Review Date: 11/27/03
Paolo Serpieri's "Morbus Gravis" (1986) is one of my favorite graphic novels, due to its horrific science fiction setting, intelligent writing, fantastic artwork, and last but not least, its luscious heroine, Druuna. Naturally I was intrigued when I saw a video game adaptation was available, and even MORE intrigued after reading how god-awful it was. Interestingly enough, the game first started out as a 2D Amiga platformer back in the early 90's (which I can totally appreciate), and ten years later ended up becoming a 3D adventure game for Windows. Sadly, I can't say that it benefited from the advancements that technology had to offer.
First of all, I only played this game for about an hour (twenty minutes of which were spent trying to figure out how to even start the game) before it started crashing regularly and I gave up. Embarrassingly, some of the game's assets are hardwired to the D: drive, so if that isn't what your CD-ROM drive is mapped to, you're out of luck. Normally, I would consider it irresponsible to review a game that I didn't make a good faith effort to complete, but in the case of "Druuna", I'm pretty sure I got the gist of what it's all about and what it has to offer - which isn't much.
As the game begins, we find the lovely Druuna strapped to a chair, naked, comatose, and plugged into some sort of machine. A video message informs us that the only way to revive her is to dive into her subconscious and reconstruct her memories, which hold a deadly secret. But Druuna's mind is a fragile and dangerous place to be, so extreme caution must be taken when playing around in her gray matter. Essentially, Druuna's memories are a retelling of the original "Morbus Gravis" story. In a hellish dystopian future threatened by a deadly plague, Druuna and her boyfriend Shastar are merely trying to survive. Unfortunately, Shastar's got the plague, and Druuna has to exploit her beautiful body to obtain the serum that he needs so desperately. She also stumbles upon a strange underworld of mutants and monsters, and slowly unravels the horrific secrets surrounding the plague and the nature of her existence. In the game, this is played out using traditional adventure game mechanics, namely solving puzzles, finding keys, unlocking doors, and running away from monsters. 3D animated cut scenes are used to stitch everything together.
Unfortunately, nearly everything about the game is just plain bad. The gameplay model mimics "Resident Evil" in that a 3D character moves within a series of static screens with fixed camera angles. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but Druuna's controls are terribly clunky, and she moves like a tank. If you thought turning Jill Valentine around was a chore, wait until you try moving Druuna. The environments are rendered fairly nicely, but they're sterile and completely non-interactive. The objectives in the game are a complete mystery, and you'll spend most of your time walking into walls and hoping to stumble across some sort of obtuse clue. And then there's Druuna herself, whose transition from the static 2D world of comic books to the 3D world of computer animation is truly horrific. In Serpieri's books, Druuna is pretty, sexy, and sensual, whereas her 3D representation is a complete abomination with unnaturally large breasts, a fat ass, bad posture, ugly seams, and no face. How can you have a main character that doesn't have a face?!? And she moves like a tank. It's obvious the real payoff in the game is watching the animated cut scenes which do a passable job of recreating the world of "Morbus Gravis", but even there Druuna looks awkward and unattractive, which is made even worse by her having an inappropriate faux-british accent.
Curiously, this may be the only game I know of that punishes you for playing it. Everything you do in the game increases the stress on Druuna's fragile mind, including saving your game and how long you play. The key to keeping Druuna alive is to do as little as possible as quickly as possible, and while that may indeed be the case if you were messing around in someone's head in real life, it does not make for an entertaining gaming experience in the slightest. In fact it begs the question, "why play it at all?"