Remember SOS: The Final Escape? You probably don't (because it sold about ten copies over here), but it's a true cult classic in many ways, and well worth hunting down if you find it. And the reason for its elevated status? Mainly because it was so unlike anything else around; a one-of-a-kind 'disaster survival' where you end up trying to stay alive in an urban Earthquake, and uncover the real culprits behind it. Despite some horrifically clunky animation and iffy gameplay mechanics, Irem's defiantly innovative ideas drove you on through a rather brief adventure. If only a more capable developer could polish up the premise, we'd be first in the queue.
Fast forward four-and-a-half years, and....not much has changed. The sequel has finally made a belated appearance across Europe [Well...some of Europe - see Editor's note] but Irem still seems like a developer with ambitions that vastly outweigh its technical abilities.
In Raw Danger, you once again find yourself amidst an apparently natural disaster, only to discover a conspiratorial undercurrent that's at the root of it. This time, flooding is on the menu as you try desperately to escape the rising waters blighting the island metropolis known as Geo City. Played out from six different perspectives, you start out as Joshua Harwell, a college boy working as a waiter at a function being held in the honour of the Mayor responsible for designing the apparently disaster-proof island.
After some initial perfunctory to-ing and fro-ing, you're left in no doubt that the only way is up - with a sub-plot involving saving his potential love interest, waitress Stephanie McMurrough. Along the way, you'll be clambering over wrecked debris, wading through deadly torrents, clinging onto scenery, and trying to stave off hypothermia from the freezing waters.
Much like SOS, you're in perpetual danger of being killed for one reason or another. If you're not risking your life trying to scale a crumbling wall, your body temperature is always being adversely affected, or hunger is robbing your of body strength. So, instead of needing water as with SOS, you have to try and avoid spending too much time in it while applying special 'heat patches', or some finding some other source of heat to dry off and warm your cockles.
After the initial straightforward opening chapter, the game starts to spread its wings a little, giving you standalone vignettes from five other perspectives. Each has an interlocking narrative, so seemingly insignificant moments often overlap from the perspective of another character - a trick attempted somewhat unsuccessfully in Without Warning. Depending on each character's personal circumstances, the gameplay style adapts accordingly; so, for example, the murder suspect Amber Brazil is handcuffed, meaning she has to be stealthy in order to get through her particular sections. Later, you'll play as a cabbie, as well as the character that starred in SOS - the reporter Keith Helm.
But while the narrative construct and gameplay ideas are, once again, full of inventive endeavour, there's no getting away from how hobbled so many facets of Raw Danger are. From the top, the graphics engine would have elicited exasperated gasps back in 2001, never mind six years down the line. The animation is, in the main, absolutely shocking, with the same bizarre and often embarrassing clunkiness to the whole thing. The general character model detail is also pretty ropey, and that's being polite. Get too close to some of the NPCs, and the polys might well poke your eyes out. Worse still, Irem thought it necessary to localise the look of the characters - but it just makes things worse.
And as for the quality of the dialogue: we shouldn't really even go there out of politeness. Either it's been a case of cheap localisation or really was that bad in the Japanese original, it's hard to say - but that's no excuse for some of the most unintentionally amusing voice-over work we've heard in years. [Best example? The bit where the young girl in the hotel lobby shrieks 'I want my Mummy!' over and over and over, until you want to throw Ajax in her eyes. Ok, that's harsh, but it is terrifically annoying.] And when weird, inappropriate inflections aren't cropping up, the flat, wooden delivery makes whatever chance this intriguing tale had of getting under your skin fall flat a fair bit of the time.
Sadly, the quirks don't end there. The camera control (with its total lack of X axis invert) is another obstacle to over come. Unhelpfully, Irem has designed a system where you use X to run, leaving your right thumb incapable of adjusting the camera unless you walk - and walking is so treacle slow you'd rarely use it anyway. And in addition to that, the general movement and animation is so horribly stiff that even basic movement around the environment just feels unnatural and a bit of a chore, frankly. If all that doesn't put you off, then some of the trial and error tasks put in front of you will. Just like SOS, there's a case for having a guide handy, because you'll most likely trip up at some point over something relatively trivial.
And yet, despite all of this, just as with SOS, the evolving nature of the gameplay, and its intriguing story structure keeps you going. Not only that, the actual location design and some individual set-pieces are very atmospheric, and it somehow appeals to the old school adventurer in us that used to routinely find ourselves trapped somewhere with one single, set solution. If you're looking for a unique cult action-adventure, and don't mind the low-fi feel, then by all means track down Raw Danger - at the very least it's a cheap was of preparing yourself for the ongoing flood disasters striking us this summer...
For reasons that still aren't especially clear, Raw Danger isn't getting a UK release from 505 Games Street. You can, however, rest assured that you can pick up the French version, because everything in the actual game (the text, menus, voice-overs) is entirely in English. Sure, the manual and inlay is in French, but when was the last time you relied on a manual? The other option, of course, is to pick up a US copy on import - but seeing as that'd require a 'specially equipped' PS2, that's probably only an option for the really determined among you.