Version tested: Wii
A quick tip for when naming your game. Try to avoid using words like "Failure", "Atrocity", and "The Worst Game I've Played In Years" (although I double-dare someone to use that one). It doesn't matter how good your game might be - it still invites every critic to lazily turn it against the product. So "Disaster: Day of Crisis" was Nintendo really pushing its luck.
The result, ruinously, is not a disaster. It's just a bit average. Now, had they called it, "Mishap: Day of Mediocrity" we'd have a snappy review opener. It's a mishmash of approximately nine hundred and sixteen genres, used to portray the life of Ray Bryce, Earth's unluckiest human.
Ray used to work for the International Rescue Team, a sort of FEMA, except they turn up on time. That was until a year ago when he failed to save the life of his best friend, Steve, who fell into a volcano. "You can't save them all, Ray," pleaded Steve before he fell to his crispy coated death. But Ray just couldn't accept it, and went into semi-retirement. That was until they pulled him back in!
Oh good heavens, this game employs every action movie clich you could think of, in thick, creamy lumps. It's as if an alien being attempted to make a game about American life, but had based all their knowledge of humans on the films of Roland Emmerich. Ray was charged by Steve to give Steve's little sister a treasured compass, but Ray had been too much of a puss to do it. He then hears that some ex-Marine maverick terrorist types, SURGE, have kidnapped little sis, along with a seismologist professor colleague of hers, and are threatening to do something or other with nuclear warheads. The president needs action! Nuclear devastation is at hand! But what's this?! AN EARTHQUAKE! The West coast of America is falling to bits, and Ray's just the man to step in!
Thus begins the unfolding gibberish that excuses the game's action. Immediately presented as a third-person action game (nunchuk to move, remote buttons to interact), it quickly reveals it's more than that. It's also a driving game (remote held sideways, steered like Excite Truck/Mario Kart), an on-rails shooter (remote pointed at the screen), and an ever-expanding collection of silly waggling mini-games (remote wobbled around in various directions, or for the running-away games, waved up and down frantically). In fact, there's so many different ways the game is played that it still throws up tutorial screens well over halfway into its 12 or so hours.
The earthquake is just the start of things. It begins a cascade of natural and not-so natural disasters that become belly-laugh-inducing as they escalate. After the second tsunami, I dare anyone not to guffaw when a local mountain decides it's time to go volcanic, and spew lava over the rural parts of the city that didn't get flooded. I then giggled my way into getting killed when Ray, while trying to escape from the lava flows and clouds of ash, gets attacked by an angry bear.
If the game had been edited down to one of its core ideas, it would be about entering scenes of disasters, and rescuing trapped people. As you explore locations, Ray can "sense" people in distress (no, I promise), and through daft mini-games can recover them. So to get the guy out from under the rock, hammer A until the meter is full, then fling the remote upward. To resuscitate the dying person, waggle the remote for heart compressions, and hold buttons to perform mouth-to-mouth. Reach for dangling victims by flinging your remote-arm out to them when they grab toward you. And so on. For all your rescues you're award SP points which can be spent between levels, boosting Ray's stats.
If the game had been edited down to its other main idea, it would be about fighting enemies in a Time Crisis style, using cover and a selection of weapons, shooting the baddies with your remote gun. Offing bads gets you BP points, which can be spent between levels upgrading weapons, or buying improved ones.
If the game had been edited down to its third idea, it would be a first-person driving game, asking you to control a variety of vehicles through various hazardous terrains. Perhaps taking a four-wheel drive through a lava flow, or a beat up old wagon in a race against a big wave.
Except, of course, it's all three, muddled together. So you'll be third-personing through a street, gallantly rescuing people, then suddenly it switches to Time Crisis, in the same locations, before flipping back once everyone's dead. And then jumping in a car. And then it suddenly becomes an adventure game, as you plod around a house finding hidden objects, using them in the right place, solving simple puzzles. Where did that come from?!
The writing is just hilarious. It's beyond the worst action movie dialogue you've ever heard, and it's incessant. Frequently there's genuinely fewer than three seconds play between cut-scenes. Thing is, how could you ever bring yourself to have strong feelings against a game that includes the line, "EAT MY BALLISTICS!"
And all the while, throughout this cavalcade of horror, Ray is constantly being pursued by SURGE. Finally reach a railway bridge that might lead to an escape from the volcanic ash, and save the life of the little girl Ray is trying to rescue at that point, and a helicopter full of murderous enemies appears! Try to out-drive the oncoming tidal wave, and you can be sure baddies will thwart his progress. It's such an extraordinary display of hyperbole that it becomes stupidly fun.
Let me share another classic line. Someone speaking to the president says, "Worst case scenario: I believe we're witnessing the utter destruction of our country." Awesome. Then two favourite lines from tutorial instructions. "Being on fire causes you to lose life," and, "Clogged lungs have a negative effect on your performance." It's like they know me. And for some reason the game has an obsession with using the words "pyroclastic flow". Over and over.
So, more importantly, does it all work despite the unmitigated nonsense? To an extent. The Wii is screaming out for more Time Crisis-a-likes. When Disaster's multiple personalities allow this one through, it's lots of fun. This is helped by the upgradable weapons, with up to four available at one time. Limited ammo for everything but the pistol calls for judicious economising, and the ever-present cover lets you reload without getting flustered.
The third-person sections are significantly more wonky, agonisingly interrupted by cut-scenes, and feel very dated. Climbing and jumping are extremely awkward, and the auto-camera is useless. Plus, the multitude of mini-games aren't very rewarding.
Finally, the driving is pretty troubled. Mechanically it works fine, well even. There's a real sense of steering on difficult terrain. The problem is, the sections are reliant on precognition to be successfully completed. Sudden cliffs or giant obstacles appear from nowhere, invisible until you've fallen or crashed into them, with the checkpoints miles apart and inevitably the other side of tiresome unskippable cut-scenes.
It's amiable enough. Quickly quite repetitive, but certainly not short on variation. And most importantly, it's unwittingly hilarious beyond belief. Oh, and here's a weird thing for a Nintendo published game: it's got swearing in it. Exclusively the word "s***", but boy-oh-boy does it say it a lot. Remember when someone came into school assembly, and tried to sound a bit cool by swearing. "And I think, when someone tells you that you should try drugs, well I think that's just… s***. Yeah." Disaster's proliferation of s-words just makes you wince at the awkwardness of it.
But most hilarious of all is Ray. Good old Ray. At no point does the annihilation of the planet at the hands of disgruntled army folk by nuclear weapons, nor the undoing at the seams of America's tectonic foundations, distract him from the importance of giving a girl her compass back. He really does shout that he doesn't care about the nuclear bomb, he "just wants the girl!"
If it had just been a bit more focused, perhaps sticking with the pleasing interchange of third-person exploring and first-person on-rails shooting, it would have succeeded. But the frenzy of different genres is only confusing, not letting any one element shine. Also: EAT MY BALLISTICS!
6 / 10