Bearing no resemblance to the first D, Sega's four-disc release of Warp's D2 is positive proof that composer-turned-director Kenji Eno is both a genius and a madman. The first D, a Myst-like puzzle RPG, offered little in the way of gameplay, few enemies, and only a hint of story, such that you never really cared one whit about Laura or her father. Four years later, Eno delivers unto the masses D2, a game, which, for all intents and purposes, betters its predecessor in every possible way. Similar to the first D, however, D2 isn't without its flaws - many of which are glaring.
The setting for D2 is the Canadian Arctic, where temperatures dip below zero, and animal life is a greater rarity than at George Foreman's dinner table. The game opens with our heroine, Laura Parton, aboard an airplane en route to her mother's laboratory for a Christmas visit. The calm relaxation of the flight ends, however, when the plane is simultaneously hijacked and struck by a meteorite, which causes it to crash into the wilderness below. Despite the astronomical odds against these two things happening simultaneously, Laura and a few other passengers miraculously survive. What follows is a haunting tale of good vs. evil, with the fate of the human race standing in the balance.
On the side of good is Laura Parton, a 27-year-old journalist with a troubled past. As Laura, wearing her skirted business suit and carrying her trusty submachine gun, you'll have to cut through the evil denizens to find the suspect king of the roughnecks, Death. On the side of evil is a mysterious sorcerer, who intends to seek out and bond with Shadow to form the final destroyer, Death, thus bringing about the end of humanity. We later learn that the meteorite that struck the plane was Shadow's vessel, and that the Shadow itself was responsible for the death of the dinosaurs millions of years ago. The meteorite's arrival has also brought about another unforeseen problem. Everyone who survived the crash has been infected with a virus, which is slowly transforming them into plantlike creatures. To make matters worse, those who come into contact with these beasts also become infected, and the color of their blood is the only way to discern an infected person from a clean one - red for clean, green for dirty. Thus, the game begins, with a sleeping Laura Parton under the watchful care of Kimberly Fox, who will eventually become her ally - to stand as two against Shadow's legions.
An FMV sequence highlights Laura's awakening and initial bonding period with Kimberly, which reveal the startling realization of Laura's amnesia about events pertaining to the crash, most notably around a man named David, who, it turns out, survived the crash with Laura, only to go missing before Kimberly found her. The pace itself is quickened by the startling intrusion of one of the hijackers, who quickly mutates into a multi-tentacled plant-beast. Two seconds later, the creature attacks Kimberly and, in an anime-inspired moment if ever there were one, the plant-beast uses one of its tentacles to copulate with her mouth. As expected, this moment is censored in the English release: The camera is panned upward a few inches so that you don't see the actual copulation taking place. Regardless, the entire scene is well animated, rife with gore, and full of the kind of suspense and terror that horror fans have been clamoring for since the second Resident Evil. Thankfully, another of D2's characters, Parker, comes to Kimberly's rescue, assuring us that Laura won't have to go it alone for the rest of the game.
As an offset to this initial 20 minutes of cinematics, you spend the next 45 minutes or so acclimating yourself to the game's controls and encountering a series of hideous mutations. You begin in Kimberly's cabin, and you control Laura via a Myst-like view that homes in on various objects, which you can examine or use. Highlight the door, and you'll exit the cabin, which leads to a hunting demonstration and the introduction to another of the game's camera views: hunting view. Select the rifle via the L-trigger's objects menu, align your target in the crosshair, use L and R to zoom, and press the trigger with B - boom, dead bunny. After the tutorial, Kim gives you a submachine gun and sends you on your way to look for Jannie, another crash survivor who, as 6-year-olds are apt to do, has wandered off. The game then switches to its third view: terrain view. Whereas the inside views have a Myst-like appearance and the hunting view has a Deer Hunter-style display, terrain view borrows a page from Tomb Raider and lets players watch Laura hustle her heinie as the depressingly gothic snowy scenery scrolls by.
As you explore the terrain, eventually discovering an abandoned hut and revisiting the crash site, you'll be randomly attacked by a number of ugly creatures, spawning the fourth, and last, of the game's viewpoints: fight view. While enemies may look grotesque and dangerous, dispatching them is actually quite easy: Use the X and B buttons to rotate your view, the analog stick to aim, and the A button to pump hot lead into the nearest nuisance. Don't worry about reloading, that's done automatically. Don't worry about running out of ammunition either, as you have an unlimited supply of submachine gun and semi-automatic rifle ammo. Although you can't physically move in fight view, the busy precision of the interface creates an experience akin to and as satisfying as that found in Syphon Filter. After each battle, Laura will acquire a number of experience points, which eventually lead to improvements in aim, strength, defense, and health. Should the submachine gun or semi-automatic rifle prove too easy, you'll later be able to use a handgun, shotgun, or grenades, all of which offer high firepower at the cost of limited ammo.
