Not for the faint of heart, children, or people who don't like a really deep story with their games, D2 is a rare piece of work that demands your absolute attention. Like Konami's excellent Silent Hill, some people out there will hate this game simply because it doesn't fit their perceptions of what an adventure or horror game should be. And that's just what makes it such a classic. What other game has you fighting against a screaming mad, metal masked winged old woman as she plays Mozart on her violin? Or hunting rabbits and larger game for the meals you need to survive? That's only a tiny fraction of the things you'll experience here, should you be willing to give this game a try. Imagine a hybrid of John Carpenter, Stanley Kubrick, and a dash of Hideo Kojima, all filtered through the mind of Warp's Kenji Eno, and you'll still only have a fraction of an idea of what's here.
If you've played (and enjoyed) D on any of the 3 systems it appeared on (or the PC version) you'll be thrown off a bit this time out. D2 isn't a sequel at all, although the game echoes parts of the first one here and there. You'll hear musical cues and see a few visual touches here and there that lend a sense of familiarity, but there's little comfort to be found in the game's 4 discs. Some of the happenings here make Resident Evil: Code Veronica look like a Girl Scout picnic, but if you're expecting this to be as frantic as any of the RE games you'll be sorely disappointed. D2 has its own methodical pace, and the game contains about 3 hours of CG movie footage for your viewing pleasure. You'll want to save your game in choice spots so that you can watch a few of these interludes over and over, or maybe even share them with curious friends if you like. Of course, your friends will probably look at you as if you're slightly insane, but that's always an issue if you have non-gaming buddies, no?
How's this for an opening sequence: The airplane Laura is on gets hijacked by crazed, doomsday spouting terrorists AND hit by a meteorite fragment, then crashes deep in the Canadian wilderness. Another of the survivors, Kimberly finds Laura and a young girl, Jannie, but Jannie runs off to find her grandfather who just so happens to live in the area. When Laura comes to, Kimberly informs her that she found her two days ago, and the plane they were on crashed ten days earlier! Let's just say things get weirder, Laura has to save the earth, and there will be a pile of monster and a few human corpses between you and the ending of disc four. By the time you hit disc 3's Gulf War footage, your mind will be totally blown.
The game has four separate control schemes, depending on what actions you're doing. You control Laura in a third-person mode and three first-person modes for combat, hunting or searching for items. It may seem like overkill, but for the most part it's fairly easy do what you have to do in the game. Laura isn't the Bionic Woman, so expect to spend a good deal of time trekking back and forth until you get the snowmobile. But by then, you're on Disc Two, so you'll be used to footing it. Sometimes you'll go wandering and end up somewhere where you need a particular key or item you don't have, so you have to hoof it back to point A to get some advice or a clue from Kimberly. At least you'll build up experience points killing monsters as well as stock up on your meat supply by doing a little hunting. You can also take photos of just about anything in the game and save them, as long as you have enough space on your VMU.
Except for boss encounters, combat is random like in most standard console RPGs. The monsters however, are strictly of the ''what the hell is THAT?'' variety. Even though you get a nice peek at the beasties when they appear, you'll still be picking out a twisted human head here or a disjointed arm there. You don't want to gawk too long though as they have a tendency to gnaw on you a bit if you don't shoot quick enough. Anyway, combat is similar to The House of the Dead in that you're shooting moving monsters against a static background. When two or more monsters are onscreen, the X or B buttons switch between targets. The U.S. version is a bit more difficult, with some of the harder monsters appearing earlier on than in the import version, but thanks to the unlimited ammo, you'll hardly ever feel threatened. You're only vulnerable during the brief seconds you reload, and if you've been hunting enough, you can just dip into your meat supply to heal during a tough battle. In a way, the game is almost too easy, but I think it's because Eno wants you to concentrate on the story. And this is where the game really shines.
