Wot I Think: Deadly Premonition

By Adam Smith on November 6th, 2013 at 1:00 pm.

Deadly Premonition is fascinating, broken, bizarre, enormous, boring, brilliant and absolutely unsuitable to play on my PC (Durante’s fix helps though). I’ve laboured through more crashes than SID-H3, as well as wrestling with awkward mouse and keyboard controls. Eventually I resorted to playing in a window because that seemed to cause fewer collisions with the desktop. I wouldn’t have persevered for a lesser game, even though, at times, this is the least of games. Here’s wot I think.

For those who have been living under a Rock, Paper, Shotgun for the last few years, Deadly Premonition may be an unknown quantity. Originally released on one console and eventually ported to another console, it’s taken a long time to find its way to these hallowed shores. Unfortunately, it arrives in a rubber dinghy and has used the seat of its own trousers to patch the most obvious holes in the vessel. Bare-bum to the breeze, Deadly Premonition makes Dark Souls’ PC port look like a bottle of 1855 Taylor Fladgates Scion. While the latter could have been described as ‘functional’, in the sneering way that Jeremy Clarkson might describe a Vauxhall Vectra, Deadly Premonition sometimes doesn’t manage to function.

Admittedly, not everybody has had quite such a horrible experience with the game, but I can’t start the engine of a car without the game locking up, unless I’m playing in a window rather than fullscreen. In a game that is based in an area that contains large empty pieces of nothing between important objectives, side missions and odd discoveries, that’s a problem.

If I travelled everywhere on foot, poor Agent York would be exhausted and if he spends the whole day sleeping, I’ll miss out on meeting some of Greenvale’s most interesting people and becoming involved in their unusual lives. Deadly Premonition, you see, is an open world survival horror comedy, a sweet-scented pop culture potpourri that occasionally farts out the rancid odour of a serial killer’s unwashed drainage system. At times, its contents are far stranger than even its swollen reputation might prepare a newcomer to expect but it can also be painfully ordinary, presenting a repetitious blandscape to navigate, using awkward controls and mapping.

The dips and troughs in quality and interest are difficult to measure, given the freedom of all but the opening hours and the disordered nature of all but the key missions, but I can say one thing with certainty – this is a game that begins badly, blunders often and ends beautifully.

The opening has all the subtlety and grace of a piece of Twin Peaks fan fiction, smugly conceived by somebody who hasn’t understood anything about Twin Peaks except Coffee, Lumber, Dreams, Dead Young Woman and FBI. Nothing is explained, so the player is left to wonder if flickering static and garbled images are intended to portray psychic profiling or investigative abilities, and whether the nasty locals with flexible spines and hollow eyesockets are possessed, hallucinated or the living dead. York, our wax-faced hero, doesn’t shed any light on the matter, happy just to shoot them and celebrate every headshot with a contented yelp.

Rather than inspiring curiosity, it’s frustrating, like Alan Wake on a hundredth of the budget and wearing a self-consciously wacky hat. The voice acting and animations are wooden, there’s a linear path to follow, full of cloned enemies, and York can only progress by switching on generators to open locked gates. In hindsight, the introductory scenes are reminiscent of the distancing effect that takes place in Silent Hill 2’s opening meander, during which expectations of immediate horrors drain and tension builds. Deadly Premonition begins with a level of weird that is banal and expected in the context of third-person survival horror. It keeps players at arm’s length for a good while, and what big arms it has, but gradually it reels them in and shows its true hand.

A few hours after York’s arrival in town, he’d spoken at length of his love for Spielberg’s ‘panic movies’ while alone in a car, always addressing the unseen Zach. He’d shown up at a meeting in the middle of the night, only to find the community centre closed, and he’d then wandered the streets looking for a jar of pickles to eat as his suit became drenched with rain and sweat, and his stubble threatened to blossom into a brambling beard. Forget hunting the killer. I needed to shave and do some laundry

Without fully explaining the accruing features, Deadly Premonition ceases to be what it was and becomes a compressed RPG, in which the player character’s hunger and exhaustion must be managed, in which NPCs follow routines, and can be tracked, trailed and spied on in their own homes. At a certain point, just over a couple of hours into the story, York is left to interpret the case on his own and while there’s always an objective to follow, most of what the game has to show is away from the main path, taking place at odd hours of the day, in houses, cafes and seemingly abandoned places.

