Deadly Premonition Review
Deadly Premonition Review
Genre: I don’t even know what to call this. Open world psychological horror action-adventure? Maybe?
Release Date: October 29 2013 (original release: February 17, 2010)
Developer: Access Games
Platform: PC (reviewed), Xbox 360, PS3
Deadly Premonition was originally released as an Xbox 360 exclusive in 2010, but since has had a few updated re-releases and ports. To celebrate the Steam release, I decided to do this review. Deadly Premonition is a very odd game: the animations are janky, the combat is awkward, the dialogue is stilted, and the overworld is very empty. Every individual aspect of the game feels unnatural. However, as a whole it forms an amazing experience; every aspect comes together to form an extremely unique experience. It’s one of the oddest games I’ve ever played, but also one of my favorites.
The game starts with FBI Agent Francis York Morgan (you can call him York) entering the small town of Greenvale to solve the murder of a young girl. He and the local police force will work together using every method available, including some very strange ones (such as using his coffee to tell the future or talking to his imaginary friend), to solve the crime. Along the way he will meet with a large variety of quirky characters, each with their own subplots and backstories. Deadly Premonition is heavily inspired by Twin Peaks, a supernatural/mystery drama from the early 90s that managed to find a huge following in Japan. There are several scenes that closely mimic Twin Peaks. For example, both the show and game have a scene where the FBI agent gathers everyone in the community center to give a short presentation about the murder.
York is not an average FBI agent. His methods are strange; he seems to seriously believe that he can tell the future by looking in his daily coffee. He likes to talk about gruesome details of previous cases while people are trying to eat. He loves bad horror flicks and rock music, and he regularly talks about them to his imaginary friend, Zach. York will regularly talk to Zach, usually about the investigation, although you shouldn’t expect to hear him talk back. This actually is quite genius; this is the game’s way of letting the main character directly talk to the player.
Without getting into too many spoilers, the story features York and the police force trying to solve the murder of Anna Graham. Along the way it becomes apparent that this is the work of The Raincoat Killer. Originally thought to be a myth, he apparently exists and is now back on the hunt. As the story progresses more murders occur, along with new breakthroughs in the investigation. While some sections of the story are slow, they’re all part of one gradual buildup to what is possibly one of the best and most satisfying endings I’ve ever experienced in a video game.
The main draw however are the characters. While there are a few I don’t like (particularly Sigourney), every character is memorable in their own way. General Lysander owns the junkyard, can upgrade your car, and loves to tell old war stories. Jack the Raging Bull is the owner of the gas station, who acts like a biker and has a deep hatred for law enforcement. Brian the Insomniac runs the graveyard, and is possibly a ghost that died in a hit and run accident. None of these characters can be considered generic by any means, and they help the game feel alive.
The tone and atmosphere is a bit schizophrenic. At one point you’re being chased by the killer, and it’s horrific and frightening. You have to hide from him, and control your breath so he doesn’t hear you, but he can still sense your fear. Ten minutes later York has escaped, is back in his hotel, and is trying to find secret messages in his coffee. Amazingly enough, the transition from horror to humor and back again always works out.
Deadly Premonition is filled with foreshadowing and little hints to the identity of the killer. It’s one of those stories where once you know the main twist, you can re-evaluate the entire game in a new light. Suddenly an innocuous sentence said by one character is actually an admission of guilt. Side quests that seemed unconnected to the main storyline now are shown to have some direct connections. You can even find the a picture of the main bad guy in the very first level, but no one would ever notice it on their first play through.
The game has combat, puzzles, open world gameplay, driving, minigames, and more. You will move through every part of the town, from the old lumber mill, to the hospital, to the cemetery, and more. In most cases you’ll be sent to the “otherworld”. Here the whole area is much creepier, and filled with enemies to fight and puzzles to solve. The combat is a bit awkward, and only one enemy type dominates the game. However, the monsters you will face are legitimately creepy; some will moan “I don’t want to die” upon death, and the way they move and act is unnerving. Even worse is that they don’t fight York, but try to force themselves down his esophagus. At crime scenes you’ll need to find clues to help decipher what went on, but for the most part that’s automated. Sometimes, the Raincoat Killer will appear and you’ll need to run from him and hide. You have the ability to hold your breath, which is necessary to sneak by him unnoticed.
The world has a 24-hour clock with many people having a determined route to take. It’s nice to be able to see the daily routines of all the different side-characters and it plays into the side quest system. Throughout the game you’ll encounter many people who need your help. Doing so usually initiates a side quest with a nice little reward at the end. However, almost none of them are related to the murder investigation. Some side quests can only be done at certain times, so you’ll need to manage your time effectively. Most of the minigames are presented through one of these side quests, such as darts and fishing. Driving is usually a simple affair, but there are a few time trials that reward you with collectable cards. However the actual driving is awkward, with cars being very hard to control properly. The game brings together so many different, and sometimes diametrically opposed, gameplay styles – yet it all seems to fit together.
Sadly, the PC version seems to have some issues. As it’s a Japanese game being ported to consoles by a third-party it’s to be expected that there are some optimization problems. There doesn’t seem to be a way to change most graphics settings, at least without mods, and there are some reports of bugs and occasional frame rate issues. However, it’s certainly still playable, and completely worth it.
Throughout the game you’ll be asking yourself: Why? Why are there racing minigames? Why am I using a guitar as a weapon? Why do I regularly need to shave and wash my clothes? Why does the town have a huge hospital, police station and lumber mill when there are stated to be less than 600 people in the town? Why is there evidence stuck in a tree? Why am I getting bonus points for shooting an empty box? And finally: why is this game so perfect? It’s unnatural, surreal, weird and seems to not only ignore but flat-out go against all the standard rules on how to make a game. And that’s why I think it’s one of the best games ever made. It’s so unique, weird and vivid, with so much effort, care and love poured into it. This is my example of a perfect game, the kind of game every other game should strive to be. Not in that every game should be a quirky mystery story, but that developers shouldn’t be afraid to go beyond what is considered acceptable and do their own thing.