It's rare that the "don't judge a book by its cover" mantra can be so ably applied to games. For one, the hilariously freaky box art for Raw Danger probably won't garner more than a passing snicker, and it only gets worse when you finally pop the game in. But as anyone who played the prequel, Disaster Report, will tell you, the gravity of the situations that you're thrust into in Irem's survival games more than overpowers any technical shortcomings.
Make no mistake, the technical shortcomings are massive. At nearly every turn, Raw Danger seemingly attempts to thwart your enjoyment of a city slowly being overtaken by a rising torrent of water. A combination of glaring graphical issues like clipping, low-poly models, ultra-stiff animations, miserable collisions and PSone-era texture work tag team your eyes while clunky, unresponsive controls assail your poor, poor fingers. At the same time, laughable voice acting in near-constantly shifting levels of fidelity play out while buried under whatever ambient rainfall or roaring water happens to be in the background.
It's no exaggeration to say that Raw Danger looks, feels and plays like a 32-bit experience. Agetec's questionable handling of the localization, which includes things like turning nearly everyone into some kind of freaky blond-haired Asian super race instead of leaving them with black hair, a number of grammar and spelling errors, the complete omission of the main characters' names during voice acting (even if you leave their name as the default, leading to awesome lines like "have you found ____?" and "____ is a murderer!"), are all arguably doing the game more harm than good.
And yet, there is an undeniable charm -- a weight and impact -- to not only the constantly eroding environments and utterly inconceivable events that take place, but the players that experience them and (perhaps most importantly of all) the interactions that they have with each other. Like all good disaster movies, the ridiculous levels of destruction and the sheer over-the-top nature of a few survivors continuing to win out against the odds are the stars, but it's in the rare down times that the game actually sinks its hooks in.
For those that didn't play the first game, it's a little tough to explain the appeal. After all, how do you justify a game that looks quite honestly like it was unearthed from a time capsule planted a good 10 years ago? The short answer is that short of booting up the game and shoving a DualShock in someone's hands, there's really no way to properly sell it. Sure, you could talk about the fact that you're constantly trying to stay dry and warm (the absence of both elements drop your overall body temperature, and only eating hot food, finding fires or using things like heating pads can stave off the Grim Reaper), or explain that you actually get to play through a dam breaking and a giant tidal wave of water tearing through an open city, but words don't really do the game justice. You really do have to play it -- and for more than about five minutes -- to really understand the appeal.
Once the game sinks its teeth in, it doesn't easily let go. Irem built a quirky, undeniably Japanese sense of weirdness into the game through things like completely pointless compasses in the shape of a plate of curry, or even one of the mechanized suits from Steambot Chronicles, or the ability to mix and match different parts of clothing. Nothing says "I'm here to save you" quite like a guy in wading pants, a leather jacket, a child's backpack, a miner's helmet and one of those fake nose/mustache things -- and it's even more convincing when it's a girl wearing all that stuff.
But that's exactly why Raw Danger is so fun. The combination of incomprehensible acts of Mother Nature coupled with a bunch of people in bizarre getups consistently surviving whirlpools and rooms that flood and bridges that collapse under them is what keeps the game fairly light despite dips into some rather heavy emotional material. Did I mention you can be a complete asshole to everyone if you want? And that it completely changes how that character finishes their part of the story?
Oh, right, I kind of skipped over the whole "multiple storylines" thing. In an obvious nod to those complaining about Disaster Report's length, Irem went all out, using the familiar intertwining viewpoint techniques of movies like Go and Snatch. Sure, it means plenty of the environments are reused, but often they're from angles or parts that aren't accessible to other characters during their parts of the game -- and there are times when actions during one part of the game actively spill over into the others, usually due to a conscious choice by the player.
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