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SOS: The Final Escape is a survival game for the Playstation 2 created by Irem in 2002. You play the role of Keith Helm, a reporter who makes his way to the man-made Shriver Island in order to start his new job as a newspaper editor in Capital City. However, upon his arrival an enormous earthquake occurs, leaving him trapped in the city as aftershocks occur and buildings and structures collapse all around him. He gradually finds items which may help him survive and other survivors, as he tries to find a way out of Capital City alive, whilst also uncovering a vast conspiracy regarding the island.
When I first played SOS, it seemed to be an entirely new style of game which I had never seen before. As you navigate buildings and roads which could collapse at any minute, the game is incredibly suspenseful and exciting. The game takes you through a wide variety of locations, from collapsing bridges and crumbling city streets to skyscrapers and an amusement park, and the graphics, whilst a bit cartoony, are reasonably good. The gameplay is pretty good too with fluid character movement, although it takes a little getting used to. The storyline is engrossing, it starts off as a run-of-the-mill disaster movie format and then turns into something different as a conspiracy is gradually unravelled. A minor drawback is that in many parts you are required to move very slowly, since things could collapse around you at any time, so the game can get a little slow in parts. That said, there are some incredibly exciting levels.
Overall, this game is an incredibly entertaining one, and not like any other game I have ever seen. The combination of action and puzzle-solving is a winning one and I recommend this game to anyone who has not yet played it.
Known as Disaster Report in other territories, SOS The Final Escape is one of these adventure titles that ultimately slipped in under the radar and mainly stayed there. The same can be said of a Wii title - Disaster Day of Crisis) which also featured several natural disasters yet failed to achieve a wide audience. This game allows you to play as a young journalist called Keith, who on his first day at work on man-made Stiver Island is caught in the middle of an earthquake and is accidentally left in the ruins of the city's airport bridge. With no way back to the Airport, Keith is forced into the city to try and find his way an escape route, and ultimately discovers a conspiracy that started back with the Island's construction.
There's a likeable cast of survivors for you to band with - Karen the University student who is the niece of the island's creator, Greg the Photojournalist and Williams, Keith's Editor all flesh out the story of Capital City as you investigate the abandoned ruins and try and piece together the puzzle. The plotline is reasonably good with a couple of twists that are actually unexpected which were a pleasant surprise. There are also seven different endings to the game which can occur - I've only found 4 so good luck finding the other three!
Graphically it's a bit of a mixed bag - the actual colors and building designs are rather bland and blocky. You get the impression the world was made out of Lego as everything looks blocky. Mind you, what sops the game looking bland is the constant earthquake tremors that have a nightmarish effect on the surrounding area. Early on in the game you arrive at the city and a tremor occurs. This causes the freeway to collapse sidewards; a quick reaction is needed to avoid getting turned into mush by 200 tonne of conctrete and car! These events are incredibly impressive and breath a lot of life into the game and keeps you on your toes throughout. Two other favourites have to be the City Football Stadium which roof decides to collapse in pieces as you make a mad dash for the exit and the city carlot where you have to run up dozens of flights of stairs to avoid being swept away by a torrent of sea water!
The voice acting is reasonably good although it does sound stilted in places. At times you get the impression the characters aren't all that scared of the earthquake that has destroyed the city around them, speaking in a monotone that doesn't really convey that much excitement or horror. There isn't a great deal of music to the game, although that works in its favor as the wind blowing through the wrecked skyscrapers creates a more chilling tone for the player.
Gameplay is reasonably simple with control of the character via the D-pad being simple to operate from the get-go. You also have a bag which is useful to hold onto essential items and equipment. The best options though are the Map which give you a detailed layout of the city and a character chart which shows the relationships between all the characters as you progress through the game. It's a novel feature that helps you keep track of what's going on. The further you go in the game companions will add details to your map to help you find items or destinations to go to. This helps enormously in finding out where to go next since you are in a destroyed world and the roads aren't usually a good route.
The game isn't entirely linear since there are choices that affect the outcome of the game and where you go in the city. Early on you have the choice of going with Karen North to her home or with Greg along the coast Westwards to the Hospital. Each choice presents it's own challenges although eventually the characters meet up again.
There are also some refreshing stealth sections later in the game where you have to avoid armed guards in an abandoned mall. It's a nightmare to cplete and took me a good while to complete but it was well constructed and made for a good challenge. It adding to the tension of the game and I loved it to bits!
At the end of the day ,while not being the best example of natural disaster gaming, it's by no means a poor effort. It just feels like it ccould have been even better than it was, although Disaster Day of Crisis (not releated to this game) improved on it in several departments. This game has spawned several sequels in the last few years and if they're as good as this, I'll be quite happy to buy them soon!
June 21st is a very long day for Keith Helm. As he heads into Stiver Island for his first days work as a Journalist for the Town Crier Newspaper, a massive Earthquake hits, derailing the train he is travelling on and leaving him on a bridge that's crumbling at an alarming rate. Things are no better in the city; he can barely move for collapsing buildings and flying debris - escape becomes the number one priority.
Irem, best known for their long-revered shoot 'em up R-Type, released this nifty (though almost completely overlooked) title back in 2002. Though SOS: The Final Escape isn't going to cause the Silent Hill's or Resident Evil's of this world any problems, it deserves it's footnote in the PS2's detailed history purely because its take on the adventure genre is so unusual. Its control configuration and mode of exploration borrows heavily from survival-horror games, though remarkably there is no combat at all in SOS and very few enemies either.