Greenvale isn’t a ‘living world’ in any sense. It’s more like a fairground attraction, a ghost train in which animatronic figures shudder in and out of position as their timers tick down. York is a mechanic and a spectator inside a broken funhouse machine, attempting to fix the world inside by understanding it, which he can only do by being in the right place at the right time.

While it’s possible to miss sideplots, characters and some of the game’s strongest parts of the game’s script, advancing the main storyline is simple enough. Go to the designated location between certain hours of the day and a cutscene will occur, often followed by some basic exploration or one of the many lengthy combat interludes, which can be laborious but never managed to repel me entirely.

There’s usually something of interest to see, even when corridors and puzzles warp and repeat like the reflections in carnival mirrors, but the actual process of killing weird apparitions is dull. Aim, fire, aim, fire, back away, aim, fire, reload, switch weapons – all at a slow pace. And then there are chase sequences that might as well be taking place underwater, with all participants wearing concrete shoes. Buttons are hammered – Daley Thompson’s Decathlon in a rusty tunnel, a red-eyed serial killer at the back of the pack.

Flitting between all of the fractured elements, the story and characters are the glue that holds Deadly Premonition together. Whether it’s York’s darker and smarmier Dale Cooper or ‘King’ George the sheriff, the people of Greenvale all find their way to demolish fourth walls, playing to the camera like the denizens of an unscreenable sitcom, or acknowledging their lack of agency and the weird rules of the world that has been created around them.

The game sometimes fits the story it’s telling like a two-dollar suit wrapped around the six million dollar man, and normally that’d cause me to lose interest faster than the victim of a payday loan, but the shabby jacket is a necessary part of Deadly Premonition’s persona. Interactivity is introduced in layers – first of all, York can run, strike and shoot, later he can drive, eat and sleep, eventually he can independently investigate, learn and explore. Actions and interactions are in a process of evolution.

I’ve tried to avoid typing these four letters in sequence, but META. META META META. There’s an argument to be made that Deadly Premonition is a game entirely about itself, a ludological conversation, or perhaps a joke. My favourite punchline had nothing to do with the script – I was driving across town, bored of sticking to the roads and keeping to the speed limit as I’d been instructed to by the sheriff, who sat at my side. There are controls for the indicators, for windscreen wipers, horn and lights – I followed the rules, even though we’d only passed a couple of other cars.

Then I realised I’d hit a dead-end. The map doesn’t zoom out far enough to make route planning particularly efficient so I’d been following a navigation marker, going in the right direction but into a cul-de-sac. My destination was only a couple of minutes away, right across a field, between some houses, but doubling back and finding an alternate route would take five, maybe ten minutes.

I glanced across at George. He was staring straight ahead. I turned on the wipers, flashed the lights, honked the horn. He continued to stare at the horizon.

It took us forty five seconds to cross the field, the car bumping and jolting, its ‘health’ reduced from 100% to 86%. George didn’t react, and how could he? He’s just a mannequin, a part of the machine.

Moments like that make me love Deadly Premonition as much as anything that comes out of the characters’ mouths. When a frustrating mechanic (and driving is like steering a fridge on wheels) can be torn to pieces, the world simulated just enough to allow exploration but rarely enough to construct proper boundaries. It’s a game that rewards exploration, of both its systems and its world, always seeming as likely to break as to bend.

Sadly, on PC, as it operates currently, the breakages are more vexing. Even though the story – which is best experienced with little warning – contains humour, horror and intelligence in abundance, it’s difficult to recommend a version of the game that has so many problems. It does, however, deserve its reputations, all of them. Deadly Premonition is often more confused than confusing, but if it stutters across your wavelength while it rambles between tones and stations, you might well join the cult.

Deadly Premonition is available now.

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48 Comments »

  1. trjp says:

    Clarkson hates Vectras – he’s refused to drive them in the past – so this is less of a Vectra, more an Alfa 159 JTD

    On paper it looks OK but when you get it, you realise you’ve bought a 12-year-old car with the engine from a tractor and it will spend most of it’s life in the garage :)

    You still want one tho – because…

  2. Premium User Badge RedViv says:

    If anybody ever asked “What is the Vermin Love Supreme of crime videogames?”, this highly unlikely game would be the answer to that highly unlikely question.

    And thank goodness for Durante. Bloke should be honoured by the Dark Souls and now the Deadly Premonition devs for fixing their stuff.

