HIGH The concept is still gold.
LOW Both of the PS2 iterations are better than this.
WTF How did so much survival get left out?
As a fan of the previous titles released in America, I was incredibly excited to crack into Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories. The two on PS2 were exciting and strange and unusual — and they were also a great time. When word of another entry popped up fourteen years after the last one, I could hardly believe it. Now that I’ve spent time with it… I can hardly believe what happened.
The basic premise of DR4: SM is essentially the same as the others — a disastrous earthquake strikes a Japanese city and the player has to survive while avoiding environmental dangers and helping fellow citizens. Unfortunately, something went really wrong in development and the result is a game that not only fails to live up to the legacy of its predecessors, but manages to be a terrible experience overall.
Playing DR4: SM is frustrating on every level – the basic design, the writing, the mechanics… all of it. Starting with the biggest, most obvious problem, players might reasonably expect gameplay to include a lot of climbing, crawling through rubble, and scavenging for food and water, but that is actually not the case!
When beginning, the player creates a character, answers a few “morality” questions (it’s unclear what effect they have) and then is set loose into one small, discrete chunk of environment at a time. There is almost nothing to interact with and no action can be taken until they wander into the right area and trigger a cutscene with one of several survivors.
At this point, a random person will talk about something generally unimportant and often totally random, and then the player chooses how to react to it – is it preferable to encourage a salaryman who’s out of a job, or to chastise him? Should I sympathize with the awkward teenage schoolgirl, or tell her to buck up? One of my ‘favorites’ was when I came across a man who’d been stabbed to death with the murderer still there, and my character did absolutely nothing, told no one, and then left the room politely and acted like nothing happened!
Once one of these mini-scenarios not related to surviving is solved, the player must keep wandering around the environment until they trigger another one, or until they find Someone Who Needs A Thing.
The Needs A Thing encounters require just a bit more than the popup chats, and they’re mandatory for progressing the story. For example, if players aren’t interested in helping find toilet paper for the man who sounds like a raging animal in the bathroom, they won’t be able to do anything else or move on until they do.
Unfortunately, Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories sports the kind of old-school, outdated design where something doesn’t exist in the world until it’s triggered by another event or until a character tells you it’s there. Let’s take that much-needed toilet paper, for instance. I figured out I’d need to help the man in distress, so I combed the area for a roll and found nothing. It wasn’t until I talked to another character and completed his task (collecting money from customers standing in line at a register) that he told me the toilet paper was in one of the empty areas I had just searched, and magically, there it was when I went back a minute later.
The world feels just as false and unbelievable as the interactions with characters. I was already familiar with the series’ history of being low-budget B-tier affairs so I didn’t expect cutting-edge tech or realistic physics, but the character is so stiff and immobile that she can’t scale over shin-high obstacles. At one point I found a half-gone pane of glass that the game told me looked incredibly fragile, yet I was unable to shatter it until a cutscene did despite being surrounded by countless concrete chunks of good throwing size. Flagging is also inconsistent — most things that can be interacted with have a prompt floating above them, but not all of them do. Sometimes random clicking is what’s needed!
The inventory system is terrible, but in an ironic twist, it almost doesn’t matter since items are basically irrelevant. The main character has a backpack with limited space to carry things, but certain items can’t be disposed of. My pack was stuffed with a pantsuit, a skirt suit and an employee uniform, each taking up a slot, but I couldn’t toss any of it out to make room. That said, apart from buying food and water in shops and a few random items here and there, there’s no need for the space since DR4:SM doesn’t deal with salvaging items or scavenging for survival goods.
Technically, the game is rough. The graphics are super basic, loading times are long, it takes a long time to get through doors or to pull up menus, the camera is not great in interior environments, it’s hard to tell where danger is coming from when the character needs to dodge out of the way, and I had the game freeze on me twice, making me lose progress both times because there’s no auto-saving in an adventure where death can come unexpectedly from a sudden earthquake or heavy things toppling over.
For a title that’s ostensibly about surviving in the middle of a disaster, Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories is incredibly slow, incredibly boring, incredibly outdated and incredibly frustrating – it fails at both its human side and its action side, and ultimately has nothing to offer fans of either. For anyone interested in the concepts or subject material, I’d recommend either Disaster Report (PS2, 2003) or Raw Danger! (PS2, 2006) over this crumbling mess.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Granzella Inc. and published by NIS America. It is currently available on PS4, Switch and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 6 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Sexual Themes, Violence, Blood, Use of Alcohol and Language. The T feels correct here as there’s nothing on display that wouldn’t be seen on the average early-evening crime drama or ER show. It’s all very subdued and tame, and nothing is ever very graphic. My 10yo sat next to me while I was playing and we never came across anything I’d cover his eyes for.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue is accompanied by subtitles, but there are no options to change the size of the font. Players can change the font style, though, which is a little bizarre. Audio cues like pre-earthquake rumbling or people calling out for help have no visual cue, but I didn’t find the audio cues useful even when I could hear them.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable, but there are two preset schemes with minimal differences — they’re nearly identical.
Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody's looking, and his favorite game of all time is a toss-up between the first Mass Effect and The Witcher 3. You can catch his written work here at GameCritics and you can hear him weekly on the @SoVideogames Podcast. Follow Brad on Twitter and Instagram at @BradGallaway, or contact him via email:
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