There are long movies at points in the game where nothing but a black screen is there, and you'll hear a lone voice or some really abstract movies that let you and Laura know bits of what's going on. But the game is structured to pull you into its grasp slowly, and by the time you realize it, it's time to put the next disc in. One thing is certain, you've never seen anything like this before, and no U.S. developer would be able to pull off half the stuff you'll see here. At one point late in the game, Laura is rendered deaf and then blind by a boss. You're still playing the game, so you experience just what she does as it happens. It's a great touch, and probably borrowed from another of Warp's games for the Japanese Sega Saturn called Real Sound Kaze no Regret (also remade for the DC in Japan), a multiple disc game which featured no visuals whatsoever, just voices, sounds and music against a black background. There's also some humor to be found, mostly in the contents of Laura's inventory. You'll find a portable cooker that skins, cleans, and roasts whatever game she shoots, an old-school tape recorder with a handy AM/FM radio, and a handy weapon case that happens to fit all the guns she'll find on her trip.
Graphically, the game has some amazing texture work and at times, you feel as if you're really in the frozen Canadian wilderness or the house of a crazed pianist. Every location in the game is in some form of massive disarray with the most impressive areas being the plane crash site and disc 3's massive ruined church. Next to Shenmue, this is the most realistic looking Dreamcast game, even more so than Code Veronica. The character models are well done, but not as good-looking as CV or Shenmue, if you really have the urge to compare. There are about 20 total people you'll come across in the entire game, some in no condition to talk, but each important to the progression of the plot. The sound effects are generally dead on, except for one annoying ''splat'' sound, which sounds as if it's borrowed from an episode of Scooby-Doo.
The music to the game (also scored mostly by Eno) is excellent as well. Very minimalist, yet very effective in the mood it creates. There's a beautifully depressing song in the game sung by Arto Lindsay, ''Counting the Roses'', which is played at three points in the game. And it's only during the last time you hear it that you feel any sort of optimism. Definitely mood music for the new millennium, and award worthy, if you ask me. Sometimes you'll hear a tune drift in and out as if carried on one of the frigid winds in the game, and you won't notice it until it's fading.
D2 is a game that makes you think as you admire its beautiful graphics and cringe a bit at some rather unsettling imagery. Those of you who're avoiding this game because you're thinking it came over heavily censored by Sega of America will be in for a treat. Yes, the opening scene was trimmed a bit and the second boss in the game had a spurting tentacle moved up slightly to a spot less obvious, but the rest of the visuals are as they were in the import. I guess the folks who localized the game figured that anyone who makes it past a certain point deserves to see the rest of the game intact. There's plenty of green blood to spill, and a bit of the red stuff hits the floors as well. Strangely enough, there are few out and out ''jump out of your seat'' scares, just a mood of total isolation and hopelessness.
The game isn't perfect though- while the voice work is adequate, some of the lip-synching is terrible, and comes off as incredibly clumsy considering the quality of the visuals. How long would it have taken to add a few extra lines to a conversation rather than look at Kimberly move her lips for about 5 or so seconds with no words coming out? Ugh. I didn't find a problem with this, but I know some will groan every time they open a door or pick up an item indoors, and have to watch a short movie of Laura performing the action. You can skip them after you see her do something the first time however. Finally, the game balance is way off once you hit disc 4. The monsters are all incredibly powerful, and rather than let you rely on your shooting skill to make it up to Death Mountain, the game cheats by regenerating all the pickups if you go back and rest. Making to the end boss is more nerve-wracking than actually facing it, thanks to the random nature of the battles. The U.S. version also seems to increases the battle rate somewhat to make the game more difficult, but balances it out by also increasing the number of animals to hunt.
No matter though, as this is one of those games that will echo in your head for a bit after you've gone through it, and a repeat trip will yield some interesting surprises for the adventurous (the UFO on Disc 2 caught me way off guard). In the end though, D2 is a mighty powerful piece of work from one of the most creative game studios on the planet, and probably the first game that earns its Mature rating without going for loads of cheap thrills.