By Scott MacDonald / January 5th, 2013
Release Date: August 22, 2000
Genre: Survival Horror
I missed out on the Dreamcast when it originally debuted back in 1999. I was a hardcore Nintendo fanboy back in those days, and while I owned a Genesis, the Dreamcast simply was not on my radar, especially considering how negatively I viewed the Saturn. I’ve recently acquired a system, though, and am just now beginning my journey into what some gamers view as Sega’s best system. I’ve been told by countless fellow gamers that the Dreamcast has many gems that are unique to the system, and while that may be true, D2 is most assuredly not one of them.
D2 suffers from a major identity crisis. The title implies that it’s a sequel to the original D, an FMV (full motion video) adventure title released on the 3DO, Saturn and PSX in 1995, but it has nothing to do with that game in terms of storyline. I had a chance to play D on the Saturn a few years ago, and its plodding pace, incredibly brief length, and lack of character and story development made it nothing more than a laughably bad experience. D2 is more of a spiritual sequel; it builds upon every design flaw in the original and then sees fit to add even more to the mix. D2 tries to combine elements of survival horror, first person shooter, and adventure exploration. Its story attempts to explore the depth of ethics, spirituality, and cloning. The result, however, is significantly less than the sum of all these parts.
We first meet our heroine, Laura Parton, upon an airplane that is flying over Canada. Terrorists hijack her plane, and a man clothed in a black robe repeatedly chants about “Shadow, the final destroyer.” We get a few glimpses at several of the key players in the story, and then the plane gets struck by a meteorite, causing it to crash into the Canadian wilderness. The meteorite itself also happens to contain a great evil. It’s an interesting (if not bizarre) premise and I actually found myself drawn in by the circumstances set forth in the story, despite the fact that the terrorists repeatedly shoot inside the plane with no repercussions (read: depressurization).
A fellow passenger, Kimberly, finds her out in the snow and brings her back to a cabin that she’s taken up shelter in. Kimberly explains that she found her far from the crash site, and that it’s been about a week since the crash. Laura remembers nothing of the events after the crash, and soon after, one of the terrorists breaks into the cabin. He writhes and moans and tentacles soon burst forth from his body. The creature attacks Kimberly and Laura eventually saves her, at which point control is handed over to the player.
D2’s gameplay is divided into three portions: exploration, travel, and battle. The exploration portion of the game is directly inherited from the original. It uses a first person viewpoint inside of buildings and other locations, and invisible rails to guide you through the room. You have to follow a set path to the area you want to explore and then pivot at that point to look around. It’s exactly as archaic as it sounds. If that system doesn’t discourage you from exploring, then this will: Every time you look at or interact with the environment, be it to pick up an item or to look at something, the game boots up a cinematic. Want to look at that safe? You can watch Laura look at it with a confused expression on her face. Want to pick up those shotgun shells? You can watch Laura pick up those shotgun shells with a confused expression on her face. These cinematic sequences frequently pop up and while I assume they’re meant to be, well, cinematic, they depict the most mundane activities. You can skip the sequences by mashing a specific button, but you still have to sit through the delay of the system loading the sequence and then loading back to the game.
When you’ve had your fill of Laura staring confusedly at inanimate objects, you’ll wander through the Canadian wilderness in third person. D2 includes random battles to break up your wintery treks, and any tension built from their unknown lurking presence is ruined by the Dreamcast. You’ll hear it rev up to load every battle, so it’s never a mystery as to when you’ll be attacked. Battles take place in first person and Laura has several firearms at her disposal. A submachine gun acquired early on has infinite ammo and worked just fine for most encounters for me, but there are also stronger weapons with finite ammo such as a shotgun, grenades, and a semi-automatic rifle. You use the joystick to move an onscreen reticule, and a simple “A” button press fires. Unfortunately, enemies frequently jump out of your range of sight, which forces you to push “X” or “B” to pivot Laura in place by a set amount. This causes the screen to wobble back and forth (like she has a bobble head), which makes aiming the loose reticule even more difficult. Even worse is when an enemy strikes you; your viewpoint is immediately forced downward and the screen and reticule shake. If you’re surrounded by multiple enemies, you’ll spend a large amount of time looking at the ground. Flying enemies are even worse; they have a tendency to move in circles around you, meaning that to hit them, you have to follow suit and spin in a circle…all the while everything shakes. The following boss fight illustrates these problems perfectly. It’s almost nauseating just to watch. Laura also earns experience points and levels up, which increases her strength and health points, which doesn’t seem to fit the game.
