Back in the mid 1990s, a development company named WARP Inc. made a series of games starring the same “virtual actress”, a character model who always played a role of someone named Laura, though never exactly the same person twice. In keeping with the company name, the games had some decidedly strange characteristics and the first game in the series, D, was no exception.
In D, Laura “plays” Laura Harris, daughter of the eminent doctor Richter Harris. It is 1997 (the near future when the game was made) and in his Los Angeles hospital, Laura's father has apparently become insane. He has gone on a murderous rampage and barricaded himself within the hospital, leaving the police powerless to intervene. On hearing of this, Laura rushes to the scene where she is permitted to enter the hospital alone. Amidst the carnage she comes across a peculiar warping of reality which transports her to an alternate world.
Most of the backstory is presented in a typical fashion by means of an opening cutscene. Rather less typically, the cutscene then turns into what can only be described as a game trailer. This depicts a large number of upcoming scenes from the game and contains potential spoilers to at least two of the puzzles. As a promotional item this might have been beneficial but its presence at the start of the game is a trifle bizarre. The player is then presented with the game start menu and the more astute will notice it consists solely of “PRESS ENTER”. This is because the game has no user-definable options and, more crucially, no save game system. The entire game must be played through in one session. Fortunately, the manual makes it clear how much time you need to set aside. Laura enters the hospital at 3:00. You have until 5:00 before the portal to the other world closes, giving you two real-time hours to solve the mystery.
Despite regularly being described as survival horror, D has no death sequences. Most of the game is set in an environment akin to an old castle that is well-stocked with desiccated corpses, many of whom appear to be the victims of sadistic traps. Laura comes close to falling foul of these traps herself, as spiked walls lunge at her and a large boulder pursues her down a stairwell. Whilst creating an illusion of danger, however, Laura’s successful evasion of these death traps is handled automatically.
The game uses a first-person, node-based navigation system that is controlled with the arrow keys. There is no on-screen cursor, but for the most part movement is simple, with clear routes you can follow in each room and only three directions you can move from your current spot. However, the placement of nodes sometimes leads to unintentional mazes as you try to maneuver to specific points in apparently open rooms. A simple keystroke brings up a small inventory containing a watch (showing the current game time), a compact (an in-game hint system) and any other items you’ve acquired. Laura can also interact with a handful of environmental objects by pressing the space bar. The PC version also includes a pause menu, allowing the player to answer calls of nature without wasting any of the precious limited time. Owners of console versions were not so lucky in this respect.
The graphics are, for the time, of extremely high quality. Whilst they may not stand up well against modern games, they meet a standard that would normally have been restricted to cutscenes in their own era. In particular, the 3D modelling of the lead character is exceptional. She is able to achieve a decent variety of facial expressions (though this isn’t always a plus) and has realistic body movement. The only real flaw is her hair, which must have astonishing amounts of gel in it given how rigid it is. There are also some ambitious rippling water effects that are carried off well, plus a handful of reflective surfaces that depict Laura realistically. The downside to this level of detail is that the viewing window is reduced to little more than half the size of the screen, but this does not greatly affect the gameplay. The transitions between locations provide a realistic swaying motion as Laura makes her way node to node, as if she was actually walking between the two points.
The game frequently switches views to third-person when performing actions or when certain set scenes are triggered. This gave the developers a chance to show off their ability to create realistic facial expressions. Laura gasps. She looks quizzical. She shakes her head in sadness and disbelief. Unfortunately, she is also one of the worst over-actors I have ever seen. A recurring scene in the game is her father trying to communicate with her by means of a projection that always floats in the air slightly in front of and above her. The first time this happens, Laura quite reasonably looks around for the source of the voice (briefly reverting to first-person to showcase how well the look-around-at-scenery effect works) before spotting the projection with a startled gasp. If by the fifth time she does this you’re not screaming “For goodness sake, look up you stupid bint!” then you’re a better person than I.Continued on the next page...