If you find Laura precariously near death, you can heal her in one of two ways: either via medical sprays that you acquire or via meat that you've captured through hunting. Medical sprays come in three flavors, green, yellow, and red, which offer 20, 50, and 100 points of health, respectively. For the first three of the game's four discs though, you'll probably find yourself turning to your meat store for life replenishment, simply because hunting is much easier than tracking down medical sprays. Select the rifle, align a rabbit, moose, or grouse in the crosshair, and pull the trigger. If successful, you'll gain anywhere between one and four meats, which translates to between 40 and 160 health points. Considering the fact that Laura never has more than 200 health points for the first three discs and that you have unlimited submachine ammo, this tends to make the game easy. In fact, because of the lack of a time limit, unlimited ammo, and the ease of health replenishment, you could go so far as to say that D2 is the easiest game ever made.
Once you've beaten the first boss, and once the storyline cinematics begin to increase, it's at this point where the game itself truly derails and initial joy turns to sorrow. By the time you become accustomed to the game's fighting and hunting mechanics, you've assured yourself of beating it. Wandering around becomes tedious, because you know you're not going to die. To add insult to injury, for every hour of actual gameplay, you must sit through another hour of cinema scenes. The next boss offers 15 minutes of plot development, the one after that offers 20 minutes, and the one after that offers another 15 minutes, and so it goes. You don't even control Laura on the fourth disc until a half-hour-long cinema has played. By the time you finish the game, you've spent more than two-thirds of your time watching the story take place, as if you're taking part in an interactive movie rather than a video game. Sure, it's nice to see Laura regain her memory and come in contact with the other crash survivors, but is a loss of gameplay a fair cost for this? This is the question that D2 forces upon those who play it.
Outside of the obvious gameplay conundrum, D2 has a plethora of minor issues as well. The game is set in the Canadian Arctic, but Laura is wearing a skirt. Why does she not freeze to death? Secondly, if Laura is hurt or fatally wounded during the course of plot development, she is resurrected, but if she dies in battle, the game ends. What's with that? Furthermore, while Kimberly, Jannie, Parker, and the rest of the cast speak volumes, Laura utters only nine words during the entire course of the game, five of which are repeats. This leads to another aggravating problem: While Laura, the mute that she is, and the supporting cast are all superbly acted and are flowing with life, the one character who is poorly executed happens to be the one with the greatest overall screen time - Kimberly. Her lip's out of sync, her voice is devoid of emotion, and the stops and starts in her performance leave much to be desired.
Despite minimal gameplay and a poor voice actor, D2 is not a total failure. While it may not pack much in the way of actual gameplay, the story it tells, the visuals behind it, and the soundtrack supporting it are top-notch. Be it the initial encounter with Parker, the confrontation with Jannie's grandfather, or the later reunion of Laura with her mother, the full-motion cinematics and plot are a masterwork of storytelling. Not since Metal Gear Solid has a video game been this captivating. As you progress, you can't help but become immersed in Laura's search for David, Kimberly's fight for sanity, Parker's battle with illness, or the terror that Death, the final destroyer, holds. Furthermore, the game's many plot twists are near impossible to deduce, which results in a story that is both gripping and non-contrived.
Despite technically being a first-generation game, D2's visual style and graphical beauty nearly equals that of Capcom's more recent Resident Evil: Code Veronica. While the graphics are a tad rough around the edges, the game's arctic environment and sinister atmosphere actually create an ambience greater than that of Code Veronica, simply because the plausibility of it all makes Laura's plight ten times more frightening. The game's location is based upon a real place, not an artificial environment. D2 also shows us why people are mutating, making it poignantly clear that the same fate could happen to us. Furthermore, unlike Code Veronica, D2 is graphic in such a way that you actually see creatures come into physical contact with people. Earning the game's M rating, you see people ripped apart, you see them mutate, and you see them utterly abused. With 60-frames-per second animation, high polygon counts, little to no slowdown, and tons of oozing tentacles, D2's visual experience is solidly sickening.
If the game's rich story and gorgeous visuals don't make up for its lack of gameplay, D2 has another ace up its sleeve, the soundtrack. Whereas Kenji Eno proves himself a master storyteller with D2, his true forte has always been musical scores. From the frantic crescendos of Enemy Zero and D to his early work with Gainax, Eno is a true virtuoso when it comes to creating auditory backdrops. As impossible as it may seem, D2's in-game musical score is his crowning achievement. The hauntingly soothing mountain melodies combined with the jarring bass of enemy encounters creates an experience that's altogether chilling and relaxing at the same time. On a personal level, I rarely become enamored with a video game's soundtrack, but D2 got to me, and it did so in every possible way. From a strictly musical level, D2's soundtrack is so perfect that it makes competing offerings, namely Code Veronica and Silent Hill, seem amateurish and ill-conceived by comparison.
Ultimately, despite a near-perfect showing in graphics, sound and story, D2 boils down to a battle of pros and cons. Taken in pieces, the game has an excellent interface, a number of innovative gameplay features, and enough variety to satisfy even the most jaded gamer. However, these features don't mesh well, the game itself is too easy, and the quest is far too short compared to other survival horror offerings. Kenji Eno has created one of the most engaging stories of all time and given it support in every way possible, except the one that matters most: gameplay. Still, with an A+ story, uniquely mature visuals, and a glowing soundtrack, D2 is a game to be highly recommended, provided you don't mind a weekend rent.