Laura also has a hunting rifle, which you can use to pick off rabbits, birds, and other animals for meat. It really just provides you with additional healing items, which is great, except for the fact that Laura doesn’t know how to use the damn rifle. Even while zoomed completely out, she erratically shakes like she’s having a seizure. It may have been an attempt at realism, but it practically feels broken. And if the focus was on realism, it seems silly that Laura can stop and cook meat while she’s being attacked by grotesque monsters. That’s actually a saving grace, though, considering the cumbersome mechanics.
D2’s narrative takes a surprisingly minimalist approach to its storytelling, much to its detriment. Just like an RPG, Laura has been chosen by an otherworldly entity to save humanity from another otherworldly entity who seeks to punish humanity for its sins. Despite its location, D2 is an entirely linear affair. You’ll talk to someone at point A, travel to point B, and travel back to point A to talk to the same person again, and repeat it. You often have to speak to a person multiple times to get the story to progress, and if you miss a trigger, you can find yourself wandering aimlessly.
As you progress through the story, Laura frequently experiences flashbacks that play out like that video from “The Ring.” A series of seemingly unrelated images are spliced together and you’re left to make heads or tails of it. The game does a terrible job of explaining the story’s overwhelming amount of disparate topics. To start with, the goal of the terrorists is still unclear to me. I believe the robed evil guy hired them to hijack the plane and kill Laura, but I don’t understand why he’d fly on the same plane as them. Even though his goal is clearly to reach the meteorite, it seems silly to think he’d be so desperate as to take the same plane as the person he wants to kill. I thought the monsters that popped up in the game’s numerous random battles were from the plane, but monsters with shovels and mining hats (miners) soon pop up, even though the entire mountain seems deserted. Are they mutated people or just monsters or both? It’s possible the meteorite’s influence cursed the mountain’s inhabitants (assuming there were that many to begin with) or that the robed antagonist did it, but there’s just no way to be sure.
Even worse, character conversations are completely one-sided. Just like an RPG, Laura is a mostly silent protagonist. She never has anything to say about her predicament and it’s awkward. You’ll watch as people mutate and die, crash survivors share their life stories, and “God” speaks to her, and through it all, she has nothing to say. This entity basically tells Laura that she’s a modern day Jesus and all she does is nod her head and accept it. An exceptionally awkward example of this occurs with Kimberly as she tells Laura about her life and drug addiction (although, I have no idea why she felt it necessary to share). Laura tilts her head like a confused dog (as she is apt to do) and occasionally nods and smiles, like she does in every single situation. As a protagonist, Laura seems awfully uninterested in her situation.
D2 is supported by a solid engine, aside from the unfortunate revving that occurs when a battle loads. The game’s outdoor environments are gorgeous, especially in the sunlight, and the characters are modeled well. There is little clipping or tearing to speak of, although, the animation is frequently stiff, particularly as Laura travels through the snow. The voice work is serviceable, but the dialogue is often lengthy and obtuse, especially when characters such as God or the mountain prophet speak. Lip syncing is practically non-existent after the introduction, and it’s common to hear characters speak while their lips don’t move. The music is often tense, but the battle theme is repetitive.
The game is also strangely sexual and it’s not subtle. Flying enemies look like phalluses with wings and Kimberly’s clone (another ill-explained plot point) has a mouth full of sharp teeth burst forth from its vagina. A boss fight at the end of the game features a mechanical entity that appears to have legs and a vagina as well. The content doesn’t bother me, but there’s no context for it either. Sure, sometimes a cigar is a cigar, but there’s no getting around what these creatures look like.
Despite all my complaints, D2’s ending is the worst offender. When the in-game cinematic ends, a video begins that shows humanity’s evolution. It depicts, war, famine, hunger…all the atrocities (sins) that we’ve committed. It ends by giving basic facts about the earth’s existence and details the incredible numbers of people who have starved to death and are afflicted by AIDS, among other situations. It’s almost a greatest hits compilation video of those commercials you see on television asking for donations. Did Laura prevent all this through her actions? I doubt it, but I can’t confirm it either way. Regardless, I can’t help but feel like the developer’s gave their game the modern art treatment – like they’re trying to convince me that what I see is deep and meaningful, even though I’m looking at a toilet.