but long after you're through gawking at the lighting effects, you'll still be cracking smiles listening to the game.
But even the excellent sound will start to wear thin eventually, because the gameplay hasn't changed much since the original Dungeon Keeper, which means there's more or less a right way to go about playing the game. Dungeon Keeper 2 isn't as flexible or open-ended as it may first appear: You simply etch out five-by-five zones for your rooms, sometimes bigger, sometimes smaller, and you lay down the rooms as you can afford to. There's a fairly specific order in which you'll want to build these, and it's more or less identical to how you built them in the first game. You'll quickly learn to slap your creatures around to make them work faster, and soon enough there will come a point where you realize there's very little left for you to see in the game. That's because the problem in Dungeon Keeper 2, much like in its predecessor, is that most of the fun lies in the setup. Almost all the missions, single- or multiplayer, build to an anticlimax where you just dump all your creatures onto the enemy and hope yours are stronger than his.