Deadly Premonition is the game worth saving from 2013

Every game released before 2015 is being destroyed. We only have time to rescue one game from each year. Not those you’ve played to death, or the classics that the industry has already learned from. We’re going to select the games that still have more to give. These are the Saved Games.

Deadly Premonition, in many respects, is one of the worst games I’ve ever played. The combat is awful, with a three-button aiming system and melee weapons that break after four swings. The sound design essentially consists of the same four or five audio clips on loop for the 25-hour story (I’d recognise that door creak anywhere). The driving is shocking, some of the acting is straight out of your local am-dram class, and the graphics wouldn’t look out of place on something released 15 years prior. To top it all off, the PC port is locked to 720p. Glorious.

So why on earth would I choose it as the game I’d save from 2013 (or 2010 if you count the game’s initial console release)?

The first is its protagonist, FBI Agent Francis York Morgan. “But please, call me York. That’s what everyone calls me.” He’s one of my favourite characters in gaming. He has an imaginary alter-ego called Zach, who he talks to about the clues he finds while piecing together the murder of a young girl, Anna, in the small US town of Greenvale.

Essentially, that means he talks directly to you the player, making you feel more involved in the story than most games can manage. Right Zach? It also opens the door to some great fourth-wall breaking monologues. He loves chatting to Zach about 80s’ films, discussing Deadly Spawn and its “delicious B movie clichés” on long, tedious drives (I wonder what he’s getting at?), or mulling the “inter-dependency and sadism” of Tom and Jerry cartoons.

The split personality trope has been done to death but using it as a tool for humour as well as a plot device later is a nice take. A few hours in, after calling a meeting of the townsfolk, he meets Quint Dunn, an employee at the SWERY 65′ darts bar. “How do you know my name?” Quint asks. “FBI stuff,” says York, or words to that effect, before turning to the camera. “Okay, Zach. I’ll tell you how I knew his name. He’s got a small Q on his hat. And that was the only name beginning with Q I could think of.”

To be straight, he’s pretty much Special Agent Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks. It’s not even subtle. Just like Cooper, he loves coffee – he reads his fortune in the milk in the mornings – he takes the strange dreams he has as fact, and he’s got a constant internal monologue through Zach, similar to Cooper’s tape recorder. It’s been criticised for being too obvious a rip-off but I’m not bothered. If you’re going to ape a TV show, it might as well be Twin Peaks. (As an aside, the similarities were actually toned down in development – originally the game was called Rainy Wood and featured characters that looked practically the same as their Twin Peaks counterparts. Now you know.)

York is also the conduit for one of the game’s other great strengths: its love of the surreal. I’m no fan of games being weird for weird’s sake, but Deadly Premonition bathes so deeply in the bizarre that you can’t help but admire it. The game alternates between York’s dreams, his reality and his hallucinations so quickly that it’s hard to keep track of exactly which dimension you’re in.

Even when you’re firmly in reality, the scenarios that the small town throws up are ludicrous: early on you’re in a hotel (the only guest) eating eggs and bacon with the hotel manager, the two of you sitting at either end of a huge dining table big enough for 16 making conversation in raised voices.

Some of it appears to have no real impact on the plot, but it all serves to create an environment where you’re not quite sure who, or what, to trust. Are the weird limbo-ing zombies you see real, or not? What about those two angels? Or those red tendrils snaking up the wall? You’ve really got no choice but to suspend belief, strap in and enjoy the ride.

And what a ride it is: twisting, sprawling, supernatural, stop-start at times, but always interesting. The plot is what ties the whole game together and keeps you moving forward, even while you’re distracted with shedloads of interesting side quests and light RPG elements (make sure you keep your suit clean, or you’ll be fined).

What makes it so engaging is not just that it’s imaginative and well-written – it’s the connection you build with the characters. There’s roughly six hours of cutscenes, which is a lot, and you really get to know the key players.

The game gets progressively darker, introducing a man sexually abusing his work colleagues behind closed doors, gas that fires people into a frenzy, and trees that grow inside people’s stomachs, all leading up to an unexpected, ambiguous ending. Even after playing it a few times and watching a stitched together movie of all the game’s cut scenes, I still don’t know exactly what to make of it, and its meaning is debated in forums to this day (in fact, I might start a spoiler discussion thread in the forum – join me there after reading this!).

Perhaps the most important reason I’d save Deadly Premonition is that it gets better the second and third time you play it. You start noticing connections that you missed the first-time round – the kind of thing that happens in a great movie or TV show (such as, I don’t know, Twin Peaks).

You understand the significance of what Harry, the old man in a gasmask that owns half the town and only speaks in riddles, says to you. You pick up on clues you missed, like the tattoo on Thomas’s back. You notice the fourth wall breaks, the foreshadowing, you read extra significance into the things that Sherriff George Woodman says, and it only deepens your appreciation for the game.

Somewhere along the road people seem to have decided that Deadly Premonition “is so bad it’s good”. Let me tell you: they’re wrong. People love it because it has certain components that are downright excellent. To me, and to many others, those components are the ones that matter. Gameplay mechanics come and go, but stories and characters will live on. And so will Deadly Premonition, now that I’ve saved it.

16 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Thulsa Hex says:

    Best game. Only thing stopping me playing again is how often it would crash. Wish they’d fix that.

  2. Caradog says:

    I achieved a frame rate that was little more than like watching the game as if it was a zoetrope. I couldn’t even make it past the (frankly, tedious) opening section in the woods. Shame, as I loved the cinematic bits.

