Disaster Report is, in the very least, an original concept and unique design. It is the year 2005 and four years ago, the government announced the completion of a huge secret project: a new city on a man-made island in the Pacific. To prove its reliability to the rest of the world, part of the government's administrative functions were moved there, giving the city the name Capital City. You are a journalist named Keith Helm who has never been to Capital City; you've been offered an editing job at the city's main newspaper, so off you go. While riding the train that travels between Airport Island and Capital City, disaster strikes - a massive earthquake with its epicenter in the heart of the city. You hit your head and get knocked out; when you wake up, no one's there, the bridge is heavily damaged and violent aftershocks periodically shake the ground.
With nothing but your wits, you have to survive and escape the island. What you're basically doing throughout the entire game is figuring out how to get from where you are to where you need to be; negotiating your way through various obstacles, sometimes bracing yourself during an aftershock or running from an immediate danger. You also encounter other people who are trapped on the island; they sometimes travel with you in an attempt to avoid certain death.
You are faced with many choices as you play through the game; there are often different directions you can choose to go, and you can choose whether or not to help certain people. Not only are there seven different endings, but the game is a lot different depending on your decisions. This provides great replay value for a kind of game that would otherwise have very little, and also gives you a feeling of control.
Much of the game progresses through the items you find. A crowbar, a flare, or just about anything else can be crucial to survival. You have the ability to combine certain items; for example, a crowbar, gauze and lighter fluid combined can make a torch. The amount of space in your inventory that an item takes up is actually dependent on its size, which is nice. When you find a bigger backpack, you can hold more in your inventory.
The gameplay is a mix of puzzle solving and adventure. For example, there’s a point in the game when you come to a retail section of the city. Your way is blocked by a huge amount of rubble and a bus. It sounds like the engine is still running, but you can't get in because of a fire. If you had a fire extinguisher (which you might), you could put it out, but you probably don't have one, so you have to try to find another way through. Seeing that the door's open in a store on the corner, you go in, but it seems that most of the building is collapsed and it seems that nothing is really there. But alas, there's a small opening in the rubble, with broken glass all over the floor. After crawling through (the broken glass hurts your hands, so you need to use a bandage after), all that you find is a clothes hanger. Get out and go back to the rubble with the bus, climb up on an overhang on an adjacent building and then you use the clothes hanger to hang and slide down a cable wire. If you hit the button to jump off at just the right time, you get into the bus, and then you can drive the bus out of the way. Various situations such as that happen all throughout the game, and you have to think outside the box to figure out what to do; a key to solving the puzzles is to consider your alternatives. The gameplay in general is quite varied, and certainly unusual.
Unexpectedly, Disaster Report also has a really interesting story. At the beginning of the game you just want to escape, but the story develops into an unfolding mystery. It successfully pulls off the "uncovering the mysterious secrets of this place" concept without relying on cliché. The story is told through dialogue with the few people you meet and through documents you find throughout the game, as well as circumstantially by various gameplay events. Most of the dialogue is voiced, and the voice acting is decent but forgettable.
One gameplay idea they used was that your character needs water. That sounds cool, but he'll die of dehydration in about half an hour. Fortunately, there are plenty of sources of water everywhere, and you can carry around bottles with you. So it's never much of a problem, but definitely an annoying idea. The game strikes the right balance between being increasingly challenging and not being incredibly frustrating, with the exceptions of a few choke points in the game. Not much goes wrong on the gameplay front, and what is off-centered is quickly compensated for by the sheer originality of the title.
Although the gameplay is great, the graphics leave a lot to be desired. The character models aren't bad, and in fact your clothes get dirtier and more tattered as you progress through the game, which is a nice touch. Unfortunately any merits with the graphics end there. The objects and environments are detailed enough, but bad textures, aliasing, clipping, slowdown problems, and frame rate issues put the visuals way under par. Not to mention an annoyingly bad camera; it's awkward in places, and the limited camera control is annoying to use when you need it. However the graphics do the job, and aren't so bad as to cause a serious drain on the gameplay.
One curious thing about Disaster Report is that it's very silent. The few times that a little music does kick in, it's extremely simplistic unnoticeable few-second kind of stuff. The majority of sound you hear during the game is your (and sometimes your companion's) footsteps, with, of course, rumbling sounds during aftershocks, the sound of water running when you encounter it, and other basic sound effects. Disaster Report clearly doesn't want to rely on its visuals or sound to lure gamers towards a purchase, but it could've tried a bit harder for those that actually do pick it up in the end.
The game has its problems, but it's a blast to play, and incredibly original. If you're looking for something unique for your PS2 and can handle an overall poor presentation, I highly recommend it - especially if you can pass it off as "emergency response training" for your job.