The Disaster Report series originated on PS2 in 2003 then spawned a couple sequels, one of which was on PSP and never came to America. This latest iteration, Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories, continues with the extreme environmental hazard gameplay but perhaps not in the way you would expect.
If you watch the trailer for Summer Memories, the viewer gets the impression this is an action game based around moment-to-moment survival scenarios. The actual gameplay couldn’t be further from this assumption as Disaster Report 4 is actually an adventure title that just so happens to be placed in a crumbling Japanese city. This switchero is a little disappointing because this is a slowly paced and actually highly unrealistic point-and-click title.
Playing as a cookie cutter male or female avatar, the protagonist is taking a bus to a job interview when a massive earthquake hits, buildings tumble, and there are tons of car accidents. As you wake from the wreckage, the player is trapped within an intersection of a busy street. Instead of mass hysteria, people running and screaming, and the player trying to climb away from falling buildings, dust, and debris, you instead calmly walk from one NPC to another, asking how their day is going. Nothing here makes sense. There are literally skyscrapers falling around you but you are worried about your job interview, tasked with helping a teacher find bratty students that are shopping at the mall during a natural disaster, and help a thief wipe his ass (literally). Umm, hello!? Why are you not running away from the world literally caving in around you, covering your face to protect from all the dust, scavenging for clean water, and trying to save yourself? One man is sitting on a park bench, sad that his lunch fell on the floor during the quake, but seems perfectly ok with the block-wide rubble right behind him.
Besides the ridiculous unrealistic gameplay, the worst part is the lack of any type of waypoint system. The game only allows the player to progress once walking near a certain NPC, a cutscene plays, or you find the thing the game wants you to find. However, without a waypoint system, the player is left to wander aimlessly until you eventually run into these environmental occurrences. At one point, I thought maybe my game glitched as I couldn’t figure out where to go next but then I finally clicked on that one door in the corner on the third floor after convincing a distressed character to give me a key after numerous dialog attempts. Unfortunately, the adventure style gameplay is tedious at best as triggering these cutscenes can be esoteric. Most areas are also filled with dozens of NPCs so the player needs to painstakingly talk to each and every one in order to find the one character to trigger the next event.
In addition to the unique environmental setting, Disaster Report 4 features a staggering amount of dialog options. At each critical point in the campaign, the game gives the player a pop-up of selectable options. Depending on the answer, the player can increase or decrease moral points which might change a decision down the line. While it is great having more than one “good” option and more than one “bad” option, most yield the same end result or only change the immediate outcome slightly. Worse yet, sometimes the player will need to play through the same dialog tree multiple times until the game finally tells you that you entered the correct response, even though it might not have been the one you wanted. It seems like this opens the door for narrative freedom but winds up being a huge missed opportunity.
Trying to make the gameplay even more realistic, there is a hunger, thirst, and bathroom meter that needs to be monitored. The problem is this system doesn’t add anything to the gameplay and winds up just becoming a nuisance. Say you are hungry, so you go to the shop to buy a riceball and a mineral water. Then you eat and drink. Later, you need to find a toilet or risk becoming uncomfortable. But good luck finding a bathroom when you need it, let alone remember where it was thanks to the lacking mapping system. The gameplay is already highly unrealistic with the setting and how people react so why was this tedious system implemented in the first place?
Visually, the game still looks like a late release PS2 title. The motion capture of each character and the Japanese-only option for voice helps provide an accurate Japanese atmosphere but the character models and non interactive elements lack any significant detail. Also, for a game built entirely around an earthquake, everything in the environment is freakishly static. Nothing moves or reacts to your touch. Sometimes NPCs acknowledge you bumped into them by triggering a stumble animation but none act hostile or forgiving towards you. They just continue with their stress-free lives even though the world is falling apart.
Perhaps the worst part is the cutscenes that cut away at the best moments. For example, early in the game the player will need to push a bus forward. Wait too long and a gas fire will kill you, students, and a teacher. Instead of actually pushing the bus, or even participate in a QTE, the player selects options from a menu just like all the other dialog trees. Selecting the correct answers instantly warps the player to the other side. There is no cool, explosion-filled cutscene. This seems like a cheap way to get out of animating the game and only provides more disappointment. The player also has the ability to activate 3rd person or 1st person view modes at will. In open areas, 3rd person allows for greater control and more visibility but first person mode is basically required in tight hallways or small areas. The first person mode has a screen bob that is a little nauseating though.
Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories had potential to be something special as so few games focus on environmental horror. Unfortunately, it is difficult to overlook the misleading gameplay from the trailer and the tedious “hunt for the thing and use it here in this specific way” adventure-style mechanics. The unique approach should be applauded but the attempt falls flat, just like the playable character when you forget to hold the brace button during an aftershock.
Also available on Nintendo Switch and PC. You can try Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories for yourself with the free demo on all platforms.
Also Try: I AM ALIVE (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
Don’t Forget About: Hydrophobia (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
Also Watch: 2012, San Andres, Geostorm, The Day After Tomorrow, or Deep Impact (movies)