Raw Danger Review
Adventure games aren't nearly as popular as they used to be, but although the niche hit, Disaster Report, did feature some action, it was mostly a very original adventure title. Irem has followed that up with Raw Danger, a game that sports a similar premise and concept, but adds a few interesting gameplay elements in providing a fairly enjoyable - yet flawed - experience. Fans of Disaster Report should definitely look into this one, but does the game's unique merits appeal to any avid gamer? Well, not really. The technicals are borderline terrible, the control is a little quirky, and the differing storylines don't blend quite as well as the developers intended. On the other hand, if you enjoy some puzzle solving, and you can appreciate a very different style of gaming, Raw Danger could be for you.
The graphics are the worst part of the game by a long shot, but that's not necessarily bad news for a title like this one. The problem is, this game looks like a first-year PS2 game (the design seems very similar to the launch title, Shadow of Destiny); there is a lot of flatness and blandness in the surrounding environments, and the character design is also weak. Irem has shifted from the more Japanese-ish presentation style evident in Disaster Report to a more Western look, but it doesn't pay off. The color and overall detail is lacking, and even some of the outdoor areas appear muted and dull, which unfortunately drags the game down. However, it's not a crucial failing. As is the case with adventure/action titles in the past, the visuals aren't quite as important as they might be in other genres. You're required to concentrate on survival, so you won't be able to stand there, gazing at your surroundings.
The sound is marginally better than the graphics (as we said in the intro, the technicals are worse than mediocre), and again, it's due to a distilled, dull, and restrained orchestration. The voice acting is incredibly erratic, and you can rarely even hear them over the sound effects and soundtrack; the balancing is just atrocious. Things do get more intense during certain situations, especially when you're outside and the natural disaster is roaring through the streets. But even then, the sound seems downplayed to the point of almost removing you from the adventure, and that causes a major issue. Nothing about the soundtrack or effects is "bad," per se, but it's all in how they're implemented. The graphics may not be as essential, but great sound could've really pulled us into our frantic quest for survival, and Irem missed the mark. Thankfully, if you can put them out of your mind long enough to become engrossed in the gameplay, they're not as debilitating.
As you might be able to guess, this game is all about dealing with the force of nature when it invades a supposedly safe city. A giant flood has hit the town of Del Ray (also known as "Geo City"), and at first, civilians only have to evacuate a few areas due to the high water. But things rapidly get worse, and during the course of your adventure, you'll even uncover a conspiracy that appears to involve the city's major pharmaceutical company and the mayor, Gavin Goldstein. Of course, you never play as anyone with sociopolitical power, so you're relegated to the role of the everyday "man on the street." This works very well for the game, because you can view the disaster in much the way you would if it happened in your city, and by switching characters throughout, you can experience the danger in a variety of ways. You'll start with Joshua Harwell, a college student working as a waiter during a holiday gala.
From there, you'll work to save a waitress, Stephanie, and yourself as the flood begins to invade the lavish hotel. At first, you don't fully understand how your decisions will impact the future, but that's the primary reason to keep playing Raw Danger. When you've completed Joshua's story, you'll move on to Amber's, and then you'll begin to see how your previous decisions impact how you play as Amber. On the surface, the difference is obvious, as Joshua has free reign to do whatever he wants; he's capable and fast. But Amber doesn't have the use of her hands - she's fleeing from the police in handcuffs; we won't tell you why - so she has to be a bit more creative and stealthy. Later, you'll take on the role of a taxi driver, and you can probably surmise the purpose of his story: yep, avoid the onslaught of debris while, at times, attempting to deliver passengers to safety.
Now, while this is a perfectly acceptable mode of storytelling, and the developers do this very, very well, you have to stick with it long enough to fully see the fruits of your labor. For example, things start off a little slow with Joshua, simply because you haven't gotten to the main appeal of the game: how your decisions impact both the plot and gameplay down the road. You have no idea how this will happen, but the more you play, the more you begin to think long and hard about your plan of attack. The problem is, shifting back and forth between the characters and seeing the story unfold from three different vantage points tends to take you out of the story a bit, and you may find yourself getting a touch confused. However, the astute and observant gamer should appreciate the interwoven plot scripts found throughout, despite the sometimes disconcerting shifts.
As we said, certain characters will be able to do certain things, while others are more limited. But they all have to make sure their BT (Body Temperature) doesn't fall too far, which is one of the most engaging features in Raw Danger. It's surprisingly realistic; if you get too wet, or you exert yourself too much in the elements without stopping to eat and warm up, you'll soon begin to slow down. You won't be able to carry out actions with the same speed, and eventually, you'll just collapse and it's Game Over. Therefore, you need so stay on the lookout for anything that might provide some warmth, and that includes barrel fires, radiators, kitchen stoves, etc (these are also used as save spots). While you're there, you can also restore energy by cooking up a little grub: two of the first items you receive are a pan and some tomato soup, for example. These locations are generally easy to find and evenly spaced, so it's a great simulation style feature to have.
As you move along, you'll be faced with a variety of obstacles, puzzles, and over-the-top dangers. If you utilize the tutorial at the start, you'll soon get the hang of the relatively straightforward controls. If you're free to roam around and explore, you can run, climb, hang, and even grab hold of solid structures to brace yourself against oncoming water. But remember, you're not Dante or Duke Nukem, here, you're a normal individual with normal weaknesses (hence, the body temperature), so if you get swept away, you're history. It works very well, even though the control isn't perfect. It's often a little loose and you move so quickly when running, it's easy to miss grab-holds and doors you might have to access during...erm...high tide. The camera isn't perfect, either, as you'll often be battling to get a good view of the chaos when trying to move something from one place to another.
All in all, Raw Danger is just as unique and potentially engrossing as its predecessor, Disaster Report. Unfortunately, we have to say "potentially" because several glaring flaws continually bog down the game, not the least of which are those hopelessly lackluster technicals (the graphics and sound are both major drawbacks). The spirit of the gameplay endures, for the most part, but the player will have to ignore an awful lot to fully enjoy the experience. This is why it doesn't really appeal to just any avid gamer, and why it may not be worth your time if you can't look past the significant problems. If we had to score this game based entirely on the more "scorable" categories, like graphics, sound, and control, we'd be forced to say it's far below average. But we also give credit where credit's due: the concept remains original, the story is quite good and craftily portrayed, and the danger always feels surprisingly real.
We just wish the rest wasn't so irretrievably bland or unrefined. But hey, you can't always have everything.
6/24/2007 Ben Dutka