|When the Dreamcast made its US
debut at E3 1999, I was taken with a short video playing on just a couple of monitors,
tucked away in a far corner of the Sega booth, labelled with a small sign that said
"D2." The gorgeous FMV footage from D2, together with the visuals in Ready 2
Rumble, NFL 2K, and Soul Calibur, cemented in my mind just how pretty the next generation
of console games would be. Of course, great graphics are just a part of our new
expectations for video games, and D2 exemplifies the current search for innovative play
The basic storyline goes like this: Laura, our hero, is flying on a plane. We dont know why shes there, but she gets chatted up by this suave guy named David. During their conversation, a couple of terrorists stand up and begin to take the plane hostage. At the same time, theres some creepy guy chanting some stuff about the "shadow" in another part of the plane. The terrorists shoot some folks, and then a meteor smashes into the plane. Yup, a meteor. The plane crashes in the Canadian Northern Territories, and there are few survivors. When you begin the game, you wake in a cabin with a poet named Kimberly. Kimberly says she found you in the snow, eight days after the crash. Laura has no recollection of the past, and as you help her through the game, she recovers her lost memory. The game progresses through a fairly typical storyline involving genetic mutation, lots of creepy monsters, some really shocking and disturbing scenes, and, of course, a battle to save the planet.
D2 is an RPG / Action-Adventure / First Person Shooter / Driving / Hunting / FMV game. It would be appropriate to say that D2 is crossing genre lines, something that isnt always to the liking of certain audiences. Indeed, some reviewers have already criticized its collage-structured gaming style, so D2 isnt the most universally enjoyable title, but for gamers who want to experiment with new forms in gaming, and for folks who just get plain bored of doing the same thing for hours on end, it can be close to perfection.
I fall in the adventurous category when it comes to new trends in gaming. To some extent all gamers do we wouldnt have so many new genres and styles of game were it not for the innate desire to explore the possibilities of the interactive experience. Still, we often find ourselves setting up genre conventions without consciously registering it, and are dissapointed when those conventions are not lived up to. Case in point: Role Playing Games, one of the genres covered by D2. The classic RPG has you controlling a fairly typical epic hero; he comes from noble birth but probably doesnt know it yet, must go on a journey where he fights the ills of the world disguised as nasty monsters, and returns home changed and better for the experience. As far as the game structure goes, a few things are consistent over the vast majority of RPG titles. Conventions such as the City Screen, the World Map, a magic system, a fighting system, an NPC who betrays the protagonist, a love interest, a villain, and most importantly a skill and level system for character advancement. These are the things we expect from a game, and often we are really upset when we dont get them.
D2 is loosely structured as an RPG. Laura starts out at level 0 and works her way up, earning experience by fighting monsters that randomly appear. As in action-adventure games, like Resident Evil, she has an inventory, map, and notes that you can access during the game. Also like the genre-defining Resident Evil series, the movement when Laura is outdoors is the forward, bacward, turn right, turn left setup. That part of the game is what I expected, although I am disappointed that in such a groundbreaking title they stuck with a clunky, old movement scheme. The directional controls are some of the worst things about the Resident Evil series.
When indoors, the game works much like a first person, point-and-click, FMV game. You use the directional pad to focus on different objects, and zoom in or out. Your action button uses or picks up an item. While its sometimes frustrating to be "on rails" whenever youre in a room, it does help move the game along. You dont spend forever clicking on every object in the room when you get stuck, so its usually easy to discover what you missed or verify theres nothing left to see. I associate point-and-click titles with FMV games, which focus more on the story, cutscenes, and movie clips than actual gameplay. D2 is similar in that the story is very much foregrounded, and some cutscenes and cinema sequences run up to a half hour long. Because of the emphasis, it seems fitting to have a portion of the game that hearkens back to other FMV oriented titles.
While youre running around the sub-Arctic, youll have to hunt for food. You can kill Caribou, Moose, Hare, and Grouse with your high-powered hunting rifle. The hunting portion of the game is a lot of fun, although there were far too many bunnies, and not nearly enough big animals to shoot. As you wander through the snow, youll notice little shapes moving in the distance. Before you get close enough to scare them you must shoulder your rifle and zoom your sights in on the animal. The scope movement is cool, shaking more as you zoom in, and bagging critters is tough work. After you kill an animal, it is automatically cleaned and cooked in your portable device, and you can use the meat to recharge your health.
As you run around the snowy mountains, youll encounter some nasty mutants who want to kill you. When these encounters happen, the game switches to first person shooter mode. You eventually gather the sub-machine gun, a shotgun, a handgun, and the assault rifle to make killing baddies easier. When battling, a target appears on the screen, and you try to shoot the monsters. In addition, you have quick buttons, X and B, that will light up on the screen to indicate a monster in that direction. Press the corresponding button and youll instantly face the enemy. You can access your meat and first aid sprays while fighting, so battles are never too tough as long as you remember to keep refilling.
Eventually you find gas for the snow mobile (or, as we say in Idaho, "snow machine"), and you can drive that around. It makes things go a lot quicker when you get to use the snow mobile, and its a lot of fun to cruise around on. The controls for this mode are well thought out, too, making those portions of D2 seem like a snowmobile race game. You can accelerate, reverse, lean and jump the machine.
All of these modes compile together to make a really interesting game that doesnt have you taping down buttons to get through menus quicker. In addition to the creative play mechanics, D2 pushes the boundaries of "mature" games. This is, by no means, a game for small children. The airplane takeover in the opening FMV contains some beautifully rendered graphic violence, and it doesnt stop there. Along the way there are tons of tentacle monsters doing what tentacle monsters do best illustrating graphic and disturbing scenes full of sexual innuendo. Sometimes, when fighting monsters in the first person mode, the amount of gore on the camera really obscures the action. And get this theres nudity. Its not really sexual nudity, but it is fully rendered nekkid lady. Of course, she has a big tentacle thing growing out of her stomach, but that contributes to the freakiness.
I really appreciate the transgressions that D2 commits. I cant remember when Ive been so tweaked out by a video game, and Ive seen plenty of bizarre plot elements in different titles. Playing D2 is kind of like watching "Legend of the Overfiend," except a little toned down. The edginess made me want to see what happens next. It also helped that the game upholds such high production values. The graphics are always incredible. The snow is the most realistic Ive seen so far, and sheets of it blow off as the wind gusts. The lighting and textures are phenomenal. The scenes are detailed and intense the magazine pages flipping in the wind among the airplane wreckage just gave me goosebumps. Heck, even the voice acting is pretty sweet, although the dialogue gets tiresome at times.
So why only four stars? While D2 is an amazing accomplishment, it does leave me wanting a little more. The game modes change abruptly, and I would often get disoriented after finishing a battle. This probably isnt a problem so much with the mode switches, but more with the similarity of the settings (snowy mountains are easy to get lost in, you know) and the bare bones map. The game also doesnt have many options you can adjust. There is no way to change controls, and you cant even go to reverse polarity when in first person mode. That really threw me off for awhile. And, as with most good action-adventure, story-based games, it is way too short. First time through takes about 12 hours, and a lot of that is watching a movie. Sure, its a pretty cool movie, but the replay incentive isnt really there.
Overall, D2 is a game everybody should try. Not everyone will enjoy it, but I think most people will be able to appreciate it. It is a high quality title that really pushes the limits of what we think of gaming. In many ways, I think D2 exemplifies the future of gaming. There is no other game like it.