Raw Danger Throwback Review

It’s the holiday season in New Jersey, meaning I’m rained in and traffic’s at a perpetual halt. In times like this, I like to settle down with an ensemble of characters who have it worse than me! Raw Danger is a bizarre title even within the niche genre it occupies. It could best be described as a disaster survival game, a cult phenomenon that hasn’t flooded the American market and has in fact barely trickled in. It is one of two titles in the Disaster Report series (linked in design philosophy more than narrative) that has been released outside of Japan and even within its franchise there’s nothing quite like it.

It’s Christmas time in the safest city below sea level, Geo City, whose grand establishment is being celebrated and commended as a pioneer example of urban development. Amongst the bizarrely attired Mayor (in a very garish banana peel colored suit) and a celebratory crowd, you begin as the lowly Joshua Harwell, for the moment stuck attending tables and navigating around gaudy costumed mascots. Your opening hour doesn’t begin with a bang, but a mere day on the job, a dire proposition redeemed by an immediately divergent dialogue system.

Raw Danger is not an open world game, but its areas are in some respect an early example of immersive simulation. Bizarre encounters with customers, politicians, and work-staff are immediately abundant, allowing you to make Josh as professional or damagingly incompetent as you want. Glasses are dropped if you move too fast, conversations are permitted to turn awkward at any moment, but the game doesn’t end as a result of it. Raw Danger in many respects unfolds like an Alpha Protocol predecessor whose narrative is propelled forward by even more off-the-wall ambition.

Raw Danger’s gameplay is as subtle as its narrative is absurd, it’s a game about survival to the purest extent. Finding supplies and escaping scripted disaster scenarios through chases or environmental puzzles are the focus of your adventure. There’s no combat system in sight, difficult instead relying on restrained platforming where every jump reads as a risk. Where many cinematic video games use narrative to justify gameplay that barely deviates from the norm, Raw Danger dishes out a variety of gameplay mechanics and displays of Mother Nature’s harnessed power to make for a completely alien playing experience.

Your meandering journeys towards safety bring about jet-ski rides, taxi chases, and escapes from collapsing towers, distributed at a pace that makes their modest stature still read as spectacle. Controls are responsive with an underlying feeling that players can go off the rails at any moment, whether a product of artistic intent or technical limitation it adds tension to the methodic progression gameplay rests on. There’s a novelty to setpieces simply relying on the degradation of your environment for thrills, as you’re forced to account for your surroundings as they fall from under you. More than most any setpiece oriented video game, action in Raw Danger feels like a reflection of human adaptation. There’s very little asked of you that makes you feel superhuman. You’re just working with what few resources you have.

Raw Danger distances you from human limitations in the shifting perspective its story reveals itself through. Raw Danger spins something of an anthology tale, as players embody six different fates on the days of the disaster, some carrying unique game parameters, every narrative impacting others. The latter point is pivotal to what makes Raw Danger truly impressive. Your first playthrough will likely find you inadvertently setting up circumstances for characters you will soon enough play as. A fugitive of questionable guilt on the run can be sold out early on by a preceding character, morphing the former’s campaign as a result.

Narratives are standalone tales of survival, mystery, and government conspiracy that refuse to exist in a vacuum. The same inventory container is to be approached by one character in the interest of later ones, with players given the opportunity to sacrifice their possessions for the benefit of later gameplay.

Despite moral implications operating on a much smaller scale than the massacres pivotal to most video game campaigns, I questioned much of my behavior towards other characters knowing I would have to live through the results later on. Nonetheless, the ability to be selfish or purely a lunatic always presents itself as an option and perhaps makes the game even more entertaining. With hasty localization only enhancing matters, dialogue can turn ridiculous at any decided moment. This also includes decisions to steal a chef’s hat as he dangles from a ledge or make passing attempts at romance that are open to failing entirely if deployed at random.

Characters don’t always necessarily deserve saving, but the least likable at one point may benefit you later. Information is withheld from players to ensure that you are met with a few twists and unforeseen ramifications regardless of the decisions you make. Surviving alongside NPC companions equally relies on compromise on harder difficulties. Players need to eat and surrender food over to AI companions at various points in the game, cooked at established points while the gathering of supplies is more open-ended. The game is generous enough with item placements that you will never catch yourself in a loop of death from starvation, but you do have to look for items, cushioned by your hunger fully replenishing after a death.

Any departure from the beaten path will result in finding food, along with clothes (which gradually lose water resistance) and collectable compasses with increasingly irreverent designs. The survival mechanics are surprisingly intricate even a full decade removed, and players are given actual incentive to explore as the game’s charm only reveals itself further when players take time to explore.

Clothing maps itself to characters in real time and roughly 75 percent of it is ridiculous. Playing God with the fates of others in a Santa hat and eyepatch is as mortifying as it is hilarious, but Raw Danger seems to be in on the joke. Its deliberately wandering structure serves as a vessel for absurd interactions between characters that could be completely by ignored by players who rush through.

Character dynamics can be remarkably nuanced as each piece of the anthology aims to focus on character progression and renders Geo City a living environment. If players oblige, it makes for an idiosyncratic story whose structural ambition makes up for the occasional lack in narrative articulation. If players resist, Raw Danger becomes an absurdist comedy whose characters become increasingly disgusted with each other but are unable to escape elsewhere.

The need to escape is the motif connecting every character you play as, often escape from natural disaster, but also the danger and inconvenience other survivors bring to you. The trust established between characters is generally just an act of desperation, and it adds a nervous energy to each character’s journey. Disaster sequences in of themselves can seem a bit lumbering, chalked up to a relatively low (but steady) framerate and the limitations of the PS2, but stand out contextually as disruptions of otherwise slow-burning tension between characters. Present car chases and jumping puzzles benefit from having visible build-up and downtime between them, paying off like an actual disaster film by making these moments count.

Much of the gameplay that is neither finding supplies nor surviving a deceptively optimized setpiece (the game is very good at making setpieces seem engulfing, despite being saddled with mid-PS2 era tech), centers in on a new mechanic for its respective characters. Puzzle-platforming characterizes the on-foot escape from a convention center. The Taxi driver you play as later on remains in his vehicle for much of his campaign. The escaped fugitive has to navigate the city stealthily while running an investigation of her own. Each character is acquainted with a unique playstyle to allow each campaign to ring home as its own experience.

Raw Danger carries the sort of ambition a budget price and strange localization job cannot undermine. In fact those variables only make the game a more impressive, charming swing for the fences that has never really been followed up in the industry. This is why for the holidays I am content to settle down with one of my favorite cult games yet again. That and the fact that every other Christmas game sucks.