Deadly Premonition is possibly one of the most critically polarizing games that has ever been released. IGN gave it 2/10, while Destructoid awarded it a strong 10/10. Who is right? Well, neither of them technically, but one more so than the other.
Deadly Premonition, developed by Access Games and released in 2010, is both technically and visually a game a generation too late. Developed originally for the multiple platforms under the title Rainy Woods, the game was first revealed at TGS 2007 but never saw the light of day until 3 years later. It was reworked after a number of websites noticed that it had major similarities to the TV series Twin Peaks. So, two years after its supposed original release date the world was given Deadly Premonition, possibly one of the most endearing videogames I’ve ever played.
You take on the role of Francis York Morgan, an FBI agent sent to the town of Greenvale to investigate the murder of a young woman, Anna Graham. Working alongside sheriff George Woodman and his deputy, Emily Wyatt, the simple case of murder takes a dark, disturbing turn into the realm of the supernatural. The locals of Greenvale speak of an old urban legend of a killer known as the “Raincoat Killer”, an urban legend that is starting to unfold before their eyes.
Deadly Premonition is a third-person adventure game with elements of survival horror. As York, the player is free to explore the town of Greenvale either on-foot or by car. This can be done between missions, and while it may sometimes come across as a worthless task, it lets the player explore Greenvale and its surrounding area, which is the heart of the games endearing quality. However, the townsfolk aren’t just stationary objects freely available to you. They go about their daily lives, work, and eventually head home at night. The locals can be interacted with, they can offer side-missions for York to complete, and even be interviewed as suspects in “Raincoat Killer” murders. They’re always on the go, living their lives, and this adds a great sense of Greenvale being a living, breathing town, if a sparsely populated one. The controls are rather cumbersome, but once gotten used to, aren’t the problem they may seem at first. On-foot exploration is interesting if a bit slow paced, while the car handling can be ultra responsive to the point of infuriation at times. But again, once gotten used to, you learn to work with its faults and enjoy it for what it is. Once this happens, driving tends be one of the more enjoyable and relaxing aspects of the game.
Missions usually revolve around 3 principals- finding clues, killing enemies, and puzzle solving. Upon starting these kinds of missions the game goes into full survival horror mode. This is when the game goes less Twin Peaks and more Raccoon City. The player can use two types of weapons that range the likes of an axe, scythe, and katana, to a pistol, shotgun, and machine gun. Enemies emerge out of the ground and walls, contort their bodies horribly, and advance towards you all the while moaning phrases like, “Kill me!” and “Oh god!”. Control-wise Deadly Premonition takes a page out of Resident Evil 4′s book for these segments, going for a more over-the-shoulder point of view, and keeping the player fixed to the ground when aiming and firing. It’s all very rudimentary, never really drops many surprises, sometimes lacking, but always takes a back-seat to the real meat of the game- exploring Greenvale. That said, these segments can get rather creepy, especially when the player comes into contact with the “Raincoat Killer”, parts that while sadly are QTE segments, do invoke a sense of helplessness and danger.
But just like the people of Greenvale are living out their lives, you’ll need to do that too. To survive day-by-day, York must eat and sleep. Food can be bought at any store or found during the game, while various beds can be slept in too. Optionally, York may also choose to shave. Not doing so will result is a pretty nifty beard that keeps growing.
The cast of Deadly Premonition is great. The protagonist is a unique, charming, and a funny main focal point to the game, and one of my favourite main characters in recent gaming memory. He talks about random film trivia during the car driving sequences, makes little light hearted jokes at a bloody crime scene, while always taking time to talk to “Zach”, an unseen character, which is technically you, the player! But you also have memorable characters like Emily Wyatt, a superb Naomi Watts look-a-like main female lead, Harry Stewart, a gas mask wearing , wheelchair bound man who only speaks through his helper, and Roaming Sigourney, a batshit insane old lady who speaks to a cooking pot. While some of the voice acting is admittedly wooden at times, the script is fantastic, and obliviously takes nods from Twin Peaks with it’s blending of the deadly serious and laughably surreal, usually at the same time. It’s also quite funny too, with some scenes filled with all kids of innuendos. For instance, while getting gas at the local gas station, the very scantily clad Gina the Rose tells York “Let me know if you want me to pump it”. Which leads me on to the music, which again, is very much like Twin Peaks. There is a scene in Deadly Premonition that perfect encapsulates the approach to the tone of the music, and how it sometimes doesn’t fit the scene it’s played during, mostly in a tongue-in-cheek manner. Upon arriving at a murder scene, sheriff Woodman implies that the killer may have pleasured himself near the corpse. York lights up a smoke and brings up the fact that if that were the case, there would be some “evidence” that he did so. This scene plays out all the while cheery, upbeat whistling music goes on in the background. Beyond those lovably unusual scenes, the music is Deadly Premonition is unique, layered, diverse, and a real important piece in puzzle of what makes this game so damn good.
Graphically Deadly Premonition will disappoint some players. While the graphics aren’t terrible, it is plainly obvious that this was a title that was originally developed for the previous generation of consoles. It’s quite rough in many places, but oddly enough it’s graphical drawbacks almost add to its sense of quirkiness. Despite graphical woes, Greenvale itself is rather impressive, nicely laid out, and has a wonderfully realistic sense of scale between locations.
Overall Deadly Premonition is a fantastic game. You can explore an entire town and its inhabitants, enjoy missions that are Resident Evil 4 knock-offs, fish, play darts, collect cards, buy and collect different cars, enjoy a daily lunch made at the sheriffs department, to later swing by the diner and wonder just what the hell “F-K in the coffee” means. Truth be told, Deadly Premonition isn’t going to be everyone cup of coffee, er… I mean tea. But while it does have its drawbacks, it’s still one of the most endearing, atmospheric, and alluring games I have ever played. It pulls you in, keeps a hold of you, and doesn’t let go. It’s a damn fine game.