D, if I may be cynical for a moment, could well stand for Done to Death in that it continues the trend towards 'interactive movies' or 'interactive stories' with a horror theme. The emphasis is on graphics and 'atmosphere' which it does very well, but it falls down in the vital area of gameplay where puzzles and exploration are minimal. This is a shame because it had the potential to be a quite enjoyable game despite its deliberate pitch to the graphic horror market.
The introduction briefly sets the scene and tells how a formerly respected surgeon, Dr Richter Harris, inexplicably goes berserk in a Los Angeles general hospital killing patients and taking others hostage. Your character is Laura Harris, the demented surgeon's daughter, and you are allowed into the hospital by the police to try to convince your father to give himself up. Once inside, however, you are dragged into another dimension created by your father's warped mind. Your task is to explore this rambling mansion which contains echoes of your own past and to learn of your own dark mystery before finally confronting your father.
The story unfolds as you make progress through the house to uncover the fiendish deeds of your father and trigger a series of disturbing visions. Your father, too, communicates with you in disembodied form imploring you to go back before it is too late.
It's a pity that the designers didn't see fit to give Laura a voice as this may have enabled us to have a greater insight into her character. As it is only her father speaks. Although, I suppose we should be grateful that Laura exhibits a quiet and brave determination to press on despite the horrors she uncovers, and at no time does she resort to screaming or sobbing hysterics. For that, at least, the designers deserve full marks.
The game is played mainly from a first person perspective as you explore and move around with frequent cuts to a third person view so that you can watch as the mannequin-like Laura picks up items, climbs stairs or discovers something she'd rather not see. Surprisingly, I found this switching of perspective to be quite effective and at times it heightened the dramatic tension. Movement is entirely keyboard controlled via the arrow keys with the spacebar as your all-purpose key for actions such as use, look, move and open.
Although full motion video is employed your movement is restricted to just a few positions within any location which doesn't allow you complete freedom to explore unlike, say, The 7th Guest or The 11th Hour. Many interesting things you might like to examine in more detail are simply tantalising, but unapproachable background. This is probably intentional as you don't have time to explore too much as the game will end if you don't complete it within the allotted two hour time frame. That's right, the game is designed to be played in one sitting of two hours and to that end there is no facility to save your game. Take too long or choose the wrong option at the end and you must restart the game from the beginning.
Adventurers, like me, who prefer to explore their surroundings thoroughly will probably not complete it the first time through. I fell a couple of minutes short at my first attempt largely because I took too long trying to look at everything. Completing the game the second time was easy as I already knew what needed to be done. My advice is to put the game in and have a good look around and practice to get a feel for what you should be doing then quit and start again when you are ready to play seriously. And, I mustn't forget to mention, you can pause the game at any time to stretch your legs or take a coffee break but, whatever you do, don't quit the game.
The puzzles are not too difficult to solve because of the limited options for interaction and the clues to them are generally close at hand. A few involve using items that you find and there are a couple of contraptions to manipulate that can be worked out simply by trial and error and noting the effect of your actions. It's a little Myst-like in parts but nowhere near as complex. There is one small sequence that calls for reflexes in that you must press a key in response to a flashing prompt on the screen, but this is not really difficult to master and, mercifully, you don't die if you get it wrong.
If you are stuck and not sure what to do next you can get a visual hint by checking out your compact in your inventory, but beware, you only get three hints so use them sparingly -- unless, of course, you want to go back and start from the beginning.
The graphics, music and sound effects are very good, especially if you heed the advice contained in the manual and play it in a darkened room as the images will be much clearer. There are also some clever dramatic effects such as the wall of spikes rushing towards you, but overall much of the horror imagery was rather clichéd and, thankfully, not too shocking.
So, should you buy this game? Well, it's up to you to judge if the price is worth what is, potentially, a mere two hours of play. Personally, considering the cost of games, I think it's a bit of a liberty to promise so little game playing time. Still, as noted above, the good news is that you probably won't finish it in two hours because you'll run out of time. The bad news is that most extra playing time will be taken up by repeating what you have already done. You can play it through again to discover any scenes you may have missed or to view a slightly different ending, but would you want to?
On the whole D has some tense moments with some interesting special effects but it relies too heavily on these visual aspects. If you are impressed by graphics you may find it worthwhile, but most adventure game players will find themselves wishing for more puzzles and problems and more freedom to explore.
Copyright © Gordon Aplin 1996.
All rights reserved.
486DX66, 8MB RAM, 4MB hard drive space, 2xCD-ROM, DOS 5.0, SVGA.