    • I Got Pineapples says:

      Between Swery, Suda51, Gen Urobuchi and when you get down to it, Hideo Kojima, I have become convinced that screaming Fuck You and then laughing maniacally for 15 minutes when asked to describe what you’re going to do is, in fact, a viable video game pitch in Japan.

      • JoeyJungle says:

        What Gen Urobuchi game are you referring to? Saya no Uta? Or is Phantom of Inferno good too? I’ve played neither but both look interesting.

        • I Got Pineapples says:

          Saya No Uta, mostly. Which, while the Visual Novel genre is kind of experimental within the bounds it’s set up for itself to the point where it seems like a third of the genre is about subverting expectations based on it’s traditional conventions, is more than a little out there and actually, y’know, good. He can actually write, though it suffers a bit from having a translation.

          Though, like most visual novels, it has a certain amount of ‘Well, time for a sex scene I guess’ and is porn-y. So be aware of that.

          Phantom of the Inferno (Which is also filled with the sex) is also pretty good and mostly notable for where the guy made his reputation as being grim and nihilistic.

          Eventually, he also wrote a series of a much beloved childrens show.

      • malkav11 says:

        Don’t forget Yoko Taro, of Cavia (Drakengard/Nier) fame.

      • Geen says:

        To be fair, Kojima left his “Fuck You” stage after MGS2, and while the plot was lackluster, it had one hell of a game backing it up.

  3. Utsunomiya says:

    This one just may end up being my game of the year.
    Haven’t finished it yet, but I must say, I haven’t encountered such a cohesive game in a while. It really is a game about solving murder mystery in a small town, not a shooter-with-zombies-in-it-oh-look-a-story/jumper-with-turtles-inside/a-game-about-men-that-shoot-guns-and-drive-cars-and-watch-cutscenes. This must be the first since Shenmue, for me at least. And that was how many years ago?

    Also, game haven’t been bugging out on me for some reason; the only crash I’ve experienced has been fixed by a reboot.

    • Wedge says:

      Shenmue is an appropriate comparison in many ways. I’d say the game in general always reminds me a lot of the brilliant and short Dreamcast era, when developers were making crazy, un-focused, amazing, experiments of games, not knowing what to do with the huge upgrade in freedom the hardware provided over the prior generation.

      • I Got Pineapples says:

        I think you could probably make an argument that a lot of the first generation of CD consoles were like that. The library of the Saturn was just odd and the Playstation only had the sports titles keeping it grounded. Even the JRPG boom went off in some very strange directions.

  4. Billards says:

    About 2 hours into the game. Seems like an utterly fantastic and enjoyable trainwreck.

    Probably worth saying that the game is pretty much unplayable without Durante’s fix.
    http://blog.metaclassofnil.com/

    • Adam Smith says:

      Cheers – added.

    • Premium User Badge Oozo says:

      Already asked that before, but I didn’t get an answer, so maybe this time somebody can provide me with one…

      Is it already possible to tell how much the experience can be changed by mods? Is it open to them? It’s true that the game is, what it is, and we should love and cherish it for it.

      Still, I think that modders could do interesting things with the framework, if allowed. But… are they?

      The question is important to me because I already have both versions for the PS3 (btw Adam, the game always existed on PS3 and XBOX… in fact, I finished it as “Red Seeds Profile”, since the voice work is English anyway), so modding support would be the only reason to get it on PC.

      • Billards says:

        Well Durante’s fix has already allowed for much higher resolutions, as well as enabling AA.

        The really interesting stuff is to come, as the latest version also enabled texture dumping, which has already led to a handful of high-resolution textures. Much of these are coming from the Deadly Premonition thread in the NeoGaf forums, so check that out if your interest is peaked.

        Given a little while and a little modding love, the game will look much, much better. Even now, it’s a better looking product than the PS3 & 360 versions.

        • Premium User Badge Oozo says:

          Thanks, wonderful to hear. And gosh, is that NeoGAF-thread busy… a joy to look at. Well then, looking forward to what’s to come. (I actually trust the united modder front to find out what is just downright bad in the game and can be fixed, and what is to be left alone because it adds to its scrappy charm.)

    • Steven Hutton says:

      Basically the polar opposite of Ride to Hell then?

