Sometimes, you need to make split-second decisions to help keep a group of schoolchildren safe from a collapsing building, keeping a cool head as slabs of concrete shower down around you. Sometimes you have to run a convenience store because the manager is in the bathroom and doesn’t have any toilet paper. Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories may be telling a serious story, but it sure hasn’t lost any of the series’ past silliness along the way.
In the PAX East demo, we were given the option to set up our male or female main character, customizing them as we saw fit before hitting the town in a bus (which likely seems familiar if you’ve seen the Those Who Remain character trailer). After politely offering our seat to an old woman, we were granted the pleasure of enduring an earthquake while on our ride, which was just the beginning of the dangers we’d face.
Actually, let’s go back to the old woman. You were expected to give up your seat for her, but the game offered five possible options you could choose from in doing so. These ranged from the polite and selfless to selfish and mean, but also meandered a bit into the absurd as well. I was informed that these kinds of decisions would shape who the character would become over the course of the game, and that you would be given the ability to be as kind, cruel, or downright ridiculous as you wanted to be.
Without spoiling just how silly these could get, I was constantly offered bizarre, chuckle-inducing options in how I carried myself. Not all of them would change the direction of the gameplay, but they often served to help me roleplay a certain character throughout my time with Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories. Being a dangerous, unreliable coward made the demo feel so much more personal (and the game’s writers really do excel when they’re creating goofy options).
That’s not to say that there wasn’t a lot of drama in this game. The events of the earthquake and subsequent bus crash were deeply unsettling (especially for someone whose family in Japan endured some terrifying things during some massive earthquakes there), and watching the survivors huddling together, standing there in shock, or try to reach loved ones on their phones was chilling, even in the bright daylight. Stumbling through buildings that continued to shudder, dust tumbling down to hint at the sheer amount of steel and concrete that could come tumbling down at any time, created a tension unique to the Disaster Report series. This is one of the few games to teach me to fear and respect the buildings themselves.
You could also find yourself the victim of aftershocks as you wandered around. Steel road signs could come crashing down, killing you if you weren’t careful. You might find yourself knocked off your feet by those same aftershocks, as you’d need to go prone to keep from getting thrown. It was the sort of stuff that made you feel very small and vulnerable within its world, and showed a deep respect for the game’s subject matter even if Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories does have an extremely silly side.
I continued to feel this tension as I was asked to help find a teacher’s students, combing through a relatively quiet building, always conscious of the shakes and bumps that would start up seemingly at random, hinting at potential danger. However, these teenage girls didn’t seem all that concerned about the danger, capturing the game’s silly nature while also hinting at just how strange people can act when going through the shock of an event.
From here, I would take part in a frightening crawl under tons of fallen debris, expecting the tunnel to collapse at any moment, but would also soon find myself working at a convenience store, selling bottled water at exorbitant prices to nearby survivors (only to then find myself getting extorted by the store’s owner). All of this latter event would tie in to toilet paper, creating a moment that was, again, a mixture of silly and dark. It’s goofy to be running a store in a disaster, but the very real cruelty of taking advantage of people in need stuck out in my mind.
That said, I was thinking deeply on these things while wearing a maid costume (as the male protagonist – you can wear your outfits on either sex!), one of the many absurd outfits the game offers its players (this particular one coming from the delightful Athlete Pack DLC). Not unlike the silly dress-up games you could play throughout Dead Rising, this game also features many varied outfits that the demo let me try on. I got to keep my uniform from the convenience store, after all.
Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories walks an interesting tightrope, striving to be respectful to those who’ve endured natural disasters while allowing players a certain silliness that can make a playthrough uniquely their own. And again, people can act pretty strangely when they’re in a disaster situation, so the game is really just doing a good job of capturing a wide spectrum of human emotion. It doesn’t hurt that it can be really funny at times, too.
Luckily, it’s not so silly as to have rocket-launcher toting dudes this time around.
Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories is slated to release on the Nintendo Switch, PS4, and PC on April 7, 2020.