Disaster Report (PS2) Review

Click here to view the Disaster Report (PS2) Description Page for screenshots, saves, and more information.

Review by tankMage (March 2018)

Score: C+

   I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of Disaster Report, so it is with a heavy heart that I give this game such a middling score, but I cannot ignore the fact that it has slew of problems and is a mess from an objective standpoint. So why did I like Disaster Report? Well, it’s hard to explain really… every aspect of this title comes together in a sort of wonderful alchemy to create an experience that is entertaining from start to finish. The bad voice acting, horrible dialogue, cheap deaths, and cheesy graphics blended into something truly amazing to behold…a game that is good, because it is bad. Perhaps much of the allure of this game comes from it’s simple, yet novel premise: the player must pick his or her way through an earthquake stricken city. You never know what’s going to happen the first time around and there are surprises around every corner, from sinking buildings to collapsing subways. Sadly, the devs didn’t seem to know how to approach making such a game and made design choices that are just weird or poorly implemented, which I’ll discuss over the course of this review.

Story

   Keith Helm is a journalist starting a new job on Stiver Island, a man-made land mass that is home to a city. An earthquake strikes while Keith is crossing the bridge to Stiver Island in a train. Keith awakens to find the bridge nearly in ruins and must head for the city if he doesn’t want to go down with the bridge as it crumbles into the sea. Little does he know, he is jumping out of the pan and into the fire, because the entire island is beginning to sink. As the story unfolds Keith meets a number of different people and uncovers the mysteries of the island.

You might want to get that checked out, bro.

   Overall the dialogue is pretty bad even for a video game thanks to strange statements from NPCs and poor grammar (not that I have room to judge), which in turn affects the quality of the story. There are also some plot holes and I’m still not exactly sure why certain things happened, but I have the suspicion that this is explained in the sequel, Raw Danger!, which is perhaps the most ridiculous name in the entire PlayStation 2 library. There are several paths the player can take that lead to different outcomes, which may also shed some more light on the story… to be honest I only played through the game once and watched recorded footage of the other endings. Oddly enough, I managed to get the best ending on my first try, which was dumb luck on my part. At any rate, many of the endings are very brief and fail to elaborate on the events of the story, but being able to unlock them gives the player some agency, which makes the game a bit more fulfilling. Of course, the alternate paths and endings were likely thrown in to add some replay value to the game. In fact, Disaster Report is short and it only took me about 7.5 hours to beat the game on the first go, so someone who runs through Disaster Report three times is only going to get about twenty hours out of it.

   Despite it’s problems, I liked the plot and there were some surprising, though rare, moments of character development. In fact I was glued to this game from start to finish, because I wanted to see what would happen next, not knowing what to expect from a title about earthquakes. To be honest the whole thing was reminiscent of a cheesy eighties movie, but it worked in Disaster Report’s favor.

Graphics

   Once upon a time the PS2 and it’s peers were considered state of the art as far as consoles go, but those days are long over. With that said, 3D games were just beginning to look semi-realistic at this point in history and graphical standards were quite a bit higher than those of the PS1 and N64. Despite being made a few years after the PS2’s debut, Disaster Report’s character models are not a whole lot better looking than those found in a PS1 title. The cast is slightly blockier than what one would generally expect from the PlayStation 2, though the artists did a fair job with their faces and their hands aren’t the usual lumpy mitts that were common to the era. The cast will also become increasingly disheveled as the game progresses and their clothes will tear and become stained, you may even notice a few wounds on Keith, which was a nice touch.

   The city itself is impressive looking in a chaotic, ruined sort of way. Stiver Island is a jumbled maze of damaged buildings and buckling roads that feels like some sinking derelict ship that has been abandoned by it’s crew. I hate to use such prosey terms, but that’s the only way I can really describe the game’s lonely and at times spooky atmosphere. In fact, Disaster Report looks a lot like a survival horror game and there were times I expected a horde of zombies to rush me. While the atmosphere may be great, some of the effects could have used a bit of work and the animations for falling objects and crumbling buildings were stiff even for the PS2. Also, this game also had some of the strangest looking water I’ve ever encountered in a video game along with a hose that looked more like a giant rubber band and inventory items that had ridiculously low resolution. The PS2 certainly had it’s limitations, but the devs really could have touched up the graphics a bit, which would have helped make this title more immersive.