And as such, it doesn't offer a great deal of challenging gameplay or high-octane thrills. Exploration is linear and the events rigidly pre-determined, though this is intentional as the game consciously strives to generate a filmic feel; it positively delights in subjecting the player to a myriad of cinematic angles as all manner of giant structures comes crashing down upon them.
You can't help but admire how elaborate the settings are. You are shepherded along in a very orderly manner, though the tremors cause layouts of the levels to shift before your eyes - a car may roll into the road in front of you and then become active within the field of play as you can use it to climb to somewhere previously off-limits. Likewise, you have to remain on your guard as parts of scenery are unstable to stand on and may topple if you are too slow.
The controls are passable - the lack of a first-person view function is a little disappointing as a lot goes on in your immediate surroundings and sometime the view can become too restrictive; trying to determine how big a drop is can prove a hassle and there are some instances where it would have been nice to see more than the ground in front of you when planning an escape route! Pressing L2 swings the camera around to behind Keith's position most of the time though, which works well enough. With many chunks of debris protruding from the ground, he makes an annoying habit of leaping over the smallest of inclines and sometimes launching himself into the abyss when you clearly don't intend it.
Without a combat aspect, the basic exploring feels slightly hollow despite fulfilling all other criteria expected of it. Aside from the usual key-finding and safe-cracking antics, SOS has to rely on a mixture of platform sections, mini-games and story-affecting 'decisions' on the part of the player to retain the interest, and in fairness, it does it pretty well.
The platform sections are okay - it's hardly Prince of Persia (jumps occur automatically, removing a lot of the challenge), but SOS does at least encourage you to examine what's around, and routes are not always obvious at first glance. Some of the standout moments include an into-the-screen dash as parts of a baseball stadium collapse upon you; a first-person crawl under desks as you escape a burning building; and swinging across a fire-truck ladder above a raging current, as the sea washes cars and wreckage into your path - it's like the strangest variant on Frogger you'll ever see. It's nice to see the developers invest in some variety for these pleasant diversions, though none of them are all that difficult and the gameplay as a whole still feels a little thin.
The most challenging part of SOS: The Final Escape is its rather unexpected stealth section near the end. Quite what mercenaries are doing firing rockets around a half-dilapidated skyscraper is beyond me, but some tactics are required as it's Game Over if you're so much as spotted. Cleverly, the 'crouch' function used throughout the game to guard against damage during tremors now doubles as a way of ducking behind objects to stay out of sight. It's pretty tense stuff, and culminates in an excellent section where you get to take down a helicopter with a fire-hose!
There are other hints of originality - L1 allows you to shout, alerting your accomplices or even identifying if there is another unseen person within the area. As well as a health bar, Keith must top up on water at regular intervals; his stamina gets eroded by climbs and running, though as each save point doubles as a tap this potential hazard is rarely brought into play. The inventory system is superior to most of its contemporaries as it allows the player to make new items by combining existing ones and for once, it achieves it in a simple manner, with no unwarranted complications. Keith can attain garments of clothing; a strange mixture of items used merely for cosmetic effect like the Cowboy Hat and Sunglasses, to more useful items such as gloves that prevent you taking damage from glass - it feels a bit of an after-thought in truth.
Choices you make during the course of the adventure impacts on whether you aid the either Karen or Kelly - the two are pretty similar and each share a goal that draw obvious parallels (wanting to return home to search for their missing dog/brother), but their sections within the game are impressively diverse and it's worth tackling the game a couple of times just to see where the paths branch. Better still, you never have to wait around or protect them from enemies; an aspect that has harmed games (Silent Hill 4: The Room) in the past. Whether you win the ladies affections depends largely on giving logically favourable answers to multiple choice questions ('Encourage' rather than 'Ignore' for instance), though in-game actions such as offering water, advice or (in the event of rain) an umbrella, will all help your cause too.
It's such considerations that will define which of the five endings you get. Novelly, SOS does allow you to be the 'bad guy' for a change - not only allowing you to irritate your comrades with rude/stubborn answers but also in acquiring an ending mid-way through the adventure, cutting it short by abandoning your group when a rescue boat arrives! Whilst multiple endings should in theory strengthen the replay value, the 'true' endings are actually difficult to attain as guidelines for getting them have never been adequately defined, requiring several very specific actions.
For a game of its age, SOS doesn't look too bad. Granted, the FMV's are heavily dated and Keith looks downright naff for a lead protagonist, but the female characters look great and the cityscape itself is really impressive; perhaps a touch too 'grey' and not without some slow-down on occasions, there is nevertheless a lot of detail to the surroundings both near and distant, and the show-stopping scenes of destruction provide the icing on the cake.
It says something for SOS that it remains compelling despite some of the worst voice-acting ever committed to media. Almost without exception, the dialogue is underwhelming, but villain Albert Sims and the unnamed Radio Newscaster take the proverbial biscuit with weird annunciations, gaping pauses and bizarre stammers that make Resident Evil's dialogue seem positively Shakespearean by comparison. Whilst the game offers very little music, this minimalist approach actually works in its favour somewhat, developing a strong atmosphere and heightening the players sense of danger as you listen out for bangs, crashes and ominous rumblings that could signal danger.
SOS: The Final Escape won't take up much of your time - I finished it in less than six hours first time through and around three the second time, and whilst the game will hold the attention for a few plays, the lack of challenging gameplay means it lacks a little something that could have made it great. Nonetheless, a number of clever touches make for an enjoyable diversion and one that action/adventure game fans should give a go.
The hero must uncover the truth behind the devastation by assisting fellow castaways that are found on the island!