August 7, 2009
Warp/Rozner Labs Inc.
Warp founder Kenj Eno is a major gaming celebrity in Japan on the equivalent of America's Lord British or Jane Jensen. His new projects are treated with a reverence accorded superstars. Yet, in North America, his games have been bigger bombs than Pearl Harbor. D, which was released on every imaginable platform, is in our Turkey Hall of Fame. Players were dismayed to discover that gorgeous graphics were not a barometer of gameplay as many an adventure gamer finished D in thirty minutes or less. Enemy Zero was four CDs of mind-numbing lethargy as you wandered through a meandering labyrinth of spaceship corridors facing aliens who could be heard but not seen. Now with the release of the four-disk D2--which, though it features many of the same characters from D and Enemy Zero, is not a sequel--we are again subjected to a game that is heavy on full-motion animation and very light on player interaction.
This is not to insinuate that D2 is a bad game, it's just that the Eno's intentions seem to have been overshadowed by his desire to create an opus. With the exception of The Longest Journey, never have I played a game with longer, more tedious dialogues. Many conversations go on for as long as five minutes, and while they add nothing to the overall outcome of the game, they are admirable for the depth of insight and introspection they create for the characters (Kimberly Fox, the costar of D2, is one of the more memorable personalities in adventure gaming history). Much of the plot development should and could have better been handled with more player interaction and less of the passive full-motion videos.
D2 begins with Laura and a young girl name Jannie aboard a plane during Christmas Day, 2000. As terrorists attempt to overtake the flight, a meteorite is hurtling towards Earth. Little does Laura know that this cosmic coincidence will soon place her in a predicament that will pit her against the elements, mutated humans, and her forgotten past. She awakens in a desolate cabin in the middle of the Canadian wilderness, tended to by another crash survivor, Kimberly Fox. Kimberly's intuition that Jannie has also survived the crash convinces Laura to search the hinterlands for the young girl. But not before Kimberly tells a story of humans mutated by the meteorite who blossom tentacles and other ancillaries from their soulless husks (some of these creatures are actually pretty terrifying with their plant/insect-like bodies and human heads). Worse yet, the only way to discover if another crash survivor is human or mutant is by the color of their blood (red/good, green/bad). Thus begins what Kenji Eno has said is the last journey of Laura.
Without the heavy reliance on plot, D2 could easily have been labeled as a survival horror game. Yet it is easily one of the better examples on how to balance the diverse elements of the adventure, action, and RPG genres. Laura's skill with a weapon and her physical stamina (i.e., hit points) are both increased as she defeats more aliens. This is a simple but effective method of character improvement. The action elements, which basically consist of blowing away aliens that are hiding in the snow, quickly become tedious and intrusive. The game would have been much improved with less of these confrontations. In fact, they became so numerous and increasingly difficult they I finally gave in to my basest instincts and purchased a Game Shark just so I could activate an unlimited ammo and health code.
One of the more ingenious aspects of the gameplay is that you must hunt for your own food. Unlike other games where many objects are left laying around with no explanation, Laura is able to supply her own food source by hunting hares, grouse, moose, and caribou. For those who are opposed to hunting, the option to instead take photographs is provided. Guiding a snowmobile rounds out the action elements and is actually a lot of fun. The adventure portions of the game are the standard remember-a-code, find-a-key, explore-a-room situations that console adventure games are so dependent on. As stated previously, this could have been much improved with less reliance on the full-motion animations.
As with any horror story, logic is sometimes thrown out the window. The expected momentary lapses are not the usual "don't enter that room" situations, but rather "why would you break a pane of glass with your fist when you have weapons in your inventory" and "why doesn't Laura ever get cold?" Especially since she spends the entire game cavorting in ankle-deep snow wearing only a red dress suit, stockings, and shoes. I really question whether the developers of D2 have ever spent any time in real snow as the only nod Laura ever gave to the weather was an occasional rubbing of her arms and her breath in the cold air. I was shivering just watching the wind whip through the snow-laden pine trees. Finally, the unearthing of the plot asks for a great suspension of disbelief, but if you are already a fan of these type of games, then you know what to expect.
D2 is not for everyone, though hardcore adventure gamers will probably enjoy it the most. Action gamers will find little to appease their reflexes. The outdoor settings with the sun glistening off the snow are absolutely incredible. The full-motion animations are the best of any other console game on the market and manage to not become static by occasionally changing camera angles. There exist occasional lip-synching problems, but not enough to distract from the overall experience. The game's "Mature" rating is well-earned, not for the violence but for some of the subject matter (reliance on drugs) and a battle with a nude female mutant. If you come into D2 already knowing what to expect, you will not leave disappointed.
Final Grade: C+
If you liked D2:Watch: The ThingRead: The Last Man on Earth by Isaac AsimovPlay: D