Deadly Premonition is laden with bugs, crippled by horrendous collision detection, and plagued by downright awful game design choices, and it is still one of the most fascinating titles of 2010.
You take on the role of ‘Francis York Morgan’, an FBI agent that communicates with an imaginary friend named ‘Zach’ and sees the future in his morning coffee. This time, he has been sent to ‘Greenvale’, a sleepy town populated by eccentric characters and pixellated foliage. A pretty young blonde has been murdered in particularly grisly fashion, and it is up to York to interview the townspeople and collect the evidence needed to determine the killer’s identity.
After swerving to avoid a mysterious figure in a red raincoat en route to the town, York’s vehicle is plunged into the woods outside Greenvale, and the player is quickly thrown into the action as a horde of ghostly apparitions begin to descend. It is here that the first cracks in the gameplay begin to show. The clumsy combat system, which attempts to mimic that of the most recent iterations of Resident Evil, will often award ‘headshots’ despite your aim being off, and will at other times deny you the bonus if the shot is anywhere below the target’s mouth.
The weapons themselves are also hugely unbalanced; York’s woefully underpowered handgun will require several shots to the head before taking down an enemy, while melee weapons such as a knife or iron bar usually dispatch attackers in a single blow. Even the more powerful assault rifles acquired later in the game will run out of ammo before you have managed to fully clear a room of hostiles.
The ‘ghosts’ you encounter throughout the course of the game are relatively well realised, despite the lack of variety, moving as they do in eerie and disjointed fashion, and drawing heavily upon classic Japanese horror films like ‘Ju-On’ and ‘Ringu’. Unfortunately, their almost laughable death-cries (of which there are very few) serve to detract from the horror.
Combat then, falls under the ‘broken’ half of Deadly Premonition. Stick with it though, and you’ll soon be introduced to Greenvale itself, and some of the quirky characters that inhabit it. First-time appearances are met with a freeze-frame and accompanied by one of the hilariously campy theme tunes that crop up again and again throughout the course of the game. These aesthetic touches help accustom you to the excellent sense of humour that underlies the title’s outlandish character development. Getting the most out of Deadly Premonition requires you to take everything with a healthy pinch of salt, without which you’ll most likely dismiss it as farce.
Ushah Johnson, the town’s primary doctor for example, sees fit to delay a rather urgent autopsy by hiding the directions to the autopsy room in a game of chess. ‘Roaming Sigourney’ on the other hand, seems to serve absolutely no purpose, save for some amusing conversations with the ceramic pot she inexplicably carries around town.
That’s not to say that Deadly Premonition is without emotional impact however, and there are some moments that will stay with you longer after you have switched off your machine. To say too much would be to ruin the effect, but there are scenes in this game that have never been done in quite the same way before, and it is to ‘Access Games’ credit that they have constructed such startling imagery with such a limited production budget.
Travelling around Greenvale will prove to be one of the major sticking points if you fail to complete the side-quest that rewards you with quick travel. Driving mechanics are lacking to say the least; cars have an enormous turning circle, and with the speedometer maxing out at 50mph, driving from one end of town to the other can take an almost unforgivably long time. The map is also made redundant by turning with the character, and refusing to zoom out to anything close to practical levels. Luckily, York is on hand to spout 80s movie trivia as you potter along in your borrowed squad car. It’s a great touch, but one that shouldn’t really be necessary to make the driving sections tolerable.
Combat sections break up the story, but never really venture far from the formula laid out in the first chapter. You must run room-to-room, collecting evidence to use in the case and initiating a ‘criminal profile’ sequence that reveals a little more about the murder each time. It is an incredibly repetitive system, and one you’ll find yourself rushing through just to get back to the real meat of the game’s story. These sections are often ended with an appearance by the ‘Raincoat Killer’ himself, the axed antagonist that tirelessly pursues York, and involve a series of dull quick-time events that allow you to make your escape.
As the game reaches its climax things take a turn for the downright crazy. ‘Amazing Grace’ provides the soundtrack to civilians murdering each other in the street, Blanka seems to make an appearance, and a giant frog chases you down a mile-long spiral staircase. Deadly Premonition is nothing if not memorable.
Overall, there is a lot to dislike about Deadly Premonition; the broken combat, the dull driving sections, the last-gen graphics, the list goes on. If you can look past all of that however, there is a genuine cult classic to be found. There’s every chance the dated mechanics will become too much for you after an hour and you’ll toss it aside never to play it again. But for those that stick with it, the reward is all the sweeter.