This article was originally written before the new Twin Peaks series started, and was exclusive to the RPS Supporter Program.
Twin Peaks is back and I’m just about as excited about that as I’ve ever been about anything in the world of television or cinema. It’s not Twin Peaks in particular that I crave, though when it was good it was very very good, it’s David Lynch himself. I’m hoping The Return will be a distillation of every idea he’s considered during the years he’s been away from the screen, and if that means we get some Inland Empire and Rabbits mixed in with any more conventional mysteries, I’ll be a very happy person indeed.
What are the best games to play for that David Lynch vibe though? I’ve got five of them here, some very much expected but a couple you might not have considered.
The obvious pick. Deadly Premonition often feels like a bizarre piece of Twin Peaks fan-fiction, from the main character to the initial plotting. An FBI agent who loves coffee arrives in a small town to solve the murder of a young woman and things get very weird.
Lynch resists direct interpretation of his work, arguing that to summarise or understand images and sound in a strictly verbal form (either spoken or written) is to force it into a medium that it was never intended to fit. Deadly Premonition works in similar ways – it’s NPC behaviours and the schedule of the town are among the conceits and devices that are explorations of the way games respond and engage with their players. I’ve heard people argue that its strength is in its setting and tone rather than its mechanics, but I completely disagree. Where it is most Lynchian, it’s in its use of and appreciation for the unusual edges of its own medium.
The flipside of the Deadly Premonition coin. As in the Max Payne games (which have their own Twin Peaks references: in-game TV show Address Unknown and even the melodrama of Lords and Ladies which has a whiff of Invitation to Love about it) Remedy seem less interested in exploring how games work, and more interested in the ambience of their chosen fictional genre and pop culture references.
The town of Bright Falls isn’t as strange or wonderful as Twin Peaks, but there are dark forces in the woods, and they have a corrupting influence on the people thereabouts. Stephen King is the more obvious touchstone, given that Alan Wake is a horror story about storytelling, but there’s also a decent interpretation of the reality-warping effects of those dark things in the woods. Wake takes a much more literal approach than Lynch and reminds me of some of Frost’s Peaks writing, particularly The Secret History of Twin Peaks.
Silent Hill 2 / Shattered Memories
Weird, unsettling and nightmarish. That’s one side of Twin Peaks and Silent Hill, at its best, can feel like a trip to the Black Lodge. It can also vanish up its own mythological hole (which is sometimes there and sometimes gone) when the cult and backstory of the town take centre stage rather than the characters and their own personal connections to the sorrow and horror.
The sound design is the key though. Akira Yamaoka knows how to get under your skin with the creeping dread of a drone or a noise like razors scraping on bone, but the series also has some stand-out tracks that lean into pop music in a way that makes the familiar deeply unnerving.
The setting is very Twin Peaks but the sensation is more Inland Empire. It’s dreamlike rather than nightmarish for the most part, but the headlong tumble through realities, memories and imagined futures created by the jumpcuts and some superb editing reminds me of Inland Empire’s journey through confused interiors. Difficult and not wholly successful, it’s still a game well worth playing and one that left me almost entirely satisfied despite its flaws.
As Kathy Rain’s story unfolds and it starts to reveal its mysteries, it becomes increasingly clear that there’s something strange at the heart of it all. What begins as a homecoming story soon starts to peel back layers of memory and assumptions about the way the world works, until every conversation feels like it might lead to a new conspiracy.
What’s striking about Kathy Rain is the way its setting contains such a broad variety of life. From the biker bar to big business and small-town gossip, there’s a melodramatic soap opera screaming to get out from beneath the central mystery, and in some ways that’s peak Twin Peaks.
There are more, of course and I’d love to read about your own favourite Lynchian or Peaks-y games.