User Interface

   There’s nothing good to say about Disaster Report’s controls aside from the fact that they work most of the time and could have been far worse. Players will be ok until they have to grab onto a ledge or use their inventory, which is when they will run into problems. Keith can hang from and pull himself up onto surfaces, which is cool, but the game is VERY finicky about how the player lines Keith up with the surface they are trying to latch onto. If you are not lined up just right, Keith will often fail to catch the ledge and either fall to his death or get hurt. The camera was also pretty bad and I often had to force it into a new perspective by pushing the triangle buttons of all things to look around.

   Keith stores usable items in a backpack, which has a limited amount of space. Finding, using, discarding, and assembling items stored in the backpack requires a bit too much menu navigation, which doesn’t make sense considering that the concept was almost certainly inspired by Resident Evil, a game whose inventory system worked better than that of Disaster Report, despite being older. Not only was the inventory system overly complex, but the game bombards the player with unnecessary items that he or she will never use. I picked up lighters, flashlights, batteries, even juice mix while running through the game and ended up having to dump a lot of these things without ever using them. Drinking water and filling water bottles is also a pain in the ass, especially since Keith has to rehydrate himself very frequently, though the concept kind of makes sense seeing as how he is running around and dodging falling rocks in early summer. Still, it would have helped if the game didn’t make players dig through the inventory to get a drink or fill the water bottles up individually.

Music and Sound

  The soundtrack for this title is nearly non-existent, but the music that plays from time to time is ok and really punctuates events. The sound effects are actually really well done and add to the already tense atmosphere. While, the sound of wind whipping through the empty streets and rumbling aftershocks may have made the game more exciting, but the sound effects were mixed a pinch too loud for my taste. Then there’s the voice acting, which was dreadful. Couple the bad VOs with the fact that nobody’s mouth moved when they spoke and you get a rather surreal experience that made me laugh quite a bit.

Gameplay

   Disaster Report melds elements from the platforming and survival horror genres to come up with something fairly creative and original: a genre that could probably be dubbed “Disaster Survival” or perhaps just “Survival”, though it is classified as an action game. At any rate, the unique blend of ideas keep this adventure exciting even though the developers had a lot of trouble really capitalizing on the potential of the concept. I’ll explain the game a bit before I continue, however. Players must escape Stiver Island before it is completely destroyed, which is accomplished by exploring the island, solving simple puzzles, and navigating various obstacles. Keith has the usual life bar, which depletes as he is injured by falls or other hazards, but it will regenerate slowly. He also has a “QP” meter (I’m not sure exactly what the QP stands for) that will slowly diminish. If Keith runs out of QP, he’ll run slowly and lose health. It’s game over if all of his health runs out. Drinking water or juice will replenish Keith’s QP and things like gauze can heal his wounds. Players will also find a variety of tools that can help them escape the city, including a crowbar that can be used to pry open doors or even as a makeshift torch if combined with gauze and lighter fluid.

When shit like this goes down, RUN!

   Players will often have to leap across chasms, brace when the ground shakes to avoid getting knocked flat, and evade falling debris. There is also a relationship mechanic that can change the outcome of the game based on your actions and how you treat a certain character as well as multiple paths that can be taken through the game. Overall the gameplay is quite varied and Keith will even cobble together a raft that must be used to navigate a dangerous waterway. Players can also collect a variety of novelty compasses, hats, and other clothes items hidden throughout the city.

  While the gameplay manages to be fun and entertaining, plenty of issues rear their heads throughout the experience. It seems the devs wanted water and healing items to be somewhat limited, but they were dispersed far too generously for scarcity to be an issue, which detracted from the overall challenge of escaping the city. In a strange twist, there were many scripted events, like falling trees or rubble, that can outright kill an unsuspecting player. In many cases these events were cued by a short cutscene and it was hard to tell when the cutscene was over. As a result something often killed me before I realized I had to act. Some of the puzzles were a little bit obtuse as well, though they could be solved by some trial and error or an internet search fairly easily.

   A bit more follow through on the ideas explored in Disaster Report could have produced a classic. Unfortunately, the devs did not seem exactly sure how to approach the game design and failed to truly balance it or bring some of the better concepts fully into fruition. More scarcity of goods, better planned out puzzles, and fewer cheap kills would have improved the game greatly, but at least Disaster Report is fun in it’s own strange way.

Final Thoughts

   I’ve considered exactly what makes Disaster Report special and for me it is partially nostalgia for the days of the PS2, my favorite console, and partially the novel concept; it’s not everyday I get to play a game about earthquakes. At any rate, the pros and cons of this title nearly cancel eachother out, which is why it got a C, which is a mediocre score, even though this game is hardly mediocre: it’s good, bad, and altogether awesome.

Recommendations

If you like the PlayStation 2 and are looking for something a little different then by all means give Disaster Report a try, just bring your sense of humor and an open mind along.

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