17 February 2013

[SquareGo] Review: Disaster Response Unit

Disaster Response Unit focuses on the work of the Technisches Hilfswerk, a German humanitarian relief agency. The THW provide assistance during emergency situations and disasters, and throughout the game, the player will have to deal with such varied missions as rescuing flood survivors in a speedboat, setting up building supports in the aftermath of a gas explosion, clearing highways of debris after a cyclone.

It's not really as dramatic as it sounds, though.

Read the full review over at SquareGo, or click below!
Each of the game's 11 missions follows a similar formula – the player must move a character to two or three areas marked on the map, then drive a number of vehicles to designated parking zones. After that, they individually move five THW members to a vehicle to equip safety gear, then put down traffic cones. Lastly, the player sets up some specialised rescue equipment, drag-and-drop or clicks at the game's command, and then they're done. Begin next mission, repeat as required.

It's clear that Disaster Response Unit has been designed to closely reflect the actual working practices of the THW – the in-game prompts mention specific procedures and steps taken during crises, and there's even a “Gallery” mode where the player can find out the history of the THW organisation and details of the vehicles they use during disaster relief. However, this eye to realism is the game's only upside.

Disaster Response Unit falls into the common trap of including boring elements purely for the sake of realism. As if individually moving five characters to a van to equip them all with lifejackets then getting one to set down traffic cones wasn't just dull, it's also utterly inconsequential – those are the only two things you ever do with them, and you can skip them using the game's Skip Objective feature with no consequence.

There's also very little skill involved in Disaster Response Unit; there are no puzzles to solve, no resources to balance, no tests of reflex or co-ordination, just instructions, like “move this vehicle there”, “drag and drop this object here” and “click that”. One exception to this is the driving system; vehicles in the game move forward and back using the W and S keys, and can be turned left or right by hitting A or D – a common enough conceit. However, every vehicle seems to take about a second and a half to respond to directions, making it enormously difficult to judge how long buttons should be pressed down for – which is particularly damning since some of the game's tasks include precision-parking. To compensate, players may have to either use short, rapid strikes of the movement buttons (which makes movement painfully slow, but at least fairly controlled), or to develop the ability to see a second and a half into the future (which raises tough questions about pre-destination and free will).

Swathes of bugs, poorly-tested features and technical oversights pop up throughout the game, too; there's no way to access the options menu during a level without quitting it, and there's no checkpoint or save system if you do quit. There are objectives where clickable hotspots are hidden a fair distance away from where they're said to be. The control system for one vehicle isn't actually explained until two levels later, requiring either trial-and-error or the Skip Objective feature...

The game's art and audio is functional. The environment, character and vehicle models are passable, and – save for the main menu screen - there's no background music, just the drone of whatever vehicle is being used, if any.

Disaster Response Unit may have been a passable attempt to provide an interesting insight into the workings of the THW, but has been badly marred by poor design choices, unengaging gameplay and frustrating controls.

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