Year: 1999
Platform: Dreamcast
Developer: Warp
Genre: Survival/horror
Rating: ****

Alright! A survival horror game that's easy enough for me to play! Many critics complained that this game was far too easy, which was actually the deciding factor in me picking it up. When it comes to games like this, I want to be entertained, not brutally punished by impossible gameplay. Fortunately, the game is just about the right speed for me and I amazingly managed to make it all the way through without cheating! (although I did get stuck a couple times and had to look at a walkthrough...) It's Christmas day in the year 2000. Laura Parton is a young journalist who has just survived a plane crash in the Canadian Rockies and is conveniently suffering from amnesia. Unfortunately for her, the other passengers on the plane are mutating into hideous tentacled monsters and it's up to Laura to survive long enough to determine what's causing the mutations. And of course, anyone who knows anything about Japanese anime knows that tentacled monsters are good for only one thing - sexual defilement. Yes, this is a "mature" rated game with a strong amount of graphic sex, violence, and gore, although toned down considerably from its Japanese counterpart.

First of all, and most importantly, Laura is a babe. If she weren't, I wouldn't have played this game in the first place. (but what is up with that awful pink eye shadow?!?) She's also a complex and mysterious woman who is lost and confused in a hostile foreign environment, which makes her a very intriguing character to play. The tense mood and haunting atmosphere of the game are excellent and the evolving story is extremely captivating. And like any good female action game, the women appear even more impressive because all of the men in the game are complete goobers.

Unfortunately, the interface and controls are awkward and frustrating, and the frequent shifts between first person and third person perspective can be unnerving. The most frustrating aspect is that Laura's range of vision is very limited, making the "look around" feature an exercise in tedium. (maybe she can't turn her head very much because it's so cold outside) However, after a few hours of playing the game, you learn to work with the controls instead of against them.

Another part where the game suffers is the cinematics, which are embarrassingly poor and downright boring. I would have expected a survival horror game with such an interesting story to have extremely good cut scenes, but they tend to derail the story more often than enhance it. It's not that they're rendered poorly, it's that the actions and dialog are unreasonably irrational and illogical, making you feel like you're trapped in a bad movie. And like any bad movie, further suspension of disbelief is ruined by an overabundance of unnecesary and bewildering expository dialog. The detailed description of how Laura's portable meat cooker works only invites criticism and disbelief as opposed to just having meat magically show up in her inventory. And being a Japanese game, the English voice talent naturally falls short, most notably in the role of Kimberly who is ironically the most talkative of the bunch.

Fortunately, the graphics are wonderful, the music is haunting, and the world that Laura is trapped in is fascinating to wander around in. The monsters are icky and some of the boss monsters are downright disgusting, which probably caused a lot of head scratching with both Japanese and American censors. One monster has a huge tentacle that erupts out of its lower abdomen and proceeds to squirt a toxic white substance out of its phallic head. Another monster is a naked woman with an extendable mouth that comes out of her crotch. And possibly the most disturbing foe is a giant computer in the form of a woman in labor, complete with a dilating vaginal target area. Whoa...

While extremely engaging and interesting to play, this is easily one of the strangest and most surreal games I've ever experienced. While the ending tries to wrap things up, you're left with way more questions than answers. In the course of trying to survive, the game becomes more a journey of self discovery than an investigation into the horrific and mysterious things that are going on around you. Sadly, the most interesting and pressing questions are never addressed.

<<< SPOILER ALERT!!! >>>
Like where did the monsters come from and why are they buried in the snow? What is the nature of the alien infection and how do people get infected? (obviously oral copulation wasn't quite enough to infect Kimberly) What is the nature of Linda? How did a six year old girl manage to end up in the bottom of a mine shaft when it took Laura explosives, runaway trucks, card keys, passwords, and a considerable amount of ammunition to do so? Is Kimberly really a psychotic murderer and cannibal, and why did she try to kill Laura at the end of disc 2? Where did all of the Kimberly clones come from? If John claimed that Kimberly ate his father, then why was his father still alive? Why is Dr. Brenner's wife a plant? What is a blind priest with a mechanical hand (and a talking parrot) doing in the Canadian wilderness? And who killed the priest? Why are a major pharmaceutical plant and a bioengineering laboratory located within such close proximity to each other in the middle of a frozen wasteland? Why does Laura die and get resurrected by Mother Earth several times during the game, but her death is permanent if she dies in combat? Why does Jannie melt into nothingness? After a huge gunfight, why is the final boss monster destroyed by a single flower? (No! Not the flower! Curses, I've been beaten!) And then at the end of the game, Laura is sent back in time (with her memory intact) to New Year's Eve 1999 where she meets David and stumbles across Kimberly's writings, which appear to be about her. (?) Is this an alternate past and will she be forced to endure this global tragedy again in the future? Although it has a nice emotional impact in the final seconds of the game, the ending is ultimately unsatisfying because it seems to completely invalidate the entire horrible ordeal that Laura has just been through, leaving me with only one thought - What's it all about and what was the point? However, up until this point the game was a lot of fun to play.

It's also interesting to compare this game to Warp's original "D" (1995). While "D2" isn't a sequel, it does have a lot of similarities. "D's" protagonist is also named Laura - although Laura Harris, not Laura Parton. She also has a magical compact that produces visions when it's opened. Many of the sound effects are the same, and the music has the same eerie and atmospheric feel. Thematically it's very similar and "D" also has some very twisted and bizarre content, including cannibalism. Laura's flashbacks and lost memories are also stylistically very similar in the two games.

It's even more interesting to compare it to "Enemy Zero" (1996). Again, the main character's name is Laura (Laura Lewis this time). You can definitely see how the gameplay for "D2" evolved from "Enemy Zero" with the separate room exploration mode and full freedom combat mode. You also meet Kimberly, Parker, and David for the first time, in VERY similar roles to their "D2" counterparts. How curious... Kenji Eno and Warp have created quite an interesting body of work with their Laura Trilogy - "D", "Enemy Zero", and "D2." While they're entirely unrelated games, they all share a common style and vision which is very unique and unsettling, and they're all worth checking out.