Title  : Disaster Report
Platforms  : Sony PlayStation 2
Publisher  : Agetec
ESRB Rating  : Teen
Game Rating  : 7.5
Review by  : Ken Gagne

Keith Helm is about to have a very bad day. 

Living as a reporter on the manmade Stiver Island, Keith is caught in the wrong place at the wrong time when a massive earthquake strikes. Cut off from civilization, he must make his way to safety, during which he'll encounter other survivors, establish working relationships with them, and uncover details that suggest this disaster may've been unnatural in origin. 

This is the story of Disaster Report, a PlayStation 2 game from Agetec. 

Players guide Keith through the dangerous landscape of Stiver Island's ruins, helping him collect items and navigate the treacherous precipice left by the catastrophe. In addition to fatal falls, his weakness is water, which he goes through water like it's, uh, water: the more strenuous his activity, the more quickly he'll dehydrate. Fortunately, sources of clean water are aplenty, and double as save points. 

Though exploring an evacuated city may seem daunting, the game is very linear in nature. Each puzzle has a specific solution; it is up to gamers to determine what it is. Since there is only one solution, it is also very easy to not know what to do next and become stuck. Player initiative comes into play by deciding which scavenged items to carry, as backpack space is limited. For example, if you're uninjured, you may not think to hold onto that gauze, but combining it with other items can create a crude torch. The innovative mind will lead to the best of several endings. There are also 35 different compasses to collect. There is no functional difference among them, but they add a bonus dimension of treasure hunting to the mix. Gotta catch 'em all! 

Gameplay mostly consists of methodological surveying and puzzle-solving – almost like Resident Evil, but without the monsters, and with more logic to the problems. Aftershocks can quickly kick up the game's pace, though. Should you brace for impact, protecting yourself from dangerous tumbles? Or run, lest you be crushed by the next falling building, or find your foothold suddenly falling into the ocean below? 

Keith can not only brace himself, but also shout, hoping to hear responses from nearby survivors. If he follow's the game's track, though – and its hurdles are often structured such that he must — he'll happen across all relevant refugees in due time. Both the run and first person view buttons must be held down in order to be used. The menu system is a bit of a curmudgeon, reacting slowly to input, but provides a variety of data and opportunities to manipulate the inventory. 

Though common scrapes and bruises will deteriorate Keith's clothing, they're unlikely to have any long-term effect on our hero's health. Further, saved data does not record injuries, so restoration is no more difficult than finding a save point and reloading the current game. 

The camera is mostly automated, with some fixed angles, and others that follow Keith's movements. The only manual control available is to center the camera behind Keith, when possible. Why Agetec didn't map total camera control to the right analog stick — an increasingly popular layout – is beyond me. 

The city itself is barren and deserted. It's easy to become disoriented, even with the compass, because so much of the environment looks similar. Running among these ruins and its smoking rubble and other effects often results in slowdown. The graphics lack definition, causing both near and distant to appear blurry. Fortunately, mission-critical items are often highlighted, making them hard to miss. 

There is no musical score to accompany these rescue efforts, though atmospheric effects abound, from whistling wind to pattering rain and guttering flames. The voice acting is inexplicably clipped, and varied in quality from a strong main character to an average sidekick and terrible radio broadcasts. 

In this new reality in which America finds itself, it's strange that we should find entertainment in a game with so many collapsing buildings. Regardless, Disaster Report has a lot going for it: a constantly evolving environment, complete lack of violence or combat, original premise, and need for strong problem-solving skills. The below-average graphics and occasionally cumbersome control hamper it, but what's most striking is that though the game is often intriguing, it isn't always fun. 

It's worth renting, perhaps not buying, and definitely not replaying.


This article is copyright (c) 2003 , 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 01-Mar-03