Post-apocalyptic games are everywhere, but mid-apocalyptic games are a bit less common. It’s here that Disaster Report 4 attempts to carve out a niche for itself. By focusing on the choices you make during a major disaster, it certainly stands out from other apocalyptic games. Unfortunately, while Disaster Report 4 is certainly unique, it just isn’t very much fun to play.
When you start the game, you’re taken through a rather simplistic character creation, where you get to change your character’s gender and appearance. Now make no mistake, this is no Skyrim. Your customization options are limited to a few preset faces for each gender, as well as a few preset hair styles. That’s not to say it’s bad, necessarily; the character presets all look decent enough. But it’s certainly more limited than many other offerings out there. After defining your character’s physical appearance, you’re given a few questions to define your character’s personality.
“After the brief character creation, you’re thrown into the gameplay, where a massive earthquake strikes while you’re arriving in a new city.”
These questions are…bizarre, to say the least. The questions will be things like “where are you from”, and the responses often seem rather arbitrary. One answer might be “I’m from a town far from here” while another option will say “I’m from nowhere close to here”, leaving the player sitting there struggling to see the difference between the two. These choices also seemed to have no real bearing on the gameplay itself, making them almost entirely for personal roleplay; which is fine, I suppose, but doesn’t change the fact that they feel really strange and out of place.
After the brief character creation, you’re thrown into the gameplay, where a massive earthquake strikes while you’re arriving in a new city. After a quick cutscene (where you’re once again presented with a strange, arbitrary dialog choice), the gameplay begins, with you wandering the damaged streets of the city.
Not the whole city, mind you; the game is broken up into several stages, each of which comprise of a few blocks of the city at a time. In each stage, you wander the area, trying to figure out how to progress.
“This bizarre series of events is played totally straight; there isn’t one second of tongue-in-cheek delivery or irony to any of it.”
At first, the game has a strange sort of charm to it. The crux of the gameplay comes down to helping strangers to survive, and making choices through dialog. The whole thing has a bizarre, B-movie vibe to it, and at first it’s actually kind of endearing. For example, and early part of the game tasks you with getting water for an injured man in a convenience store. For some reason, neither of you thinks to just grab some off the shelf.
Instead, you have to dress up as an employee of the convenience store and serve the angry customers, because the cashier is cowering in the back. Then you take toilet paper to the store manager, who is stuck in the bathroom with nary a roll in sight. Only then can you go and buy the water off the manager for an exorbitant price to give it to the injured man. Oh, and at some point, the real store manager comes in and runs off the man you’ve been talking to, who isn’t actually the manager at all.
This bizarre series of events is played totally straight; there isn’t one second of tongue-in-cheek delivery or irony to any of it. Then there’s the dialog choices that appear every so often. These pop up during interactions with characters, and just like the choices at character creation, are often strangely arbitrary and ill-defined. It’s not uncommon to be presented with a choice along the lines of “agree to help”, “excitedly agree to help”, “sigh and agree to help”, and so on. One particularly interesting option came at a point where I had to shimmy across a ledge.
“The majority of the actual gameplay boils down to either extremely simplistic puzzle solving, or dull and repetitive fetch quests.”
The game presented me with a couple of options for how I wanted to go about this, such as “go across the ledge”; or instead I could choose to “carefully go across the ledge.” I had to cross this ledge multiple times throughout the level, and needless to say, there was absolutely no discernable difference between either choice in actual gameplay.
It all exists solely to serve your own personal roleplay; that and a system of Moral Points that supposedly track your morality throughout the game. Different choices can earn you points; Moral Points for good choices, and Immoral Points for bad choices. But once again, this system seemed to have no actual effect on the gameplay, beyond simply giving you a visual reminder of whether you were playing a good person or a bad person. Otherwise, it didn’t noticeably change anything about the experience.
For the first few hours, the sheer strangeness and earnestness of the whole experience are actually pretty charming, in the same way that a lot of B-movies can be. It’s not really all that good, and at times you’re baffled by why something is the way it is. And yet, you keep going, spurred on by a strange fascination with the whole thing. I found myself weirdly invested in the journey early on, putting a lot of time into my strange and arbitrary choices.
Unfortunately, time ultimately betrays Disaster Report 4. After playing for a few hours, the novelty of the experience begins to wear off. And once that charm is gone, you realize the game has very, very little to keep you going. The majority of the actual gameplay boils down to either extremely simplistic puzzle solving, or dull and repetitive fetch quests. The arbitrary nature of the dialog choices carries over to the actual gameplay, with very specific and often frustratingly obtuse solutions that require you to talk to every NPC or interact with every single object, on the off chance that for some undefined and unknowable reason they might have what you need to progress.
“Disaster Report 4 is at times a charming game. It has an earnestness reminiscent of so-bad-they’re-good B-movies, and for the first few hours it carries the game forward.”
Once the game’s strange charm wears off, you’re left with a game that’s best described as tedious. The game quickly begins to feel like a chore. One particular mission required me to backtrack through an apartment complex three different times; I would collect an object, return to the guy who told me about it only to be told of yet another object that I needed to get, all the way on the other side of the complex. That’s not gameplay; that’s busywork.
Disaster Report 4 is at times a charming game. It has an earnestness reminiscent of so-bad-they’re-good B-movies, and for the first few hours it carries the game forward. Unfortunately, Disaster Report 4 also lasts considerably longer than a B-movie, giving it plenty of time for the quirky appeal to give way to tedium, frustration, and boredom. I suppose some people could find some enjoyment to squeeze out of its roleplay, simultaneously strangely specific and abstract. But for most of us, the game will wear thin after only a few hours.