Raw Danger

Year: 2004
Alternate Title: Disaster Report 2 (Japan)
Platform: PlayStation 2
Publisher: Agetec
Developer: Irem Software Engineering
Genre: Adventure
Review Date: 7/26/08
Rating: ***

If you couldn't get enough of the wacky survival horror dating sim experience of "Disaster Report" (2003), then this is the game for you. "Raw Danger" takes place five years after the incident at Stiver Island. It's Christmas Eve 2010, and heavy rains have caused major flooding in Geo City. Levees are breaking and the Cascade Dam just north of the city is about to fail. Evacuation is your top priority, but soap opera plot devices keep making that hard to do. You start the game as a waiter named Joshua Harwell, who's working at a banquet for the town's mayor. He's also got his eye on a cute young waitress named Stephanie McCorrough, who he ultimately has to rescue when the flood hits. While she's not as annoying as Karen from "Disaster Report," she has many of the same sensibilities. Instead of rescuing a dog, you have to decide whether to help Stephanie find her estranged (and paralyzed) stepmother. Joshua's adventure takes up about half of the game, and after his story is resolved, you get to go through the same catastrophe with five other characters. The neat thing about this is that all of the characters cross each other's paths at some point, and the actions that one character takes may have an impact on another character's story. The actions you take and the relationships you forge also affect which endings you get, so you need to play the game multiple times to see all that it has to offer. Unless you have a lot of free time on your hands, it's not interesting enough or fun enough to go through the trouble.

Fortunately, the game looks and performs considerably better than "Disaster Report" and the busted camera is fixed. Unfortunately, the camera controls are backwards on the X-axis, making it cumbersome to look around. While the game looks better, that doesn't mean that it looks great. The graphics are serviceable, but solidly mediocre. Character animations are good for the most part, but characters have the tendency to spin on their Y-axis when turning around. By far the worst technical issue in the game is the inconsistent audio, and I'm amazed that the game managed to pass QA. The voice acting is decent enough, but the recording quality varies radically, and the vast majority of the voiceovers are completely drowned out by the ambient sound effects. Since it's a disaster game, you'll be listening to the sound of rushing water and howling wind almost non-stop. It's just a good thing the game has subtitles, otherwise I would have never figured out what people were saying. The most bizarre aspect of the voiceovers is that they never speak your name. It's just a blank pause, which sounds really awkward. "Oh _____, I'm so glad you're here!" The reason for this is because you can opt to rename your character at the beginning of each game, but what's the point in doing that? It serves no purpose other than exposing a game design flaw and introducing an unnecessary break in continuity.

Much like "Disaster Report's" thirst meter, this game enforces urgency by monitoring your body temperature. Hypothermia is really the only threat you'll face in the game, and you need to keep a constant watch for heat sources to warm you up and keep you dry. These also serve as save points, which brings up one of the most annoying aspects of the game. The save mechanism is infuriatingly slow, uses too many button presses, and requires the utmost patience. The inventory menu is also clunky and difficult to use, similar to the previous game. "Raw Danger" also includes a large assortment of collectible compasses and stylish clothing to wear, which provides an incentive for completists to search every nook and cranny. There are several vehicle missions in the game, which prove to be very frustrating. The jet-ski and motor boat are insanely difficult to control, while Isaac's taxi cab is hilariously unpredictable. "Ack! Where are the brakes on this thing?" Turns out the only way to stop the car is to throw it into reverse...

The story is VERY similar to "Disaster Report" and as soon as the good mayor of Geo City shows up, you know he's up to something. In addition to the flooding and wide spread panic, there's also a killer virus on the loose that some of the secondary characters are involved with. Joshua's story is all about trying to get it on with Stephanie, who never seems to show much interest. While she's a whiny indecisive brat, at least she doesn't have any underwear issues and doesn't mind climbing ladders with Joshua. The second playable character is Amber Brazil, who is an escaped convict suspected of murdering her brother. Her game is a little tougher to play, as she's in handcuffs the entire time and has to avoid being seen by cops. The third chapter takes a much lighter tone as you play a cabbie named Isaac Schiller who picks up a troublesome fare named Sophia Briggs. Sophia is a rude and obnoxious journalist who's looking for a connection between the mayor and the NorCal Pharmaceutical company. Will romance bloom between this unlikely couple? That's up to you. The fourth chapter is arguably the most enjoyable, and most melodramatic, of the bunch. You play a high school student named Paige Meyer who gets left behind during the evacuation and has to find her way to safety. The school environment is delightfully devastated and she even runs into Kelly Austin from the first game. You also get a chance to exact revenge on the girl that's been bullying you, even though the game discourages it. The fifth playable character is interesting in that he has amnesia, and it's up to you to reassemble the memories of his sordid past. And finally, if you get through all of this AND play through the entire game a second time, you can unlock Keith Helm from the original "Disaster Report" and have him put together the final story on the killer virus. Unfortunately, I didn't have the patience, endurance, or motivation to go that far. An initial run through the game takes 10-12 hours, which is enough for me.

Whether intentional or not, the game has some very humorous moments along with some awkward localization issues. In a classic example of an undeniably Japanese moment lost in translation, if you're getting along well with Stephanie she'll ask you to call her "Steph." In the original Japanese, it's a huge step in your relationship to be allowed to address her in a casual and informal way. In fact, you're probably well on your way to dating, whereas in the American version it just comes across as silly. Something else that made me laugh out loud was Detective Richard Trapp, the ruthless and questionably sane cop who's chasing Amber. Every time he catches up with her, some horrible mishap whisks him away, be it rushing water, a mudslide, or a collapsing bridge. Very amusing. Curiously, the other female protagonist also has a maniacal pursuer in the form of a perverted school teacher named Mr. Savage. He also falls prey to environmental hazards when Paige manages to outrun him. And then there are the omnipresent logic holes and silly plot devices (like Amber's handcuffs disappearing when she needs to climb ladders). The strangest one is that there is a door inside of a fish tank. Just think about that for a moment.

There's a door... inside of... a fish tank...

The only way to enter the door is for the fish tank to break and have all the water drain out, but why is there a door in the fish tank? What possible purpose could it serve? Certainly no one was going to go through it from the other side... One amusing inventory issue is that you can use a cell phone as a flashlight, but even though it's Stephanie's phone, Joshua insists on answering it. What's up with that? And as is often the case with dialog branches, sometimes there's not a reasonable choice to choose from. Joshua's "it's a man's duty to protect a woman" attitude just reeks of male chauvinism, but is the least offensive option of the bunch. At the same time, some of the dialog choices allow you to do some very funny things, like trying to steal someone's hat instead of lending them a helping hand. Another strange gameplay mechanism is the ability to cook food, which is a complicated activity that you can do at any time, but isn't required to advance the story. I guess we can add "cooking simulation" as another sub-genre of this game...

"Raw Danger" is fun to play if you're in the right mindset and have a lot of time and patience. Diligence is rewarded and it's fascinating to see how everything comes together. The difficulty isn't demanding, but the frustrating controls and poor audio kept me from enjoying the game to its fullest, which makes it hard to recommend. While it's technically more refined than "Disaster Report," the gameplay and premise aren't different enough to make it seem innovative or original. Additionally, the danger and devastation in the first game seemed much more spectactular and compelling, and "Raw Danger" feels a bit tame in comparison. If you really enjoyed "Disaster Report" and are looking for more of the same, then by all means check this game out. Just don't expect to get through it quickly.