  5. Snargelfargen says:

    If you’re not up to dealing with the game (I don’t blame you, the actual gameplay is hit or miss, mostly miss), supergreatfriend’s Let’s Play is amazing:
    http://supergreatfriend.webs.com/dp01yt.html
    http://lparchive.org/Deadly-Premonition/

    • Premium User Badge Screwie says:

      I was about to recommend the full LP Vinny and Jeff of Giant Bomb made (available on YouTube).

      I watched that over a number of weeks just recently and I very much enjoyed the storyline while glad I didn’t have to play it myself. Parts of the game seem to be a real slog, but the whole ending is superb.

      • Low Life says:

        Part of me is sad that I didn’t get to enjoy the amazing last moments of the game by myself for the first time, but I’m not sure I’d have bothered without ever seeing Vinny and Jeff play the game through.

      • Sangeki says:

        I absolutely had to register just for this.
        There is nothing “full” about the Giant Bomb LP (sorry, Endurance Run).

        If you really want to see an LP of this game then I can only second the recommendation for the absolutely fantastic LP by supergreatfriend.
        It’s extensive, of really high quality (video, audio and commentary) and full of bonus explanations and clips from the movies York talks about.

        • Premium User Badge tumbleworld says:

          I agree completely. The supergreatfriend LP was glorious, and it’s highly recommended.

        • Premium User Badge Screwie says:

          Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever provoked that reaction before. Hello and welcome, but you’ve read rather too much into my use of the word “full” there, friend.

          I can’t recommend Supergreatfriend’s LP simply because I’ve not seen it. Although it certainly sounds like the place to go if you would like some analysis of Deadly Premonition or want to find all the game’s secrets, which is great.

          But if you just want to witness the main plot from beginning to end plus some entertaining banter, then I can recommend Giant Bomb on that basis. With all the weight my anonymous opinion can convey, sure.

          Either way is probably fine.

        • Laketown says:

          I enjoyed his LP of Illbleed, but GB is still the superior playthrough because, well, they’re funny; not to harsh on SGF because he can be funny too, but a blind playthrough is also a superior way to experience deadly premonition. Then, if you were interested in the side stuff VJ didn’t do, you could watch SGF.

  6. Premium User Badge DrScuttles says:

    Diane, it’s 1:59pm. You’re not going to believe this but I find myself reading a PC gaming blog named Rock, Paper, Shotgun. The article that interests me is a piece on a video game named Deadly Premonition, rumoured to be at once brilliant and broken. Designed by a man who goes by the name “Swery” – that’s S.W.E.R.Y, Diane, it struck me that in another time, another culture, he may have been a seer, a shaman priest. In our world he’s a video game developer, and lives among the shadows. One other thought, Diane: have you ever know any really tall men?

    • Premium User Badge Oozo says:

      If you add “Swery — that’s S.W.E.R.Y, Diane”, it’s perfect. Perfect, I say.

    • Jekhar says:

      R P S… in the orange juice?!

    • Premium User Badge Screwie says:

      Bravo!

    • Soldancer says:

      Amazing. Also, now I have to go replay this game and watch Twin Peaks, possible both at the same time.

      And for some reason now I can’t get the image of David Duchovney in drag out of my mind. :|

    • sandineyes says:

      Reading your post was more enjoyable than the entire second season of that show. Then again, on a numeric scale of how enjoyable things are, Twin Peaks season 2 would have negative enjoyability, so maybe that isn’t saying much.

  7. MykulJaxin says:

    It’s telling that we (generally) don’t approve of a brand spankin’ new bazillion dollar triple A shooter but (judging by the comments here) we love this poorly done console port of a console port. It’s refreshing to do something new and different, and I wish devs outside the indie scene weren’t scared to try new things.

    • I Got Pineapples says:

      While perfectly fine with the AAA shootings, I think possibly the worst thing to happen to gaming is the death of AA games. Games with decent-ish production values that were none the less not afraid to try something new and daring, in some cases more so than the indies since they weren’t so aggressively seeking to make some sort of point, because they weren’t spending the entire companies production budget on the one game.

      Part of the reason I like Japanese games is that they are the only people still making this sort of thing. So you end up with things like Deadly Premonition or Dragon’s Dogma or the Souls series or the Persona games or so on. Genuinely interesting games.

      • Convolvulus says:

        If you think double-A games aren’t being made outside of Japan you’re either inattentive or have a strange definition of double-A games.