  3. Seafoam says:

    Deadly Premonition is the perfect example of what happens when you create a game authentically, following your own vision and making the game based on that vision instead of other game tropes.

    You don’t do things because it’s a trend, you don’t do things to show off new tech, you don’t do the things by how “theyre supposed to be done”, but instead you follow your own vision and stick to it.
    The zombie shooting parts could be described as and exact opposite to the philosophy I stated above, and they are are easily the WORST parts of the game, and wholly unnecessary, this is because Swery didn’t want them in the game at first, but the studio demanded them to be added in so the game would sell.
    He wanted the whole game to be just Twin Peaks style small town intrigue, and I honestly think the game would have been better if he was allowed to stick to his own vision.

    Sure quirky artistic vision is risky, there is a reason Deadly Premonition is often said to be the Best worst game of all time, which is a moniker you don’t want for your AAA title.
    But at the end of the day, Deadly Premonition is a work of genuine art, which sets it apart from the rest. And I personally feel that matters more than it’s sales, and definitely secures its place to be preserved in the RPS Saved Games archive, or any archive for that matter.

  4. thekelvingreen says:

    I have only played the PS3 version but it’s one of my favourite games. It gets a lot wrong but when it gets things right it gets them spot on, and the stuff it almost gets right is a wonderful (and frustrating) view into what could have been.

  5. DingDongDaddio says:

    Fuck this game. Did anyone here actually play it? I can understand these comments if you just watched a let’s play or something, because, yeah, the characters are fun and everything is ridiculous in the right ways… but how on Earth can anyone suffer through playing the damn thing to see what’s on offer?

    God awful gunplay, a nightmare of a durability system, chase sequences with the camera pointed backwards, interminable car drives with some of the worst physics ever programmed, maddeningly specific (and obscure) quest requirements…

    It’s a shame D4 died on arrival. That seemed like it had everything Deadly Premonition was going for while stripping out ALL of the gameplay and replacing it with a simple point and click adventure type of thing. Much more fitting!

    • MotelHell says:

      I have played it, as I’m sure the other users have. Paid $19.99 for it when it was new. Easily in my top 10 games of all time.

  6. Gomer_Pyle says:

    How much did Alice pay you to write this?

  7. Gotem says:

    Incidentally it is at 1 on bundlestars now. So question is: appart from the price is it to broken to enjoy playing so should one instead watch a video ofthe cutscenes

    • goodpoints says:

      It runs great with minimal crashes at 1080p+ with the DPfix mod by Durante, the same fellow that did DSfix.

      Surprising that the article doesn’t mention this as it’s considered as mandatory to playing DP as DSfix is for Dark Souls.

    • hfm says:

      I tried to start it again for like the third time (once on XBox, then again on PS3..) on PC. There’s a bad memory leak bug where your framerate will slowly degrade until you’re forced to save and restart the game. Couldn’t find a way to fix it and it got so frustrating I had to stop playing it.

      Not to mention my XBox One controller wouldn’t work and I had to go dig up a 360 controller to use to play it (minor quibble).

      I am a HUGE Twin Peaks fan as, and I really liked the game. The little bugs end up grating on me enough to kill my play-throughs. I should probably just watch the Giant Bomb endurance run and leave it at that.

  8. ToomuchFluffy says:

    I’m only now playing through the Director’s Cut on PC for the first time. Chapter 19 and I think I’m getting somewhat close to the end.

    I had a lot of trouble with actually making it properly playable, since my W-key is broken and I could only change some of the keys with a Auto-Hotkey-script. I’ve also had a good number of crashes, which in some cases meant replaying sections of the game because of how the save-system works. In one case it broke a safe, which meant finding a way to circumvent that. Oh, and the fishing-mini-game to get the documents relatively late in the game: Who the hell came up with that abomination?!?

    I agree that there is little point to the 3rd-person-shooting. The atmosphere during the “otherside”-sequences is nice, but not if you have to repeat more or less the same loop so often and in rather unremarkable environments.

    If the surreal aspects weren’t so well handled and the writing not mostly good, there would actually be little reason to recommend Deadly Premonition. It’s also a pretty unique concoction. I’m especially thinking of how everything is interconnected through the open world and how many weird RPG-elements there are. Not that it makes sense for a game that is so heavily scripted and cares so little about balance, but it’s there nevertheless. Frankly, it wouldn’t be surprising if a at least part of the weirdness just stems from forcing in elements that apparently weren’t supposed to be in there (as has been mentioned above).

  9. ColonelFlanders says:

    In a year that saw games like the Stanley Parable and Ramen Legumes, you want to save THIS?! I am unsubscribing from your newsletter, and will subsequently throw myself off the highest pair of my wife’s heels.

  10. Snargelfargen says:

    Supergreatfriend’s let’s play is a great way to experience the game without having to plod through the tedious parts of the game. I’m rewatching it now, (alongside Twin Peaks, before I see the new season). There is definitely a lot to be gained from experiencing the game a second time over.

    • JOJOFACE says:

      Absolutely agree. Played through the game twice, it’s an absolute favorite of mine, but his Let’s Play is a golden standard for Let’s Plays. It’s a wonderful watch, and I got to see a lot of stuff I missed in the game.

  11. JohnAbbott says:

    Dark and perverse. I like that. Needless to say, the Director’s Cut is the version everyone should have. Overall, it does bring a fair amount of pleasure for a budget game.