Raymond “Ray” Bryce, former International Rescue Team member doesn’t have the best luck. You see, on a particularly brisk and volcanic afternoon, poor spikey-headed Ray had the misfortunate of watching his best buddy Steve reduced to molecular liquid goo by an evil lava river. A year’s early retirement and many a melodramatic “Noooooo…!” later, Ray is dragged back into action to fight an all-star team of terrorists who fell out of a Michael Bay movie and had an especially productive day, kidnapping Dead Steve’s sister and using an earthquake as a handy distraction to steal some nukes to ransom the government. And since that was slightly too easy for Ol’ Ray to handle, Mother Nature decided he should also contend with hurricanes, tornados of both liquid and fire(!), a tsunami, and another volcano (we assume it’s the same volcano that killed Dead Steve, back to finish off his partner after a year of cautiously biding its time, since said volcano literally appears from nowhere). Yes, it really is as gloriously dumb as it sounds.
Rather than go the expected route by remaking 2003’s disaster-orientated survival adventure game SOS: The Final Escape (which Disaster’s middling PS2-era graphics are awfully reminiscent of) with added motion controls, or attempt something more audacious, the creators instead decided to play it safe and cram every genre under the sun into a single game, resulting in a cluttered game that frequently attempts too much while doing everything it attempts rather blandly and sloppily; the phrase ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ springs to mind.
For much of the game, you’ll be plodding around, 3rd person adventuring, punching apart crates like you’re avenging your murdered family (crates that contain power-ups, such as puzzlingly-oversized food, like chicken legs which were apparently torn off a T-Rex, or a Coke the size of a trash can), using the remote to rescue poorly-rendered pedestrians (and a scary amount of puppies – I’m not fond of whatever god looms over the world of Disaster: Day of Crisis, considering every 11 feet, there seems to be a poor dog with its paw stuck under a gate, truck, plane or twisted mass of volcanic debris). Some helpless goons require CPR, so you’ll have to wave the remote downward in time with a heart-rate monitor gauge, hitting in time with the dwindling heartbeat to save the poor random. Other people are being crushed by rocks, girders, or the weight of their own pointy pixel hairstyles, so you’ll need to hammer the ‘A’ button to build strength and then swing the remote and the nunchuck upwards in a lifting motion to drag their scrawny hides to safety. Others are just lazy, and have a craving for crackers, so hand some of yours over, you food-hoarding tightwad – other people need crackers, too! Or perhaps you’ll find someone wounded and covered in mud, and you’ll need to hose them down, in which case the game transforms into some strange and unnerving waterboarding/pee fetish hybrid mini-game. Or maybe you’ll simply catch on fire, in which case you’ll need to grip the controller and flail your limbs up and down like you’re re-enacting select scenes from Flashdance while horrifically drunk.
There are copious variations of the above as you traverse through the game. However, while these sections are where Disaster attempts to fully utilize the Wii’s motion sensor capabilities, it comes off more tedious and gimmicky than a fluid extension of the game. Not only that, but these segments grind the game to a halt; each waggle-rescue lasts about 30 seconds, but after that, you’re subjected to an unskippable post-rescue goodbye scene, and then another ‘XP Gained!’ tally scene. Early in the game, this poses an even bigger annoyance, since when coupled with lengthy cut-scenes, you’ll get the feeling the game is actively preventing you from playing it, and you’re spending more time watching it than actually controlling anything; the whole experience is much like sitting and watching a friend play a game, while you sit rather bored twiddling your thumbs, trying to pretend you’re having a great time. This levels out as you progress, and the pace evens out to a more enjoyable game-to-cinematic ratio, but the post-rescue scenes still annoy throughout, offering little incentive beyond earning XP (or SP, as it’s called here) to upgrade Ray’s stats, and even then there isn’t much cause to spend them; the game’s so damned easy you’ll never need to cash in a single point.
When you’re not 3rd person crate-punching, you’ll be attempting to outrun and dodge various hazards in the car you just pilfered, and it’s these segments that undoubtedly constitute the worst experiences you’ll have while playing. You control the car much like you would during Mario Kart: Hold the remote horizontally, tilt it right to steer right and left to go left. So you won’t be needing the nunchuck, which is where the first hiccup comes; holding the remote horizontally with a nunchuck connector and a hefty wire sticking out of it is an awkward and uncomfortable experience, so every switch from action-adventure segment to driving segment and vice-versa requires an annoying disconnect and fumble with the controllers. Not that it’ll help you much with the actual game, however, as the driving physics are annoyingly and strangely broken, resulting in the car flipping over at even the slightest collision like God turned the gravity off, and slamming into every wall in sight like a shifty ne’er-do-well trying to score an undeserved insurance cheque. Nonetheless, as with every other section of the game, it’s painfully easy and infinitely forgiving, and even with clumsy driving physics, none of the car segments will last too long, though unfortunately it won’t be long before a new one emerges.
