Imagine how you'd handle a disaster. At the time of writing this article, it's a bit surreal to be asking that questions, but Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories asks that question, as you play a character that you create, put in the position of how you'd handle an earthquake Japan. The highlight of the game is that it allows you to create y our own adventure, as the choices you make affect your experience.
As you embark on your journey, the first thing you'll do is create your character. While the options are limited for the character creation, allowing you to select gender, and select from a few different faces, hairstyles, and hair color, it's serviceable. What's surprising is the fact that the rest of the game presents you with a lot of different options to deal with situations, it's shocking that the character creation is so shallow.
After you have created your character, you'll be presented with a list of questions about how you'd respond in a time of crisis. This is where the fun in the experience the game begins, as you can start to create a backstory for your character. This is an important point to make, as the game is about the experience you create, with the character you are building as the game goes on. The story of the game is derived from the choices you make and puts you into the shoes of how you want to drive your character's reaction to things. For players that are looking for a defined character and a defined structure and objectives, this isn't going to your type of game. For those players that are looking for something different and create a "story" that you help create, this will be right up your alley. It's an important distinction to make, if you keep in mind that you are creating the story as you go, you'll enjoy the game much more. You're going to be asked a lot of questions about how you're going to being dealing with situations, helping build the story you are helping create.
After you create your character, the game starts with you riding a bus, and here again, you are presented with a series of answers to questions about why you are riding the bus, how you are going to interact with people around you, and how you are going to react to the news that an alert has gone out about an earthquake that is about to hit the city you are in.
The earthquake it's the city you are in and the bus you are riding tips over. You awake crawling out of the bus, and after you escape the bus, you are allowed to explore the world around you. You'll run into different people and cut scene events that will ask you a series of questions on how you'll interact with the people in the situation. Not all characters you interact with will have a cut scene, some of the characters are just walking around. But you'll know you've run into a character that will have you interact with because you'll be taken to a loading screen. Here's the first complaint that I've had with the game, as the loading screens are a bit too long and there are quite a few. The loading screens interrupt the flow of the game and takes you out of the experience.
As mentioned before, there are a wide range of options that you'll be presented with when you are interacting with a character during one of these cut scenes. And some of the answers that you are presented with are a bit strange. For instance, at one point in the game, you'll be looking for some lost high school students, and you'll have the option to hit on the girls. It's a bit odd, not only because you are in the midst of a natural disaster, but also because these are high school students. And the options you select will drive interactions later on in the game. At point, you run into a character looking for someone. As he describes that person to you, you see the person run past in the background. You have the option to point in the direction where the man was running or lead the man on a wild goose chase. And the interactions you have with these characters later on in the game are determined based on your decisions.
Another example was when I ran into someone that was trapped in a bathroom without. After I helped them out, by getting them the toilet paper, the man put his hand on my character's shoulder. My personal reaction was "Did you even wash your hands?" And that was an option to select from, to be disgusted that he put a hand on my shoulder. The wide range of answers really help with creating this story that is driven by you as the player.
Some of the choices you make will also result in dealing out moral points (or taking away moral points, depending on your actions). The moral points don't seem to have any other function except to give you immediate feedback on the decision you just made. Not that you need this feedback mechanism, as you probably are well aware if your actions were honorable or not.
There are some aspects of the game that are a bit head scratching. For example, a lot of the reactions of the characters around you are a bit weird with just having experienced an earthquake. And when I say earthquake, I mean buildings falling down all around you. You'll be asking yourself, "Do you not realize that a major earthquake just hit?" as you run into a character talking about how they were looking forward to shopping. Or a shop keeper that is still running a store where you can buy goods and resources from, when all the shelves are tipped over and half of his building is gone. I understand that the developers wanted to incorporate a resource management system, and that you need the ability to purchase resources somehow, but still, it's very bizarre.
The AI isn't all that smart in the game either. At one point, I was exploring the world and I noticed that I ran into a character that I just ran into five minutes ago. At first I thought it was just reusing the skin, but nope, it turns out there were about four characters that were just programmed to walk around in a circle around a bus. I wanted to scream, "There's a natural disaster happening, get out of here, stop walking in circles!"
Graphically speaking, the game looks like a PS3 game. And there will be times when characters will hand you something, but graphically, it doesn't look like the character was holding on to anything. Personally, I'm pretty forgiving when it comes to graphics, but I know that for some, that is an important aspect of games, and the graphics certainly won't win any fans.
Probably the most frustrating aspect of the game is the lack of giving you any direction of where you'll find your next objective. I get that the story is supposed to be driven by your choices, but there is progression of the game, and you'll find yourself wandering aimlessly around, trying to find the next cut scene or zone that will drive the story forward. There is a map, but it's useless. And you are given a compass, but it doesn't help. Not when you don't know where the next area is located. Example, I was wandering around, looking for a subway, not knowing where that might be. I kept walking around the same area for about thirty minutes totally lost and frustrated. I finally found a window to a building that I needed to climb up some rubble to get to, and had to crawl through that building to get through the zone that I was trapped in. Having a map with objectives located on the map would have been extremely helpful.
Final Score: C+
Disaster Report: Summer Memories isn't going to be for everyone. It is a story that is driven by you, the player, and your imagination on how you want to build the backstory of the character you are creating and the choices you make. The game isn't difficult, except for the aspects of the game as I mentioned, with a lack of a useful map; that's not difficult from game play, it's frustrating from a design perspective. If you are a streamer, this might be a really good game to stream, as you can ask your audience what choices should be made in each situation. And since the choices you make drive the story and outcomes, this allows for you to replay the game and experience the game different each time.
Review code provided by NIS America