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Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories review – technical disaster


Disaster Report 4 – an unfortunately accurate name (pic: NIS America)

PlayStation 2 cult classic SOS: The Final Escape finally gets a sequel on PS4, as you try to survive a massive earthquake in Japan.

While deadly viruses are fairly common subject matter in disaster movies, they’re rarely much more than plot points when it comes to video games. The T-virus is at the heart of the Resident Evil mythos, for example, but there are no gameplay mechanics attached to it. In fact, natural disasters in general are relatively rare subject matter for games, although earthquakes do come up now and again – no doubt because of how real a danger they are in Japan and California.

There’s still no big budget titles that focus entirely on the subject though, with the most famous of those that do being the Zettai Zetsumei Toshi (meaning The Desperate City) series, which was originally made by Irem and is now being handled by developer Granzella, which employs many of the same staff. British gamers will know the first game as SOS: The Final Escape, although it was also released as Disaster Report and its sequel was known here as Raw Danger. Both were PlayStation 2 games, with the third entry on PSP never getting a Western release.

All the games were very low budget, and very rough around the edges, but especially for the time they managed to offer an interestingly unique take on action adventures and proto-survival gameplay. And now the series is back, after work on the fourth game was halted by the real 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and only restarted at the behest of fans, who insisted that it would no longer be in bad taste.

The important thing to remember with Disaster Report 4 is that it’s not only low budget but was also originally intended to be released on the PlayStation 3. As a result, the performance is terrible, even on PS4 Pro, with serious frame rate problems and frustrating loading sequences that sometimes seem to pop up almost every second step. And yet the graphics themselves are very simplistic, while the stilted controls are frustrating and awkward – although slightly less so given you’re controlling a normal person and not some kind of action hero.

Anyone’s that played the originals won’t be surprised by any of that, they may even be pleased that it’s so reminiscent of the PlayStation 2 games, but what is surprising is that this sequel takes itself a lot more seriously than the earlier games. Instead of Resident Evil style camp the game has been made in conjunction with the Kobe City Fire Bureau and tries to portray the actions and psychology of its character in a realistic manner. Or at least it does some of the time.

There is a lot more talking and dialogue options than the earlier games, as you witness people succumbing to various perils without any chance you can help them. Many characters also act in a less than virtuous manner, from those who simply refuse to help other people, to one guy trying to make an unfair profit selling drinks. Although the weak dialogue and characterisation suffocates most attempts to play things straight.

With a wide range of collectable (and paid-for DLC) outfits and some sillier sub plots, the tone of the originals hasn’t been lost entirely but the game also has an often creepy attitude to how you act around survivors, a disproportionate number of which turn out to be young women. You can play as a female character, but this changes absolutely nothing about any of the dialogue. Flirting with people you just helped rescue, and are clearly traumatised by the whole situation, is vey distasteful and we can only hope that something was lost in the translation.

Disaster Report 4 – not everyone reacts well in a crisis (pic: NIS America)

Given how much dialogue there is, the fact that the story isn’t very compelling is a major problem, but a more serious issue is the frequently illogical things you have to do to advance the plot. Getting some toilet paper for someone in the middle of an earthquake, for example, hardly seems an important priority but the convoluted route to obtaining said paper is just exhausting and silly. Especially when completing a task inevitably leads to fresh aftershocks that open up another route for you, as if the two were somehow connected.

The action sequences haven’t really changed much from the PlayStation 2 originals and clambering over and under obstacles is never actively enjoyable, but it gets the job done and it’s only the stealth sections which actively frustrate. Although their level of incompetence is strangely fascinating to see in a game with an asking price of £50 – assuming you’re not the one that’s paid for it, that is.

Most of the gameplay mechanics haven’t advanced at all since the PlayStation 2 days but if anything the survival elements have got even more simplistic. In 2002 games like Minecraft and DayZ didn’t even exist, but rather than take inspiration from them Disaster Report 4 reduces the problems of hunger, thirst, stress, and your toiletry needs to an implied inconvenience rather than an actual one, with almost no penalty for maxing out any of them.

Given all its problems, and the fact that the premise is so unique, Disaster Report 4 is still a game you want to stick up for, or at least it would be if it wasn’t for the inconsistent tone and sheer depth of technical incompetence. There’s clearly a great game to be made about surviving a natural disaster but this isn’t any closer to filling that role than the PlayStation 2 games, in fact it’s arguably further away than ever.



Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories review summary

In Short: There are still glimpses of the original’s charm, and the potential of an earthquake-surviving simulator is made clear, but this tonally awkward, disaster of a game doesn’t get close to realising it.

Pros: The premise is still a good one and there are more than a few moments when the serious tone works, as well as a few genuinely funny sequences and dialogue options.

Cons: Possibly the most technically inept game on the PlayStation 4. Nonsensical puzzles, uninteresting action sections, and broken stealth sequences. Some very unsavoury dialogue options at times.

Score: 3/10

Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Nintendo Switch, and PC
Price: £49.99
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Granzella
Release Date: 7th April 2020
Age Rating: 18

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