The story concerns Keith Helm, a newspaper reporter who while commuting to work on Stiver Island, a deadly Earthquake hits. Stranded on the island, he teams up with a girl and together they explore the wreckage to find supplies and a way to be rescued. Over the course of the game, it is revealed that not everything is the way it seems- and that the earthquake may not be a purely natural disaster...
The gameplay is survival horror fare, albeit with a heavy emphasis on exploration and survival instead of horror; there are no zombies to kill, no monsters around the next corner, and you never even find a weapon, much less have the ability to fight. Instead, you're faced with the prospect of increasingly dangerous situations, like being trapped on a suspension bridge that's crumbling, escaping from a waterfront district that's rapidly becoming an underwater district, and more. A thirst meter acts as the primary focus of survival, requiring replenishment from clean water supplies. The meter drains based on physical activity (if you run with a heavy backpack on, jump around, climb, sprint instead of jog, and so on, it drains faster). There's also a health meter, depleted from injury and dangerous activity, that can only be replenished with juice or the exceedingly rare first aid kits. Various gear can be found that provides benefits, like a helmet that protects against falling debris or a pair of gloves that making climbing easier. Puzzles are generally disguised lock and key affairs, and basic platforming is required to progress. The game also has a simple item assembly system which allows you to make more advanced items like a lamp helmet or a water purifier.
The game provides a surprising amount of depth and replayability despite the (many) obvious flaws. The game had enough of a cult following to warrant 3 sequels.
Not to be confused with Disaster: Day of Crisis, a later game that also dealt with natural disasters.
This series provides examples of:
- Advancing Wall of Doom: There are multiple occasions where Keith must run from rapidly rising waters and collapsing buildings.
- Always Close: Averted, usually. In most cases you have a certain amount of time to escape a dangerous situation, and taking too long will result in your death. There is the occasional Video Game Setpiece, though, such as climbing a ladder at the beginning seconds before the platform you were just on goes falling into the sea.
- American Kirby Is Hardcore: The Japanese version boxart◊ is minimalistic, not showing much at all. The European boxart◊ opts for a red cover featuring Kelly and Greg. The North American◊ boxart, on the other hand, puts much more emphasis on the disaster aspect of the game.
- Big Bad: The mastermind behind the earthquakes threatening Stiver Island is Albert Sims, director of the Land Development Department that made the island and is being paid by an unknown client to destroy it.
- Book Ends:"June, 2005. Sunny. I'm heading towards Stiver Island to start my new job as a reporter.""June, 2005. Rainy. Stiver Island just disappeared outside my window."
- Collection Sidequest: Interestingly enough, compasses are the series' main collectible, letting you set ones you find as your default view during gameplay.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: The ending reveals that the artificial island is being subjected to massive earthquakes and sinking due to the island's creator sinking it in an act of revenge against the people that wronged him. However, the player discovers and points out that the people he sought revenge against were framed in an attempt to make him do exactly what he did, prompting a Taking You with Me towards the true Big Bad.
- Death Seeker: William thinks that Greg is this, due to him willingly putting himself into dangerous situations for the sake of finding a good scoop.
- Escort Mission: Most of the game can qualify as this, but one section in particular has you transporting William on your back with your movement significantly slowed down.
- Fight to Survive: The environment itself is your enemy and often the buildings you're in will collapse even as you pass through them.
- Fire Hose Cannon: In the level in the Lincoln Plaza, you come across a fire hose. At first, you use one that's on the ground floor - and it's incredibly powerful. How much? Well, it's so strong that it destroy debris like it was nothing. Better yet, you eventually use it to take down the only boss in this game - a helicopter containing the Bazooka Goon, by either "shooting" at an elevator lift or suspended pillars that resemble a chandelier. Either one will send it crashing and exploding. Read that again: you take down a helicopter with a fire hose.
- Freudian Excuse: Terry's reason for sinking Stiver Island is to take revenge against the government due to a lack of safety procedures in the operation that resulted in a landslide killing his family.
- Hammerspace: Averted. Your backpack can only hold so much, and you will inevitably have to make a decision as to whether that extra water bottle or that crowbar will be more useful to you.
- Hello, [Insert Name Here]: In the Japanese version, the player could rename the protagonist. This was removed from the international release, making his default name Keith Helm.
- Holler Button: Using this in front of either Karen or Kelly will result in them waving at you.
- Improbable Infant Survival: Kelly is worried about her younger brother's whereabouts on the island after the earthquake hits. Thankfully, he turns out to be alive and well.
- Intrepid Reporter: Greg and William qualify as this to a tee, with both of them choosing to stay behind on the slowly sinking island just to look for a good scoop.
- Inventory Management Puzzle: Your backpacks can only hold so many items, forcing you to pick and choose what to keep and what to break down into other components, or combine with other objects. Later games put more of a focus on the weight of objects.
- Item Crafting: Find the right things during the disaster and you can combine them to make something helpful, like affixing a flashlight to a helmet.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Greg - in the canon ending/s, Ending 1 and 2, he takes a bullet for Karen/Kelly when the Sniper Goon attempts to shoot her. Plus, the fact that he makes sure that Keith, Karen and Kelly are with him and that the girls need someone with them for protection shows his warm side.
- Large Ham: Albert Simms, the main antagonist. Even his chuckling is hammy. Combine it with his funny facial expressions when he's angry, and it's pretty amusing.
- Multiple Endings: Of the "multiple paths" variant. No matter which path you take, you will eventually uncover the conspiracy at the heart of the earthquake. However, how you get there, who you get there with, and who survives are all dependent on your actions.
- Race Lift: The very Japanese-looking cast had their hair recolored (mostly blond) to give them a more Caucasian appearance.
- Rainbow Pimp Gear: Various pieces of clothing you find can help protect you against the disasters going on or otherwise improve your odds of survival, which can lead to your characters looking quite silly.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here: You're offered an opportunity to get off the island twice before the true ending of the game. In both cases, doing so means that you're leaving someone else behind to fend for themselves, with the implication that they will not be able to do so and will die. These endings count as successfully completing the game.
- Story Branching: About a quarter ways into the game, Keith has to choose to either go with Kelly to her house to rescue her dog, or go by himself to the amusement park. Regardless of which route you choose, Greg will always leave you until you get to the stadium.
- Unexpected Genre Change: About three-quarters of the way through the game, the destruction of the island takes a backseat as two men, armed with a rocket launcher and sniper rifle, try very hard to kill you, thanks to you having uncovered the conspiracy. There's also several shorter stealth sequences in the game.
- Video Game Cruelty Potential: There are Multiple Endings throughout the game where Keith can choose to escape the island prematurely, leaving his companions behind.
- Wizard Needs Food Badly: A thirst meter was a major aspect of the first game, keeping you hunting for viable sources of clean water as well as bottles to hold more in your backpack.