A different game that could have been great, that should have been great, but isn’t…

User Rating: 3.5 | SOS: The Final Escape PS2
Natural disasters like Earthquakes are one of the phenomenons of the planet that has always played its part in changing the course of many-a-lives, and yet, it’s one of the most ignored truths in the world of video-gaming. Not many developers have tried to base their games around such ghastly natural occurrences, and that is exactly what the developers of Disaster Report, Irem, have done here. The developers have taken this seldom-triad path and made an action-adventure game that also happens to be a survival-horror game, where you are fighting for survival against the natural elements of some really volatile environment. The game’s original premise and its unique game-play mechanics could & should have been a classic, but in stead, it turns out to be an average offering because of its irritating short-comings. But, the game’s original premise can still be refreshing at the beginning.

Every so often, we hear about a Tsunami or an Earthquake striking an entire city, killing hundreds & thousands of people in a flash of madness, one moment, living, breathing and the next - dead - gone - emptiness. The story of the game revolves around one such quake-hit region, Stiver Island, a lively Capital City which also happens to be the world’s first man-made island. You play the role of a newspaper reporter, Keith Helm, who has only just arrived on this soon-to-be-wrecked island to report for his new duty. First day of the job, a train journey across the bridge from Airport Island to Stiver Island, and a major upheaval - in a moment of great mayhem, the train derails knocking Keith unconscious. But, you do recover your consciousness, your sanity, to find loneliness on a crumbling bridge. From this moment on, it’s a constant fight for survival - against time, against nature, against gravity. But, your loneliness will soon be gone for you will get to rescue a damsel in distress early on in your quest for survival, and together, the two of you will face the dangers of nature.

Saving this young woman, Karen, will require you to perform one of the many item-based puzzles of this game, since Karen is stuck at the wrong end of a train compartment that’s swaying dangerously over the water. Going towards her side of the car will only result in a rendezvous with the fishes as the compartment will fall over; instead, you will be required to look for any item that can help you get Karen out of trouble. Searching the surrounding area for items and then using them for your advantage is one of the must-do of the game, often requiring you to figure out a puzzle, which happens to be easy for most of the part. But, the game isn’t completely devoid of hard puzzles; there are a few instances where you will be asked to give birth to a few unique goodies crucial to your success by appropriately combining a few of the collected items from the inventory. In one particular instance, you’re asked to combine woods from a broken bench, a piece of rope, a few car wheels & barrels, etc. surprisingly resulting in a water-raft. Many more such puzzles await you through out your journey through this dying island.

The objects used in these riddles are mostly littered through out the island; every visited-area will most probably have items like jacks, ropes, first-aid kit, etc. and you can store them all in your inventory. Water-bottles are one of the key ingredients of your inventory as it contains the life-saving potion, water. Keith goes around town with a couple of meters hanging above his head all the time - a health meter & a stamina meter. Walking around slowly eats away at your stamina meter, while running fastens this process. Once your stamina meters drains out completely, then any physical activity like walking & running will slowly drain out your health meter resulting in death. This can be avoided by drinking water all the time which helps in keeping the stamina meter full. This mechanism alone could have made this otherwise easy game a bit more challenging had it not been for the frequent sources of water that we encounter through out our journey.

Water fountains, sinks, spigots, etc. are in abundance through out the city, so much so that the bottles in the inventory are seldom required for survival. Whenever you encounter one of these, you’ve the option to either drink or fill the bottles. You will also get to save your progress at these drinking joints. One wonders if the developers really intended this game to be a walk in the park.

But, solving puzzles and combining items aren’t the only things that the game demands of you. The sinking Stiver Island has a lot more to offer than just puzzles. As you and your newly-found friend, Karen, make your way towards the last rescue point before the whole thing is devoured by the ocean, you will face all kinds of natural dangers appropriate for such a hostile environment. The place is left deeply scarred by the ill-fated events and is constantly badgered by after-shocks, the effects of which are not pretty - falling debris, collapsing buildings & other superstructures, floods, walls of flames, etc. are now a common sight. You will have to carefully avoid these ill-fated events and make it to the rescue point.

But, avoiding these falling structures and debris isn’t as simple as it seems. Every time an aftershock happens, you’re either supposed to run at full speed ahead to avoid falling structures, or you’re expected to brace yourself to avoid falling over and taking damage. The main problem with that is it’s often impossible to tell which, and at times, even if you predict the right one, it is always possible to get hit by falling debris which we can’t see until it’s too late. This feature seems more like gambling and skill is seldom required here.

The game has set up a few more stupid rules regarding “walking” & “running”. “Walking” in this game is awfully slow, so much so that, you will be “running” for most of the part since water is readily available through out the island. But running isn’t all that safe, especially considering the game’s faulty camera angles which will really tests you, as well as, irritates you. Every time you reach a dead-end while running, your character will simply jump forward, irrespective of the dangers. Sudden leap of death are in abundance here. Also, the controls tend to be a bit sluggish at times. There will be many occasions when you will be crushed to death by incoming objects simply because the character moves at a snail’s pace.

Disaster Report does a great job of setting up a quake-hit city where bad things can happen to you at any moment, but suffers from some serious graphical limitations. It is said that the game-play alone separates a good game from a bad one, but, in a game like this one, good graphics are a must. It would have helped in creating a great and tense atmosphere. Disaster Report is a mixture of good locations with some bad ones. The textures are bland, character designs are laughable, and they look even more pathetic during cut-scenes. To make matters even worse, the game has a tendency to lag a lot during various key moments of the game; it all comes to a crawl for a few seconds. All that doesn’t help in moving the game forward, all the urgency is lost during such “lagathon moments”.

The game’s sound design can also be considered a let-down. Most of the game doesn’t have any back-ground music, the only audible thing during such moments are the characters foot-steps which doesn’t sound all that natural. However, the key moments of the game, the parts where some bad things are about to happen to you, are generally preceded by some heart-pumping music which works well. The sound of an aftershock, falling of buildings, etc. all sound good too, but could have been better. But, the same cannot be said about the voice-acting in this game, it’s terrible and has the power to get on your nerves.

The length of the game doesn’t help matters either as it can easily be finished under 7 hours, that is, only if you thoroughly explore every area of the game. The game boasts of 6 different endings, but it’s impossible for me to even conjure up an image of someone playing the game again and actually be a witness to all those endings. Even though you can make decisions that change the storyline a bit, it’s not really worth it.

All said and done, Disaster Report is ultimately a blemished product, that could have been so much better. It may be different but everything that’s different isn’t always worth it. You’d do well to ignore it, unless you have half-a-day to spare on a flawed-but-different game.

Adios Amigo!