Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories
Those who are familiar with the Disaster Report series will know that the fourth title was originally meant to appear on Playstation 3. However, after the devastating earthquake that hit Japan in 2011, the game was officially canceled. It wasn’t until 2015 that the producer of the game announced that his new company, Granzella, would be working on the title again after acquiring the license from Irem. Development started from scratch, so fans still had to wait until 2018 for the release of the game. Finally, after another two years, the game has reached the PC, which missed out on the previous PS2 and PSP titles in the series.
DR4 opens with a character creator where you can select whether your avatar is male or female before customizing their facial features and hair. It’s not as in-depth as the type of character creation tools we are used to but helps to personalize the experience a bit. Initially, we thought that the gender of the character would play a role in the story, but unfortunately, it seems like all differences are purely cosmetic. Anyone you encounter in the game will react the same way and even the flirtation options stay the same, so if you are expecting to hit on guys while playing as a woman you are out of luck. During the character creation process, you are also asked a bunch of questions about the morals of your character, which is something that crops up a lot in the game during dialog options too.
After creating your character you are dropped off in a bus heading through the fictional city of Hisui. You can choose what the motivation is for your character to make the trip, be it a job interview or simply shopping, but whatever it is is cut short by a rather violent earthquake. As you crawl from the wreckage of the bus you find that the entire city has been decimated and traveling is going to be dangerous due to the continued aftershocks. You’ll also notice that there are plenty of NPCs in each location, all of them trying to cope with the tragedy in their own ways. From here you have several days during which you have to survive while traversing the city.
Being newcomers to the series we expected that survival would play a big role in the game, but it becomes pretty clear early on that this is not the case. Instead, the disaster is just an interesting backdrop for your character to experience a lot of human drama.
From the unscrupulous people who exploit the disaster for their own gain to communities that band together to help each other, you’ll see it all during your trek. It’s a neat idea but could be disappointing for players who want the total survival experience. Another thing that caught us off-guard is just how goofy DR4 can be at times. The tone of the game is actually all over the place, which is a bit jarring at first, but once we got used to it we were able to enjoy the experience more. Still, you might be watching in horror as someone dies in an emotional scene and in the next you are running around with a silly mask while trying to hit on girls.
In terms of survival aspects, you have to keep an eye on your hunger, thirst and toilet levels by eating, drinking and going to the toilet. However, even these needs appear to be largely cosmetic as neglecting them only results in a different idle animation for your character. It is, however, possible to die in the game as your character has a health bar, but even this is not really a big setback as there are frequent save spots as well as an autosave feature. In fact, during our first playthrough, we never had to resort to using the bandages and medikit that we lugged around everywhere with us.
What this means in terms of gameplay is that DR4 has more in common with the adventure game genre than actual survival. Instead of navigating treacherous terrain while keeping a careful eye on your health and resources, we found ourselves running around everywhere and talking to everyone in sight. The reason is that you never quite know what is required of you to progress the story. You can only leave each area you enter after you have completed all the story elements there, but these can be as obscure as finding toilet paper for a man in a convenience store to giving an old lady a piggyback ride to the hospital. Unfortunately, you usually have to talk to everyone and look everywhere for the next scene to trigger, which can be a chore at times. The game is definitely not predictable, though, and there are plenty of scenes where we had no idea what was going to happen next. Clearing some cardboard boxes blocking your way might require you to join a cult and become their leader after recruiting new members while venturing into the subway results in a stealth section where your character slides around with bound hands and feet. There’s even a couple of vehicle sections thrown in as you drive short distances on a motorbike or have to use a rowboat to navigate a flooded section of the city.
Disaster Report 4 uses the Unreal Engine and while it looks pretty in places it also has its fair share of technical shortcomings. All the character models look acceptable, but most of the animations in the game look very stiff and unconvincing. Unfortunately, this means that even some of the more dramatic scenes end up looking a little janky in the process. We do like the fact that the game has an abundance of outfits that your character can wear and these even show up in the frequent cut-scenes. The game can be played in third or first-person mode, but even with everything bumped up to the max we still saw plenty of low-resolution textures and clipping issues. There are some awesome scenes of destruction like buildings toppling, highways crumbling and ferry terminals sinking beneath the waves, but don’t go expecting a blockbuster disaster movie-like experience. Interestingly enough, players can unlock shorter VR versions of the levels while playing, which is a neat addition to the game.
While Granzella started from scratch when developing DR4, it still has a very last-gen feel to it at times. It’s not just the stiff animations either, but also the rather clunky controls. Walking through doors results in loading sequences, which is annoying if all you want to do is use the toilet or find that on the other side is just an empty room. Your character can also crawl, but this is such a laborious process that we are thankful it is only required a few times in the game. There also appears to be a lack of consequences for your actions, which is a bit disappointing considering the number of dialog options you get during conversations. Your choices range all the way from being a knight in shining armor willing to do anything for anyone to a complete and utter deviant willing to rip-off even the most vulnerable. Unfortunately, no matter how good or bad you decide to be the outcomes will always be the same in the end. Still, it’s fun to go back and play the game as an absolute scumbag character after being a goody-two-shoes for your first run. Also, finding and collecting all the different backpacks and compasses hidden throughout the game provides some incentive for exploring off the beaten track.
Disaster Report 4 is not a big AAA budget title, so unsurprisingly it only features Japanese voice acting. Nevertheless, there’s an impressive amount of characters in the game and the standard of acting is about what we would expect from a B-movie style title. The sound effects are serviceable as well as is the soundtrack. Although the game is perfectly playable with a keyboard and mouse it feels like it was made with a controller in mind. Occasionally you’ll run into characters who decided to tag along with you for a while, but you don’t have direct control over them.
At the end of the day, there is plenty of things to criticize about Disaster Report 4, but even though it can be frustrating at times it was still very entertaining. The mixture of sad, funny and downright bizarre scenarios made it feel like a soap-opera style roller coaster at times, but the heavy focus on the story instead of survival can be jarring. DR4 is also quite a lengthy title and after completing the game there is still an epilogue set after the city is being rebuilt, which allows you to see what everyone you met during the main game is up to. If you enjoy games that are a little obscure and not as polished as the big-budget titles, then Disaster Report 4 will provide you with a memorable and entertaining experience. However, if you are looking for a true survival experience then this is not it. Thankfully, DR4 does have a demo that you can check out for a small sample of what it has to offer.
- OS: Windows 7 64bit or later
- Processor: Dual core AMD or Intel processor @ 3.0 GHz or faster
- Memory: 4 GB RAM
- Graphics: GTX 950, AMD R9 280 or newer
- DirectX: Version 11
- Storage: 27 GB available space
- Additional Notes: GTX 950 and AMD R9 280 may have trouble running VR
- OS: Windows 7 64bit or later
- Processor: Quad core AMD or Intel processor @ 2.8 GHz or faster
- Memory: 8 GB RAM
- Graphics: GTX 1060, AMD RX 580 or newer
- DirectX: Version 11
- Storage: 27 GB available space
- Additional Notes: Game runs 60 FPS on “High” settings with these specs