Disaster: Day Of Crisis Review
In amongst the first showreel of software destined for the Wii was an intriguing first look at an action title from Monolithsoft. This impressive CGI trailer for Disaster: Day of Crisis depicted a city sized Tsunami hitting a non-descript location and caused a few ripples amongst the press and Nintendo fans alike. The concept was a fresh one – set in a city beset by a series of natural disasters, and following one man, Ray Bryce, a former member of an international rescue team battling against the elements and rescuing fellow survivors. But then things went quiet for a while and apart from a fancy logo and character art of the darkly mysterious protagonist not much was seen or heard for some time.
Things didn’t look good and after Project HAMMER was indefinitely suspended it looked like the same fate might befall Disaster, despite Nintendo insisting the title was still on track. Fan anticipation dipped when the first screenshots, showing not very much at all, were released and a further blow was struck when the same shots were released a year later with poorly photo-shopped effects plastered over them. With Nintendo’s Wii holiday line-up looking a little anorexic, Disaster was shoe-horned into the release schedules and hit stores with little or no fanfare.
By rights this game should be terrible, given its protracted and troubled development and its utter confusion on what sort of game it wants to be. But somehow all the individual elements, which on their own are distinctly below-par, come together to form an entertaining and strangely gripping experience which is quite unlike most other games on the market. The key to enjoying Disaster is to suspend all expectations of realism and traditional gaming conventions and treat it like a no-brainer action movie. The plot could have been taken straight from a Roland Emmerich movie and the action sequences that make up the gameplay are fast-paced and jump from one genre to the next in a heartbeat. One minute you’ll be sprinting away from a Tsunami, the next fighting fires in a subway or gunning down terrorists in a burning factory whilst avoiding lava.
For the most part, Disaster plays like any other action game as you traverse the city in search of survivors and a way out, although you have to keep an eye on your stamina gauge which slowly decreases over time. Life-saving hamburgers, energy drinks and lizards-on-sticks can replenish this if you can find them in the boxes and barrels that litter the levels. Whenever you come across the terrorists the game switches to an on-rails shooting section where you have to neutralise your enemies as soon as possible. Then there are driving sections where you’ll mostly be chasing or avoiding some kind of natural disaster. Most of the story-driving dialogue scenes also have a quick-time event or two to keep you on your toes and there are plenty of people to rescue in each level, prompting one of about a dozen mini-games as you try and bring them back to health. It means there isn’t much time to relax in this game and the short segments and constant gameplay shifts make it hard to put down once you’ve got into it.
The ending will only take about 5-8 hours to reach but it’s a rollercoaster ride on the way. And there is quite a bit of replayability on offer, as you can replay levels to earn more experience points to upgrade your abilities and weapons. You can also unlock shooting ranges to test your skills or unlock bonus weapons to use in the main game. The short length makes it a good choice to play through more than once and is just the right length for the story.
The game opens with a flashback, where we get to see Ray in his International Rescue days. During a routine mountain rescue a volcanic eruption separates Ray and his partner from their helicopter and Steve eventually snuffs it in a predictably dramatic and heroic way. Fast-forward to the present and a disgruntled group of former elite US soldiers have kidnapped some geologists and nicked a couple of nukes during a large-scale earthquake which has somehow triggered a series of other natural disasters. The group plan to set off the warheads unless the Government pay one million dollars (Mwa-haa-haa-hah) or a similarly hefty ransom, and now Ray has been drafted in by the FBI to rescue the hostages, disarm the nukes and save the world. It’s hardly going to win any nominations for originality or classy dialogue but despite sounding like a bad Steven Seagal film, the story is handled pretty well (not altogether surprising considering Monolithsoft were behind the epic Xenosaga RPG series) and Ray in particular is a likeable and sympathetic protagonist. The soundtrack is also a definite plus point, with a diverse score that fits both the high-tempo action and quieter emotional story scenes with great composure.
Disaster’s negative aspects, as mentioned before, are plentiful. The graphics are very disappointing in places; the enemies and combat are generic and quickly grow tiresome; and some of the controls, especially in the driving sections, are loose and confusing. It’s also hard to ignore some of the design choices when you’re forced to play through a section where you’re just running from point A to point B, and then get to watch a cut-scene that could have presented some interesting and involving gameplay.
Still, if you have a weekend spare, and don’t mind the thought of logic gaps, plot holes the size of earthquakes and massive burgers hidden in oil barrels that replenish your health then Disaster could prove to be an enthralling experience. Given that it can now be found in most places for less than twenty quid you won’t be taking too high a risk on this and maybe Nintendo can be convinced to let Monolith loose on a sequel. In a game choc-full of catastrophes the biggest disaster is NOA’s stubborn refusal to release the game and NOE’s non-existent promotion of a title that deserves a much wider audience than it’s currently likely to have. Had Nintendo thrown some more weight behind this, both in presentation and gameplay terms, Disaster could have been a monster hit for the Wii.