In 2010, there was a game called Deadly Premonition that shipped with barely any advertising and a fairly limited run. While many game sites were quick to judge the game for its outdated visuals and incredibly poor controls, those who looked beyond the its technical problems found what Destructoid called “a beautiful trainwreck” that delighted many with its surrealism. Originally an Xbox 360 exclusive, Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut brings the fortune telling coffee-infused madness to the PlayStation 3 with better graphics, additional story content and improved controls. For those who already played through it on the 360, are these features enough to warrant a replay? Not really. The game still looks dated, is a massive chore to control and the additional story elements aren’t enough to justify a $40 re-purchase. Those who haven’t played the game are in for a beautiful nightmare.
Deadly Premonition is, by and large, an homage to David Lynch’s cult television series “Twin Peaks.” Francis York Morgan fills the role of Dale Cooper as an intelligent yet eccentric and socially awkward FBI Special Agent who has arrived in the sleepy town of Greenvale (naturally located in the Pacific Northwest) after the body of a brutalized young woman is discovered. Much like “Twin Peaks,” the murder casts a spotlight on Greenvale’s sinister underbelly caused by a mysterious event that occurred fifty years in the past, as well as a local folklore legend about an axe murderer who attacks victims when it rains. With its inspiration coming from a television show, Deadly Premonition is broken up into smaller chapters contained within episodes and bookended by “Previously during the investigation…” recap sequences.
Deadly Premonition is a third person survival horror adventure where the majority of the action takes place within crime scenes and other investigative areas. During these moments, York finds himself thrown into an alternate dimension in which the area has grown dilapidated and overrun with sickly red vines. In order to escape, he must find the pieces necessary to create a profile of events. York’s primary adversary in the parallel world are ghost-like zombie creatures that crawl out from walls and floors. At times, York will even come face to face with the Raincoat Killer and must either hide or flee from the psychotic murderer via painfully uncomfortable quick time events. The zombies, on the other hand, can be dispatched by an arsenal of weaponry that can be purchased from a local vendor or picked up from fallen enemies. Despite being survival horror, the game is very lenient and provides an overabundance of ammo and health pick-ups and even offers the player weapons with infinite ammo, making combat both manageable and ultimately meaningless. When not investigating, York is free to roam Greenvale to complete side quests and partake in various mini-games. While York is mandated to be in certain areas at a specific time (a la Dead Rising), there is no need for haste given the generous window of time in between each story sequence.
As it was in the Xbox 360 version, so too is Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut easy to write off as a bad game. One of the game’s bullet point features were the updated controls and yet it still suffers from feeling extremely clunky and outdated. In fact, even though I played the original game I came away from the re-release not knowing what exactly had changed. The graphics have the same problem. While they have been beefed up in a few spots it seems to have put some strain on the engine. Texture pop-in and draw distance are very noticeable and have been known to cause severe, crippling drops in framerate. There are problems with character animations at a distance as they lack fluidity – as if a several frames of animation were removed to make the game work. Topping off the myriad of technical problems is a broken audio system that plays music at random volumes and most of the dialog sounds as if it were re-recorded from the inside of a closet.
Deadly Premonition is a poorly made game, that much is clear. That said, there is still value in the experience providing you’re willing to look beyond the game’s faults. Doing so reveals an experience that is greater than the sum of its parts. What Deadly Premonition does well is tell an engaging murder mystery set in a well built world (narratively speaking) made up by a colorful tapestry of bizarre and memorable characters.
The mystery is well developed with enough twists to keep the player guessing as to who may be involved. Even though I already played the game back in 2010, I found myself easily sucked in by the major story beats. The story’s final act goes a bit off the rails (resulting in a typical Japanese-flavored twist), but the entire dramatic experience is surprising considering the overall quality of the game. As good as the story is, the brightest highlight is its sense of humor. It’s delightfully weird with hints of surrealism which is what some might expect when a thoroughly Japanese development studio sets a game within a thoroughly American location. Much of the humor is derived from the cast of characters. Each person comes along for the ride with their own set of eccentricities and behaviors which makes for pure entertainment when York is put in the same room with them. York, who delights in rambling about movies from the 1980s with his invisible companion “Zach,” channels his inner Agent Cooper by employing a blunt manner of speech and talking well over everyone’s head. The memorable soundtrack is also a source of the game’s humor as jaunty, upbeat tunes are often used during inappropriate moments.
Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut is a delightfully weird game that, despite all of its many faults, has more heart and soul than any other budget title. It most certainly won’t appeal to a large mainstream audience but those who fancy themselves connoisseurs of “so bad it’s good” video games and film will delight in the Lynchian nature of the experience. Repeat players may not get enough out of the re-release as the changes made aren’t enough to warrant an additional playthrough, and the added story elements are short chapter interludes that provides a more concrete ending to the story. Deadly Premonition fever has long since waned since 2010 but the game is a nice little piece of popular video game culture. I doubt that the re-release will inspire a second renaissance but for those who missed out on the experience the first time will find it to be a delightful curiosity piece.