If you're thinking that Disaster Report is some kind of survival horror game with falling buildings instead of zombies, you're pretty close. DR takes the familiar get-out-of-here-alive scenario, mixes it up with some interesting action sequences, places you on an island that's regularly falling into the ocean, and heads out for lunch early and never comes back.
This game has problems. Nothing irredeemable, but lots of stuff that makes you question what's going on. The game seems to be constantly battling itself, as it introduces new concepts and then promptly lets you ignore them. I'll explain in a bit.
Background. Disaster Report takes place on Stiver Island, a manmade city floating in an unnamed ocean. You're Keith Helm, a young reporter headed to the island for your first day on the job. But before you get there, a massive earthquake rocks Stiver Island. Your train is derailed and you return to consciousness a day later stuck in the middle of a bridge. Your main objective is to head to a rescue operation waypoint and get off the island, but along the way you meet other stranded people with their own sub-goals... and you gradually work out the secret reason behind the earthquake.
Unlike most adventure games, where the entirety of the game's map is available to you for as long as you're willing to walk around in it, in Disaster Report the city is constantly disappearing around you. Every time you clear an area, a building topples, the water rises, or the whole area just breaks off into the sea. You can never go back, and any items left behind are simply gone forever. This, combined with the limited inventory, adds to the pressure... and watching the platform you just stepped away from tumble into the ocean makes for dramatic moments. In many locations, the area will fall while you're still standing on it, so you have to run and jump for more a stable surface. That's where Disaster Report is at its best.
Since this is a pretty realistic game - there are no monsters or weapons - you might be wondering what exactly you do. Basically, you just want to get out of wherever you are. Sometimes you'll be stuck in an area (there's lots of streets that are blocked by floodwaters or burning overturned gas trucks) and you have to find the one way to the next area. Or you'll have to pick your way through a cross section of a building sitting on its side. Despite the lack of enemies, many of the areas are genuinely difficult, as you search for just the right path or item to get you out. Often you will necessarily trigger a scripted event where a building piece falls or some other tremor effect and that either helps or hurts your progress.
Keith has two meters. The life meter does what you would expect, dropping when Keith falls from a great height or gets beaned with debris. The hydration meter, however, is an interesting gimmick that unfortunately isn't allowed to really effect the game. As you run or climb - crap, even just walking - your hydration level drops. So you have to regularly refill it by drinking from water bottles stored in your backpack or from water fountains scattered around Stiver Island. If you let it drop all the way down, you will be unable to run and your life meter will slowly drain as well. It's like performing every level under a very slow timer.
Or, it would be if there wasn't a water fountain every six feet. Or if you didn't have stashed three bottles of water in your inventory that you can refill at every fountain. The overabundance of water fountains means that you never ever need to worry about your meter dropping. Drinking just becomes a nuisance, since you have to do it constantly but rarely ever suffer bad effects from low hydration.
Another truncated feature is the ability to make new items out of existing items. If you find both the construction helmet and the flashlight, you can combine the two to make a lighted helmet. You can also make a torch (out of the crowbar, lighter and gauze) and a metal hanger for sliding down slanted wires. But you never need to. You see, since you can't re-visit old areas to pick up missed items, it's possible to have totally skipped the bits to make the metal hanger. And since the game requires you to use a metal hanger to proceed past a particular level, if you can't build the hanger yourself, the game will just drop one nearby.
See how DR shoots itself in the foot here? Why bother including a complex item-combining facet if you never need to use it? Why foist the annoying water meter on us if you're going to put a water fountain around every corner?
My only deaths in 12+ hours (I played through it twice) came from missed jumps and getting squished under falling masonry. Never from dehydration and never from not having the correct item to proceed. When, in a more realistic earthquake simulation, I definitely should have.
But that's really just a mishandled opportunity on the part of the game's design. Disaster Report's biggest problem is technical. This game has hellacious slowdown.
And I just can't figure out why. Most levels are big, but not THAT big. Ruined buildings block your view in all the outside areas, so it's not like the game is trying to render too large a vista at once. The level of detail is okay, and the outdoor areas show off mass environmental destruction rather well, but nothing awe-inspiring. In fact, just about everything is colored in shades of gray - which I guess is to illustrate how everything is covered with dust and ash, but it could just be because Stiver Island was built by the most boring architects available. So why slowdown, and why slowdown that's so bad? Poor Keith runs in slow motion for most of the game. I'd be okay with a speed natural to a normal, non-super-heroic human being, since that would fit the game's theme of average guy against nature, but he is obviously victim to a crappy software problem instead.
The sound is another issue. Almost nothing gradiates here; the "water noise" sound sample turns on when you walk X units close to the shoreline. And it turns off when you hit X-1. Same with rushing wind, tree locusts, helicopters and burning flames. And everyone is wearing tap shoes. Everyone.
The voice actors each do their best, and if they were better edited, you might actually enjoy the performance. But, as usual, the conversations are filled with awkward pauses and strange translations. Tragically, sometimes you can hear an actor truly attempting to project emotion, but it ends up lost in the overall suck.
Let's get back to some good points. Your character model is somewhat customizable; you can collect new bits of clothing for Keith to wear and most actually help protect him against damage. All the characters go through visual changes as their clothes get ripped and ruined, which is a nice touch.
The game also has a bunch of hidden compasses to find, and you can choose your onscreen compass design from your collection. My favorites are the Eyeball Compass and the Skull Compass.
The story includes some important branching points, so seeing everything will require multiple attempts. Most choices are tied in to how you answer questions or choose to treat the female NPCs. There are two girls in the game, Karen Morris and Kelly Austin (although at one point the game calls Karen by Kelly's name.) It is possible to generate different endings depending on how you treat your tagalong... whether you Encourage or Ignore her feelings, or if you share your water stores with her. Karen is looking for her dog, and Kelly can't find her little brother, so each girl leads you on a different subpath through Stiver Island. (In Kelly's half, watch out for an extremely strange scene with a police officer who suddenly snaps.)
Also weaving in and out of the story is Greg, a competing reporter who is much hotter on the story of the earthquake than you ever are. (When you reach your new boss and he tells you to get to work, your response is "What?") I'm not revealing much by saying that not all four of you live through the adventure, but I've only seen two endings so there might be differences.
Is it worth playing? Thanks to the slowdown and poor presentation, this just isn't a game you can take seriously. As the plot develops and you uncover the hidden agenda behind the destruction of Stiver Island (OMG, the earthquake wasn't natural!), the silly dialogue, tech problems and weak character motivations keep you from really investing yourself in the game. There's a sharp game there, with some fun puzzles and real tension... but you have to overlook quite a bit to see it. Fatal Frame is a good example of a game with some technical limitations but still a serious, engrossing story. Disaster Report is not.