Disaster Report, also known as Zettai Zetsumei Toshi in Japan and S.O.S. Escape in Europe, is a game that pits you against the most merciless destructive force known to mankind: Mother Nature. That’s right, this third-person survival game doesn’t feature bloodthirsty zombies, mutagenic monsters, or over-fed seagulls with lasers attached to their heads, instead opting for a more reality-based terror in the form of devastating seismic quakes, resulting in the complete annihilation of an entire island over the course of a few days. An intriguing and surprisingly original experience awaits those who aren’t sticklers for trifling impurities in their survival/horror games.
You’ll begin the game watching a cut-scene involving an up-and-coming journalist named Keith Helm who is on his way via railway to Stiver Island’s Capital City to begin his job at the prestigious Town Crier Newspaper. As Keith’s train crosses the bridge just outside of Capital City, a devastating earthquake rocks the area and as he drops out of consciousness, his train derails. Miraculously, Keith survives and wakes up atop a crumbling bridge. This is where you’ll come in; it’ll be up to you to do whatever it takes to survive from here on out.
Which is to say that as Keith, you’ll need to keep a constant supply of H2O on hand and traverse deadly dangerous obstacles made up of wreckage and other wobbling, dangling and falling chunks of earthquake aftermath in order to stay alive and in one piece. For some reason, Keith must consume an ungodly amount of water in order to stave off the constant threat of death by thirst. Water is plentiful in Capital City, so keeping hydrated is more of a mild annoyance than a time-critical chore, but in the end the drink-water-or-die aspect of gameplay just feels tacked on. Aside from instinctive emergency action and a slight chance of dehydration, you’ll also have to contend with a fair amount of puzzle solving. As expected, some of the puzzles consist of nothing more than finding a particular item and choosing to use it at a specific location. But as you progress, the puzzles will increase in complexity and ingenuity, often requiring that you use existing items in your inventory to create new ones. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the invention system is especially deep or satisfying, but Keith does occasionally go all “MacGyver” on it. For example, combining a paint can, oil drums, beach wood, tires, and rope will result in a raft.
Disaster Report clearly attempts to monopolize on the sheer devastation and scope of Richter scale rocking earthquakes. And to a certain extent, it succeeds. As the ground you walk on is constantly shaken by seismic rumblings and terrifying tremors alike, you’ll have a front-row seat to unprecedented destruction. Buildings will violently topple over, pendent freeway sections will come crashing down, and even the classic vehicle-balancing-on-edge-of-broken-bridge rescue is pulled off in a genuinely tension-inducing way. To add a heightened sense of consequence to your every action, a girl named Karen will accompany you through the sinking Stiver Island. Karen is mostly there for plot purposes but her presence is justified by the occasional helping hand that she lends to overcome certain obstacles that require more than one person. (Being boosted up to otherwise unreachable areas, out-of-the-box thinking, etc.)
While areas are laid out in a manner that helps to cut down on needless backtracking, and the evolving storyline eventually graduates to full-on intrigue, the length of the overall experience is disappointingly short. It is likely that most gamers will be able to blow through the game in a single day. And the lack of replay-worthy unlockables doesn’t sweeten the deal either.
The overhead perspective and style of which your character moves about is reminiscent of GTA3/VC. But a game engine that is almost constantly plagued by distracting slowdown, and a camera system that rarely gives you a good view of your surroundings, ensures that any graphical comparisons end there. To be frank, Disaster Report looks like a PS2 launch title. In its defense, D-Report does often attempt pretty ballsy visual feats -- like real-time rendering an overhanging concrete railway track that sways back and forth and eventually crashes down within feet from you as a good chunk of the cityscape is being processed on the horizon – but is always met with a slideshow-style execution. As surprisingly stuttered as the game’s visuals are, the audio presentation may be even more off-kilter. To begin with, there is virtually no aural accompaniment (outside of subtle ambient sound effects) to speak of. The voice-acting is borderline horrible, the so-called voice “talent” seem as if they are trying to entertain themselves by intentionally giving wacky performances, and the poorly-translated script doesn’t help matters.
But despite its blemished presentation and short-lived overall game time, Disaster Report manages to stay entertaining on a by-the-moment tension-inducing level, and without the benefit of gratuitous violence or paranormal gimmicks to boot. Disaster Report somehow manages to capture the truly terrifying potential of “natural” disasters. But be warned, the game is short, and the game is flawed.