Where Disaster does earn some good grace is in the 3rd genre it attempts to tackle – the 1st person on-rails lightgun game. It apes the classic Time Crisis style – you’ll aim and fire much as you’d expect to, while pressing ‘Z’ on the nunchuck with send you jumping behind cover, and releasing it will pop you back up to remove a terrorist’s brain before they’re able to use it to remember what they had for breakfast. The shooting sections offer the most rounded section – there’s an RPG-lite weapon upgrade system, extra shooting ranges to unlock, a variety of weapons to gain, and above all, it’s oodles more fun than the rest of the game. Though, while fun and with a great deal of variety, it’s also painfully easily, offering no real challenge during the main game – the bosses are a breeze, and the main evil goons essentially toss their guns to the ground and weep like molested children, posing no real threat whatsoever.
Through all this, there’s our main character. At times (about 93.4% of them), Disaster borders on outright parody, and if the game had a hint of self-awareness, then Raymond Bryce would be a fitting pastiche of action hero stereotypes and loudmouthed point-haired game protagonists. Only it doesn’t. Which makes it all the more hilarious. Throughout the game, and presumably his life in general, Ray is tragically stricken with a serious case of that much-feared disease known as exposition-itis, feeling the uncontrollable need to announce his every minute thought and action to nobody in particular, for no real reason that we can fathom. While initially merely annoying, our soliloquy-spouting hero’s verbal diarrhoea eventually becomes hilariously bad, resulting in – I wish I was kidding – a lengthy driving segment in which you control the car on a leisurely obstacle-free hillside drive, while Ray delivers a painfully bland monologue to the air conditioner. The laughs hit their crescendo right around the time the following scene happens:
Ray sneaks into the enemy hide-out, and hiding behind his lesser nemesis, the humble crate, he stealthily listens in on Evil Goon #24’s radio conversation.
Evil Goon #24 listens intently as his boss, Evil Henchman, squalks down the radio to him, “Evil Goon #24, come in! Raymond “Chatty Cathy” Bryce has arrived! He’s somewhere in the compound! Whatever you do, don’t let him near the church!”
Upon hearing this, Ray, forgetting everything about stealth, and even the most basic Hide-and-Seek tactics, loudly shrieks: “THE CHURCH! SO THAT’S WHERE THEY’RE HIDING THE HOSTAGES!”
“There he is! Get him!” Evil Goon #24 yells.
“DAMN! THEY SPOTTED ME SOMEHOW…” Ray laments with pitiful confusion.
Unfortunately, these bafflingly dumb moments are also baked into the gameplay itself; at one point, while fleeing lava, and gun-toting bad guys, Ray will encounter a flimsy gate, locked by a tiny, rusted padlock. Though Ray can outrun a volcanic eruption and a tsunami, he finds himself bested by this wily and precocious young gate. “There’s no way I’ll ever be able to open that,” he says bluntly as you try to get through without a key. Ray has apparently forgotten the fact that he’s carrying at least three different types of loaded gun, which he was using to shatter steel barrels into nothingness less than a minute beforehand. So off you go, on a tedious back-track through previously-explored territory. The ‘Why does a locked wooden door present an obstacle to someone holding a rocket launcher?” moment of fleeting confusion is a familiar evil to anyone that’s ever played through a survival horror game, but it’s infinitely more frustrating here, in a game not centred on exploration or lengthy puzzles. The extra knife to the kidney comes a few sections later in the game, when your task is to shoot a rusty padlock off a flimsy gate to save a young girl. Sigh.
Ray’s inventory amnesia poses a recurring threat, as evidenced when you’re asked to extinguish flames in a subway car so you can pass through. Does Ray use the infinitely-replenishing bottle of water that he constantly uses as a makeshift hose to inexplicably spray his rescue victims clean of mud? Nope. I’m afraid not. Get your walking shoes on; you’re in for a hike to find a fire-extinguishing backpack hose contraption. Not just any fire-extinguishing backpack hose contraption, but the very same fire-extinguishing backpack hose contraption that you tried to pick up earlier in the game, but simply couldn’t, even though you knew you’d need to come back later. Double sigh.
The few times that Disaster tries to throw “puzzle-solving adventure” into its genre melting-pot repertoire, they’re similarly shoddy ‘This item is important! But you can’t have it just yet! Go find the thing you need it for, then walk all the way back. It’ll be fun, honest!’ backtrack trips. Those aren’t puzzles; they’re an insulting exercise in frustration. Thankfully these sections are kept to a minimum, but they’re one example of several genre marks that Disaster fails to hit adequately.
Ultimately, though the lightgun elements are a fleeting treat, the mish-mash of poorly-exercised genres and the unrewarding remote-waggling gimmickry make for a disjointed and messy game experience. Still, despite the crippling shortcomings, it’s strangely addictive, and gains points for sheer hilarity alone, with the cringingly bad, guilty pleasure story ranking with the best of the worst that Hollywood could offer. With each ludicrously-escalating disaster that Ray outran, from fire tornado, to tsunami, to volcano, to angry bear that lives near a volcano(!), I found myself increasingly more willing to suffer through the shoddier aspects of the gameplay, just hoping that the game would end with Ray gazing up at the sky, muttering:
“A planet-crushing asteroid?! …Holy F—“.
Cue end credits.
(Review originally published at WRAWReviews.co.uk)