reviews\ Jan 20, 2003 at 7:00 pm

Disaster Report - PS2 - Review

It's not easy to imagine what Disaster Report plays like, so let me paint a picture for you.  Your name is Keith Helm, and you're on your way to a new, lively city for a job with the Town Crier Newspaper.  Life seems good -- the sun is shining, birds are chirping.  Suddenly, something goes horribly wrong, and the train you're riding never makes it to its destination.  Outside, you see nothing more than a bunch of rubble.  Cars are hanging off the edges of the bridge, some of which have innocent people inside.  It sounds very grim, and it is.  The only thing you can do now is attempt to make it out alive.

If Resident Evil is a game of survival/horror, then Disaster Report would be a game of survival/survival.  Every step you take is a dangerous one; every move you make could be your last.  Cracks are littered throughout the wobbly, unstable surfaces that you must cross, though you never know exactly which part of a bridge will break and which part won't until it happens.  You could cross an area carefully a couple of times and no destruction will occur, making it appear as though you're walking on solid ground.  But then impatience takes over, so you decide to run across it and end up plummeting to your death.  That's the name of the game: disaster strikes when you least expect it.  It also strikes when you do expect it, adding to the tension of the game.

Disaster Report will rat your mind more than your fingers as you try to solve each problem and make it out of the city alive.  And when you think you've finally begun to get the hang of the game, you'll find out that some of the disasters are unavoidable!  Unavoidable disasters are not deadly (unless you make a mistake), but they are harmful, and will quickly deplete your health meter.

Disaster Report has an interesting take on health depletion and health rejuvenation.  Instead of having the standard get damaged, lose points health meter that most games use, Disaster Report uses water as its form of life.  When the game begins, the water meter is at 100%.  Regardless of whether or not you're injured, the water meter will begin to drain as your character becomes thirsty.  This adds the tension-building element of time to the game.  Take too much time exploring and you could be in deep, deep trouble.

To quench Keith's thirst, locate a working water fountain and take a drink (they're usually not that hard to find).  To extend the amount of time you have to explore (and to prevent death if a horrible accident occurs), empty water bottles may be filled and stored in Keith's backpack for later use.  Empty bottles aren't given to you though -- you must find them. 

In typical survival game fashion, there's an order in which things must be completed before progress can be made.  Remember the scenario I mentioned in my preview?  If not, let me fill you in.  At one point in the game you'll come to an abandoned restaurant.  The doors are locked, but the owner hid the key underneath a pot outside.  Grab the key, open the door, and continue your mission to escape this disaster unscathed.

As it turns out, you are required to find a note before you can enter the building.  I had already found the note in the demo, but now I decided not to waste my time looking for a piece of paper that told me I could enter a building.  I was able to locate the pot, but could not examine it until after the note had been read, preventing me from snatching the key.  Disaster Report isn't exactly a non-linear game, but things like these make it feel like you're playing on a track; get from point A to point B and you're done.  Finding notes and other trivial items are things that experienced players will want to ignore on their second time through the game, but there is no way of doing that.

It's not hard to see that Disaster Report is somewhat lacking in the visual department.  It has some of the coolest camera angles and cinematic effects around, but nothing else in the game is overly eye-catching.  Character models are low on polygons, and they don't have the most fluid animation either.  The destruction effects are cool, but other than that, you won't be too impressed with the game's dull coloring.

Those who choose to purchase Disaster Report will discover one of two things: a great game or great confusion.  You can tell just by looking at the back of the box that this game is not for everyone.  The brains over brawns gameplay might make you think that the developers were shooting for the hardcore gaming audience.  However, I fear that most hardcore players will overlook Disaster Report in favor of the many big-name titles that are due out next month (similar to how they overlooked ICO when it was released in September 2001).  Why be so foolish?  I'm looking forward to the next Tomb Raider game just as much as everybody else, but that doesn't mean I can't set aside some time for other good games.

Reviewer's Scoring Details

Gameplay: 7.9
Gamers looking for something new and unique to play can stop searching this February when Disaster Report lands on store shelves.  The gameplay, which needs a smart brain more than it does faster fingers, makes Disaster Report a fun title that'll keep you hooked from start to finish.

Graphics: 6.9 
Awesome cinematic effects and cool camera angles just aren't enough to make Disaster Report's graphics shine as brightly as its gameplay.

Sound: 6
Surprisingly, there isn't much sound in this game.  Music is rarely heard, mainly because the developers wanted to make the impact of a car falling into the water sound all the more shocking.  The voice-overs are annoying and repetitive though.

Difficulty: Medium
Prepare to use your brain more than anything else while playing Disaster Report.  It'll take a lot of thinking (and exploring) to solve some of these difficult puzzles.

Concept: 8 
Disaster Report's concept is simple: when disaster strikes a busy city, it's up to you to save a few lives, as well as your own.  Watching the city crumble in real-time is really cool, especially since nearly every action you make has the potential to cause even more destruction.  Ever wanted to be a part of a disaster movie?  If so, this is the closest you'll get to participate in an earthquake (without actually being in one, which is something no one wants to experience).

Overall: 7.9
A disaster, this is not.  Yes, there are disasters in this game.  But Disaster Report's gameplay is free of any severely damaging storms.  It's slower, and requires more use of the brain than most of the games out there, so it's definitely not for every PlayStation 2 owner out there.  However, it is a lot of fun, it is very addictive and will surprise you more than you'd expect.  Be sure to check it out when it's released next month.


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