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Disaster Waiting to Happen

Game On: "Raw Danger," Playstation 2, $14.99, T for Teen


Published June 27, 2007 at 5:05 p.m.


Welcome a new gaming genre.

Fitting neatly between the survival horror of countless zombie games and the action platformers made famous by the 3-D Mario titles, it might be called “disaster survival.” While only a handful of examples exist to define the category, with the release of “Raw Danger,” we need a term for it.

The game eases into its subject matter, starting you out as a banquet waiter in a fancy hotel situated in a near-future city that floats in the middle of a giant bay. You flirt with your fellow waitstaff, run errands and serve mineral water to the mayor.

But the banality doesn’t last any longer than it does in the best of disaster cinema. Heavy rains, telltale leaks and a damp carpet foreshadow an impending flood. When walls of water sweep away hotel guests and hotel walls alike, the waiter predictably emerges as the hero.

Wading through a waist-high torrent in a floor-length apron, you must navigate all sorts of disaster hazards — like sparking electrical wires and blocked passageways — while trying to find keys and stay warm.

Ah yes, stay warm. By speeding up the natural process of hypothermia, the game simulates urgency: You need to find places to warm up and dry off — or else.

The game sticks to the disaster-film formula made famous by such great epics as The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure, in which every solution gives rise to a new complication. This treadmill of adversity provides a straightforward adventure-game structure, in which looking for items and solving puzzles takes up most of your attention. It’s also the mythic spine on which the designers string a particularly involved story-line.

Ample opportunities for dialogue selection nudge the action one way or another, while the interaction of three different stories creates “aha!” moments when choices you’ve made as one character turn out to affect what you can do as another.

The linear problem-solving, last-generation graphics and high-school-drama-club voice acting may turn some players off. But, as when you’re watching an old B-movie survival flick, you may find yourself being sucked in regardless of the second-rate production values.

And, to be fair, although the sets and setting don’t feature the shine and gloss of an AAA title on the PlayStation 3, the game manages to capture the bigger-than-life excitement that disaster-based entertainment should provide. The game’s water doesn’t look real. But rushing through the collapsed lobby of the title’s opening level still produces tense excitement. Each interlaced plotline holds enough tension to keep you sloshing around, looking for a piece of rope or some other item that will keep the story moving along.

More than anything, “Raw Danger” — and its predecessor, “Disaster Report” — show that as long as you come up with a plausible narrative and include enough jeopardy and excitement, you can make a game about anything.