    • SkittleDiddler says:

      I’m not sure how ripping off Twin Peaks and Silent Hill is “new and different”. Maybe because it’s a Japanese interpretation, and they’re somehow allowed to do this kind of thing without getting skewered by the gaming public?

      • Totally heterosexual says:

        It’s pretty similar early on but it’s nothing like either of those sources by the end. Shush.

      • DatonKallandor says:

        ‘That’s because this is a Twin Peaks-ish game by someone who did it because he actually genuine loved Twin Peaks. Not because some corporate committee decided that Twin Peaks-ish game would make a lot of money but only if you cut out that weird shit the general consumer doesn’t “get”. Deadly Premonitions is clearly a labour of love and no western publisher would EVER give someone the money to make it, much less release it.

  8. Premium User Badge Xantonze says:

    There’s a subquest early on where you can get a police radio, which allows for teleportation. Very useful if you’re tired of the shaky driving.

    • Kaira- says:

      But wouldn’t you then miss lot of the discussions about movies between Zach and York?

      • MykulJaxin says:

        Love that conversation about Tremors. Ha.

      • gemiinii says:

        Just in the middle of another playthrough of this awesomeness. Paraphrasing: “I have to come clean, Zack. I like the first two Superman movies more than the first 2 Star Wars movies. John Williams does the music for both of them. But the funny thing is, whenever I try to whistle the Superman theme, it just turns into the Star Wars theme half way through..”

  9. DatonKallandor says:

    Deadly Premonition is a perfect example of why Let’s Plays were invented.
    http://lparchive.org/Deadly-Premonition/
    SuperGreatFriends LP of it is pretty much the perfect medium to experience it. All the charm. All the wonkyness. But without the danger of missing any of it’s weird sidestories and without having to expose yourself first-hand to it’s crappy gameplay and tedious mechanics.
    This particular LP is so good the creator of the game liked it even!

  10. Premium User Badge Morph says:

    Is wonder if this is the first time anyone has used “living under a Rock, Paper, Shotgun” on this site?

  11. RProxyOnly says:

    The creator of this game gets on Twitter to tell us how sorry he is that the game is resolution locked, buggy and broken… but still took no action to fix it?.. A pretty worthless apololgy all round.

    The only reason it’s getting any attention at all is due to being shamed into it by the community memeber who came up with his own, partial, solution.

    They knew the condition of the game when they released it… I’m getting tired of this culture of fucking up and apololgising after the fact instead of just doiing it right first time round.

    • Low Life says:

      That’s most likely because the creator of the game had absolutely nothing to do with the port.

  12. Premium User Badge ffordesoon says:

    The way I’ve pitched this to friends is, “It’s the game David Lynch would make if David Lynch made games.” I stand by that. The busted or janky aspects only make it more weirdly compelling in its peculiar midnight-movie way.

    • Fliver says:

      It’s nothing like what David Lynch makes though? Smith nailed it:

      The opening has all the subtlety and grace of a piece of Twin Peaks fan fiction, smugly conceived by somebody who hasn’t understood anything about Twin Peaks except Coffee, Lumber, Dreams, Dead Young Woman and FBI.

      DP is pulp/wacky, not surreal*. It over explains itself and the final boss is… you know. I love the game, I love the little things about it: fortunes in your morning coffee, Stinky Agent, the fade to black + exaggerated sfx used for scenes that’d need unique animations, how every npc is named Suspect until you talk to them, Polly’s giant breakfast table. It’s amiable too – there’s a scene after George and York go drinking: York’s in bed, just reflecting on how nice it was to have a heart-to-heart with the guy. But those points are more ‘good natured’ than Lynch-ish?

      The appeal of DP is the depth of its (narrative) content, the disharmony in presentation (loud music, awkward speech), and the way subtlety is drained from imagery so metaphors become actual events (Anna covered in snakes, that one victim’s penetration tree, “York, I’m soiled!”, etc). It’s the appeal of weird translations; the combined pleasures of story time and rubber-necking. Lynch is aggressive; DP likes people.

      *Well, not surreal in the context of its having riffed on Twin Peaks’ imagery. Sort of like how soap operas appear crazy outside the genre but are still copy-paste in design.

      • Premium User Badge Oozo says:

        Wonderful comment.

        “Lynch is aggressive; DP likes people.” I think that’s spot on. It’s also amazing how that genuine love (for people, and things) transcends the game. And how rare it seems to be in this medium.

  13. SickBrick says:

    Vauxhall means Opel.