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Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Granzella
Release Date: April 7, 2020


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PS4 Review - 'Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories'

by Cody Medellin on April 2, 2020 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories places you in the precarious position of a young adult trying to navigate a city struck by calamity.

Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories was originally developed for the PS3, but several production delays and a major earthquake and typhoon in 2011 postponed the game, and eventually, it was canceled. The developers soon departed and formed their own company, obtained the rights to the series in 2014, and decided to remake the game for the PS4 in 2015. The game was released in Japan in late 2018, but the decision to release it on multiple platforms for the Western market didn't happen until a year later, and now the game is being released in the middle of a worldwide viral pandemic. Despite the long waiting, the final product is lackluster.

In Summer Memories, you play the role of a created character who is off to the city for a job interview. It doesn't take long for your phone to alert you that a massive earthquake has occurred and to watch out for aftershocks. At that moment, an aftershock hits, and due to the chaos on the road, your bus overturns. You're able to escape the bus relatively unscathed, but with the city in chaos, your job is to make it out of there before things get worse.

The game is fond of providing a multitude of choices. The character creation system includes a section that asks what you'd do when disaster hits, and you have at least 10 choices. This trend continues when you're speaking to characters. For example, you seem to have the option to hit on every girl you meet, regardless of your chosen gender, and you always have the option to show disgust or gratitude when deciding whether to help someone. All of those choices not only shape how the story plays out but also what kind of ending you'll get. You may even want to replay the game just to see how drastically you can change things.

Despite what the title conveys, DR4 isn't a survival game at all. There are survival elements, such as hunger and thirst, but they seem to be present just for the sake of it. The same goes for the ability to relieve yourself. You can use the toilets and urinals, but there doesn't seem to be a penalty for not doing so, and you need to eat and drink very often for a chance of that to occur.

Instead of being a pure survival title, DR4 is more of a 3D adventure game with a few puzzles and plenty of dialogue choices, minus any combat. While you see plenty of people in each environment, most of them have one line to say, but the people who are important to your quests will have more than a few lines to say and provide plenty of reaction choices.

From the beginning, you'll notice that a few things are "off" with the people you meet. Most people stand still and only a few people move, and that creates a sense that everyone may as well be mannequins. The scant few people who do walk around only do so in small circles or noticeable patterns, so they're simply going through the motions in a meager attempt to make the city feel alive. Worse is the fact that only a few people seem to react to anything around them. The opening stage is a good example of this, as you'll only see a few people concerned about falling buildings and more concerned about getting back to work, shopping, arguing about who's at fault in a car accident, and wondering why job interviews have been delayed.

That same lack of concern seems to go for the important people in quests. Some quests consist of you listening to them vent about their issues, such as the chef whose business had to close down due to the calamity or an old man ashamed that he lost his job and had been lying to his family about going to work every day. Other quests are more involved, like reuniting a teacher with some lost students, getting a man some toilet paper, or calming down an emergency shelter that's on the verge of a riot. Some cases feel like something we'd see when a disaster strikes, but others, such as a company president worrying about insider espionage, felt completely out of place. With everyone so disconnected with the constant earthquakes, you have to wonder if the game is a parody of disaster titles or simply unfocused on telling a serious and cohesive story.

If you can put aside the odd variety of quests, you can't forgive the fact that almost every person for these quests is unlikeable. The students seem flippant about the massive earthquakes at first, even though they're in a store that's been completely decimated by them. You have unruly crowds who are willing to turn on you at a moment's notice, even though you just arrived. There's a person who murdered someone for jewelry and one who revels in selling basic goods to others at exorbitant prices. There's only a tiny handful of people that seem to be worth saving, and while this sort of thing is realistic, it still feels off-putting.

One of the more frustrating parts of the game has to be how you'll stumble upon your quests instead of intelligently seeking them out. The lack of guidance is refreshing for those who dislike the hand-holding of today's games, but you often have no clue about what to do next. For the most part, you're wandering around each tiny district, hoping for the game to get interrupted by a load screen so you know you stumbled onto something significant. The load screens are also present when you try to open any door, so your adventure is filled with tons of stops and starts.

As such, your whole adventure starts to feel predictable. You enter a small area where it only takes a minute to see everything on offer. You wander around until you hit a specific invisible trigger for a cut scene and a problem to solve or more dialogue to sift through. You solve that, wait for another quake to hit, so something else opens up, and maybe you'll find a way to trigger another scene. You solve the new puzzle, escape to a different small area, and start the process anew. It becomes a sequence of ridiculous quests, and by the time you reach the end, you're simply trying to make sense of what you went through.

The PS4 version happens to have an exclusive: a VR mode. That might sound like a neat addition, but the mode feels haphazardly put together. Each of the VR levels cannot be played unless you finish them in the main campaign first. That seems fine until you realize that the VR mode is supposed to give you bonuses for the main game, thus eliminating one of the reasons for playing this mode. The levels here are truncated versions of the levels from the main campaign. While the dialogue choices aren't present, you'll trigger enough of the key portions that you'll know the solution is to escape your area.

Interaction is handled with the DualShock 4 controller, but all you're doing is initiating when to walk forward and choosing which path to take. The only reason to deviate from the most straightforward path is to find the stickers to get the aforementioned bonus, which is usually a new costume to wear. Even if you were to ignore bonuses, there's not much to catch your eye, thanks to the muddy textures and flat colors that dull even the basic 3D effect in the headset. In short, those who check out the game without the PSVR headset aren't missing out on anything.

The VR presentation is lackluster, but the main presentation fares no better. Despite having three years to remaster the original PS3 code, everything looks like it would still be considered average on last-generation hardware. The color scheme is washed out, but the character models look decent. The animations are where things get rough, especially seeing someone talk or do things, like drink, without seeing any liquid come out. The game seems to have issues making people stay visible all of the time, especially if you switch to a first-person viewpoint. You can talk to thin air, even though there's supposed to be a person right in front of you. Aside from looking like a PS3 game, it performs like one as well, with an unlocked frame rate that averages close to 30fps whenever you're out in the open to the single digits if you're watching a building collapse and lots of dust clouds are present. There are numerous bugs, like the lighting wreaking havoc on hair textures and a camera that can make you sick by zooming in and out rapidly when you're traversing indoor areas. You have a game that shouldn't be representative of what the PS4 can do this late in its lifecycle.

The audio is also rather poorly done. Sound effects range wildly in volume, like sliding furniture not many any noise to the sound of footsteps in a subway lobby echoing like gunshots. The music is nonexistent for the most part, but the same ballad always seems to play whenever music comes on. The song isn't bad, but it gets used so much that you won't care about it by the end. The voice acting is fine and all in Japanese, which lends to the authenticity of the story being portrayed, but it also makes all of the incidental shouts of the pedestrians meaningless, since there are no subtitles to accompany them.

Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories is a mess of a game. The use of an earthquake as a backdrop is wasted due to the lack of meaningful reactions from anyone in the story. All of the incidents you witness range from semi-normal to wildly ridiculous, but the cast of unlikeable characters punctuates each scenario. The mechanic of stumbling across major story beats makes it so that you'll only figure out things by dumb luck, while the solutions to some of the puzzles feel unsatisfying due to their bewildering solutions. The choice system is the game's real saving grace, but unless you're interested in seeing how much of a terrible person you can be in later runs or are just a massive fan of the series, there's little reason to check out this title.

Score: 5.0/10

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