Disaster Report

Review by Toger
April 2003

I live in California. This means I make jokes about the sort of people who live here (cereal bowl of America: flakes, fruits and nuts) and enjoy some fairly decent year-round weather (you like fog, don't you?). Oh yes, almost forgot ... this is also earthquake country. Nothing like living on the edge of a tectonic plate to let you know that contrary to the song, mountains do crumble. So it was with a high degree of anticipation—7.0 on the Richter scale—that I awaited Agetec's latest game, Disaster Report, which involves surviving and escaping the aftermath of a quake.

Disaster Report opens with your character, Keith Helm, on his way to a new job as a reporter for the Town Crier on Stiver Island. The island is touted as a revolutionary marvel of architecture and construction—it's a completely manmade, state-of-the-art metropolis rivaling the pyramids of Egypt. As Keith travels across the bridge to Capital City, a devastating earthquake occurs.

Gameplay consists of negotiating your way over, under and sometimes through various locations as you make your way to where the rescue operations are taking place. To accomplish that goal you'll walk, run, climb, swim, shout, cling, hide and possibly employ alternative means of transport. If needed, Keith can also jump, automatically I might add, when you come to a ledge. (Well, it's automatic with a running start.) During the ever-popular aftershocks, you'll be able to brace Keith in order to avoid falling over and sustaining damage. Or just run. Knowing when to brace or run is crucial.

Along the way, you'll meet up with several other characters where you'll have the opportunity to either help them with some problem, such as finding their dog or brother, or adopt the every-man-for-himself method and go your own way. In some cases, one or more of the characters will choose to accompany you as you make your way across the island.

There are a number of places during the game where you can take an alternate path in the story. Disaster Report's endings are based on the decisions you've made during the course of the game, paving the way for several replays.

Let me take a small detour here ... In a pointed attempt to get that 18-24 male demographic, Agetec added a couple of titillating factors to the game—one of the female characters, Kelly, wears the shortest shorts I've ever seen on a human. And Karen doesn't wear ... well, let's just say that she makes it a point to have Keith go up ladders ahead of her. I nearly fell out my chair laughing after that conversation!

Now back to our regularly scheduled review ...

One nasty problem for me: I was stuck for several days in one section because I needed to make a very precise jump. Up to that point, jumping hadn't been a problem. This jump was from one end of a narrow beam to another. Lining up the jump so that Keith would grab onto the teeny-tiny, itty-bitty, minuscule, so-small-as-to-be-impossible-to-see-without-a-microscope pixel on the opposite beam became my ... Own. Personal. Nightmare. Of the 37 times I got a "game over" (yes, the game kept track!) at least 20 of those were because of that freaking beam! (Now that I've gotten that off my chest, I can get on with my life.)

Disaster Report is presented in the classic third-person, camera-over-the-shoulder view. At any time during the game, you can switch to first-person view in order to get a better "lay of the land." Trust me when I say that you'll use that first-person view quite a bit because, once again, the camera controls stink. With the default view, you can rotate the camera 360 degrees as you walk, but you can't look up or down. In first-person view, you'll be able to add up and down to the field of view, but you won't be able to walk.

The camera will reset itself directly behind Keith automatically if you wait long enough or you can square up the view with the L2 button; however, once inside an enclosed space you cannot rotate the camera. Ever. You're stuck with whatever view the game gives in that space—if the camera is facing Keith, it will stay that way until you leave the room. In order to check out the room for inventory items you'll have to switch to the first-person view, scan the room and then switch back to third person in order to pick up the item. Lots of zany bumping into objects ensues.

Speaking of inventory, you'll find a plethora of objects to pick up and use—water bottles, first aid kits, bandages, various hats and more. You'll carry your inventory in a backpack. Unlike the majority of adventure games, your backpack is not an infinite time-and-space-folding marvel. It's just a backpack and it can only hold so much—multiples of the same item will take up space! Once your backpack is full, you'll get the dreaded "no more space" message and you'll be forced to discard something or leave the object behind. Discarding inventory items means they disappear forever, never to be seen again. So discard with care. You can also make space by combining items, such as putting the water filter inside the purifier.

Disaster Report also employs a rather unique method of what-happens-if-I-discard-the-wrong-item problem. Instead of having to reload from a previous save or starting over (ick) there are items that you can assemble from the objects you have on hand. Need to shed some light on the room but want to keep your hands free? You might have the items required to make a miner's hat!

Saving the game is almost, but not quite, save anywhere. You can save the game at any of the water fountains, spigots, water trucks or sinks sprinkled liberally throughout the game. I can hear you thinking, "Save at a water fountain? Why?" Thirst is an important part of Disaster Report. After all, you're trudging all over a destroyed island in the hot sun. Keeping an eye on the thirst meter is far more important than watching Keith's health points, as health points will gradually replenish themselves. Thirst will not. Certain actions and speed will deplete the thirst meter at different rates.

Graphically, Disaster Report wasn't anything earth-shattering (pun intended). The colors were a tad washed out and the models were pretty standard; where the game really stood out was in the clipping. (Clipping is where part of your character's body disappears into part of the scenery ...) In this game, clipping became an art form! If Keith was standing next to a wall during an aftershock and you braced for it, the entire top half of his body would melt into the wall. Want another example? One of the items I toted around was an umbrella, attached to the outside of my backpack. During one scene, it was necessary for Keith to hide under a desk. Guess what poked up through the desk? The tip of the umbrella! Do you have any idea how funny it is to see a floating umbrella tip?

On the other hand, as time progressed and Keith spent more time trudging through water or mud and climbing over and under things, his clothes became more tattered and dirty, just as they would in real life.

Shall we discuss Disaster Report's frame rates? Let's. Keith is a slow walker on the best of days. The man just rambles like he's got all the time in the world. If it became necessary to draw numerous distant objects—that would be almost all the time—Keith s-l-o-w-e-d to a crawl. Even running felt like he was moving through molasses.

Oddly enough, there really isn't any music in Disaster Report. (On a side note: a game store clerk and I were discussing this and decided that in the event of an actual quake, you wouldn't really hear background music as you made your escape ... unless you're a schizophrenic off your meds, but I digress.) It was actually rather creepy to wander Capital City and not hear any music. You only heard your own footsteps or those of your companion, and the rumble of aftershocks with the appropriate crashing and crumbling of buildings and overpasses.

There's some pretty dramatic music during the end game as you're ... (no spoilers!) that really ratchets up the tension.

As with most console games, there isn't an overabundance of voice work in Disaster Report, but what there was, alas, needs some serious help. I wonder if the Red Cross has a kit for that? Most of the voice-overs sounded tired and lifeless. I'm fairly sure that one guy gave his performance from bed! The only voice that seemed to have gotten into the spirit of the game was one of the men associated with Christophe Construction. If he'd been on screen, he would have chewed the scenery!

Hmm, I seem to have spent the majority of this review on the things that I didn't like; however, after all is said and done, I really did like this game! I thought the premise truly unique. The story progressed from a simple survival tale into a full-blown mystery to uncover the true secrets of Stiver Island.

Some things could have been better—like the camera controls and the graphics—but it's amazing what you can get used to ... like the fact that the spit of land you live on is moving north and the rest of the continent is moving south. Oh wait, that's real life.

Disaster Report won't require you to kill mutant animals, monsters or legions of zombies that have been unleashed on the unsuspecting public as a result of this horrific disaster. (I think I've seen one too many movie trailers.) What it will do is make you use your brain in order to survive and escape from the wrecked and sinking city. For that, Disaster Report gets a thumb up! The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Irem
Publisher: Agetec
Release Date: November 2002

Available for: PlayStation 2

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