Disaster Report 4
Switch version tested
Review code provided
Disaster Report 4 is finally making it’s way to western audiences after an initial release in Japan in 2018, fan’s and newcomers alike can now enjoy the latest entry in this long-running series that began life on PS2 back in 2002. But what is Disaster Report you ask? Oddly enough I asked myself the same question when I received the review code and after a bit of head-scratching, trial and error and a few laughs, I soon came to understand the thought-provoking fun within this adventure simulator that was originally planned for PS3 but was put on a lengthy hold after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and Tsunami.
The game opens by letting you create your character, choose male or female with a selection of preset faces and a good selection of hairstyles and colours that can all be altered throughout the game by visiting areas like restroom mirrors. You are then asked a series of questions about what you would do if you were faced with a disaster scenario. The responses were varied and I attempted to answer as honestly as I could to see if the game would tailor itself to me and make it more personal, in some ways it did but more on that later. You then head into town on a bus and are presented with a number of choices, do you let an old lady have your seat? why are you heading to town? despite the multiple options the narrative of the story seems to drive the fact you are heading to town for a job interview which made the choice a little bit pointless.
This serves as something of a tutorial for what will form the backbone of the experience, as you get closer to town the ground starts to shake as an earthquake begins causing your bus to crash. After dragging yourself from the wreckage and taking in the scene of devastation you are pretty much left to your own devices to try and escape the city and make it to safety. Along the way you will meet a wide range of characters, most of which are really engaging and memorable which I was not expecting but was pleasantly surprised by.
The core game is broken up into hubs taking the form of city block areas, set in Japan the game put’s you under no illusions of where you might be, though subbed the language is played out completely in Japanese which I found helped make the experience more immersive. To escape each area you must complete a series of objectives, these tend to revolve around helping other survivors. Early on you meet a school teacher who has lost some students, helping her find them will then allow you to follow their story and escape the area. The main problem here is the game offers absolutely no guidance or hints to what you must do or where to go. I spent my first twenty minutes just wandering around having no idea what I was supposed to be doing until I walked in a close enough radius to a “quest” character which was greeted with a brief loading banner that triggered the interaction.
This becomes the bulk of the hands-on gameplay throughout Disaster Report, explore each area until you locate the key characters to interact with and these can range from pretending to be a store clerk, entering crumbled buildings to help rescue someone, follow a suspicious-looking character, witnessing murders to getting kidnapped by drunks and that’s all before the first act os over! that’s right, there are all kinds of shenanigans to get involved in and although not are all immediately obvious as to why they are happening they all help build up a wider sense of a real feeling world filled with unique people with their own struggles.
Thankfully the game is well-populated between “quests” and you can interact and talk to numerous characters, as mentioned previously they are all well-written and along with being able to choose how you respond to them you also get to choose your thoughts on them and their situation by choosing if you find them irritating or attractive and everything in between. How you develop your blank slate of a character and choose to interact with key characters and scenarios will ultimately play a part in how your story ends. Although the lack of direction provided was frustrating, especially in the early going it did become the unsung hero of the piece as it gave me that sense of not knowing what choices to make or how to act which I imagine would be a very real feeling if I was ever in this type of scenario.
While you explore you are never truly safe as quakes and aftershocks will continue to ripple through the city causing buildings to come crashing down around you. Again this sense of constant danger kept the experience engaging and when the ground starts to shake there is that panic to look around and see what’s coming down and hope you are not about to be strawberry jammed under a pile of rubble. Luckily if you do get crushed you respawn a short while before the event so you don’t have the frustration of losing large chunks of progress.
If you do feel the earth start to shake you are able to brace yourself, lest you fall flat on your face and hurt yourself. Health, stamina, stress and bladder control are all things you will have to take into consideration. Stress can be easily relieved by visiting a manual save point which are easy to find in each area while food, drink and medical supplies can be bought or scavenged along the way and visiting the restroom will allow you to evacuate your bladder when the need arises.
Now if all this seems like a lot to deal with, it, unfortunately, pales in comparison to dealing with the frame rate and overall performance of Disaster Report on the Switch which I am sorry to say is… shaky… at best. No one? Tough crowd.
Exploring each area runs relatively fine but gets a bit choppy when swinging the camera around, where the game really struggles is during the disaster events, as the ground starts to shake and rubble begins to fall the game stutters and freezes horrendously to the point where I thought the game was going to crash at some points which really destroys the atmosphere that the setting and story do such a good job of setting up. The freeze loading of events and interactions is irritating though does serve as an indicator that you have found someone or something of interest to progress the story. Graphically Disaster Report 4 does look dated, not terrible by any stretch, certain scenery and little details are very impressive especially the use of dynamic reflections but the core draw distance is short and blurry with character details looking fuzzy when not in interactive cut scenes. Thankfully this is not a deal-breaker as I found myself forgiving the presentation in favour of a really engaging story and although this was my first experience with the franchise it was a welcomed change of pace.
Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories does what few games manage to achieve by putting you in a scenario that makes you care about others and think about your actions. It’s a shame the performance issues stop the game from really gelling together but there is a great experience to be had if you value substance over style.
TBG Score: 7.5/10
Platform: PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation
Release Date: 07/04/2020
No. of Players: 1
Category: Adventure, Survival, Simulator
Publisher: NIS America
Download link: eShop