This is a repost from the now-defunct Kombo.com.
Deadly Premonition sucks, and it’s awesome. Don’t worry, it’ll make sense soon.
Deadly Premonition is developer Access Games’ third release in the US, after Spy Fiction on the PS2 and Ace Combat X on the PSP; it’s the latest from publisher Ignition Games, whose list of titles has grown rapidly in the last year. With a small developer and publisher bringing the game over, the game has been slow to pick up buzz. From a technical standpoint, Deadly Premonition feels as if it should be on the Xbox backwards compatibility chart rather than as a brand new release for 2010. The characters and story, though, are genuine and memorable, at times even truly funny or disturbing.
Enter FBI Special Agent Francis York Morgan. Call him York—it’s what everyone calls him—and the town of Greenvale, somewhere in the rainy, foggy northwest. A popular, well-liked girl named Anna Graham has been murdered, and York has arrived to investigate connections to similar cases throughout the country. Sound familiar to anyone?
It should; the story has a number of unmistakable similarities to the ‘90s TV drama Twin Peaks. It was similar enough that after comments following the game’s debut at the 2007 Tokyo Game Show, developer Access Games took it back behind the curtain to make some changes. Regardless, most of the Twin Peaks influence is woven deeply into the story and could not have been removed without restarting from scratch.
Instead of feeling like a rip-off, though, it feels more like homage. Fans of the TV show will find a lot to like in Deadly Premonition. Quirky characters populate the town and many of them have something to hide. That look of Everytown USA and the hidden grime that underscores David Lynch’s show is present as well.
Those quirky characters are the real shining point of the game. They’re hilariously eccentric to the point of excess. The rich entrepreneur that owns much of the town wears a gas mask outside his house and is accompanied by an assistant that speaks in rhyme. The guy that runs the convenience store dresses and acts like he’s getting ready to go on stage for a rockabilly show, while his wife is as exceedingly normal as someone could be. Some of the others are worth keeping secret for anyone that hasn’t played the game.
No one, though, is more eccentric than York. A skilled FBI profiler, York needs nothing more than a cup of coffee to tell how his day’s going to go. A few pieces of evidence and a cigarette are enough to give him a full recreation of a crime scene. More than anything, though, he relies on his friend Zach. Zach isn’t a co-op character or a friend he talks to on the phone, though. Zach is someone York talks to constantly, aloud, and around other people. Is it another personality or an invisible friend?
All of these characters serve the mystery either as clues or red herrings, both playing into the story and providing sidequests to accomplish. As described, many of these characters are so over the top that they might be annoying if they didn’t play it straight most of the time.
York’s conversations with Zach not only play an important role in the development of his character, but also allow York to narrate and comment on the story as it develops, right in front of the people around him without breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to the player.
The voice acting is surprisingly good, made all the more interesting by the fact that the game doesn’t have a Japanese voice track. Like a few games before it (Silent Hill 2 comes to mind), the English voice track was recorded for both territories, probably to give it the feeling of taking place in the United States. Surprisingly, most of the dialogue is also pretty well written, though the subtitles have some egregious spelling and grammatical errors that show how quickly it was localized.
As much fun as the strange characters and twisting story are, though, the technical aspects of the game are sorely lacking. With many games of the current generation using the same set of engines, it’s a rare thing to find a game with graphics—not art!—worth mentioning. Even rarer is the game worth mentioning for how poor it looks when compared to its contemporaries. Some of the texture work in the game is inexcusably bad, and even the simpler textures look blocky when drenched in the game’s frequent rain. The grass texture is actually painful to look at. The motion capture, too, feels more dated than even the three years passed since the game’s debut; some of the animations feel more like a small town theatre troupe. The animation, like the voice acting and dialogue, gives the game a certain camp that doesn’t often make it into games. Even as the characters try their best to be serious, they pose like they’re acting as hard as they can.
The game mechanics are best described by calling it “Grand Theft Auto: Silent Hill.” Driving around the town during the day presents what amounts to a small town GTA. The driving mechanics are squirrely in their best moments, and having to drive from place to place doesn’t add much to the game, except a sense of scale and some atmosphere. Bonus items litter the environment, and locations for sidequests and minigames like fishing and darts. There’s an almost unnecessary amount of detail to the city, but more than enough activity there for someone who wants to find every nook and cranny of the game.
The combat, on the other hand, is reminiscent of pre-Resident Evil 4 horror gameplay. The shooting mechanics are workable, if clunky, and the combat straightforward. A playthrough on the lowest difficulty ends up being too easy, almost completely eschewing some stealth and heartrate monitor (Anyone remember Illbleed on Dreamcast?) variables, though leaving those behind may actually make the game more fun.
Deadly Premonition is difficult to give a proper rating. It has more heart than many more finely crafted games, and the characters and story are worth coming in for on their own. The clunky controls and abysmal graphics will send many gamers packing before they even make it through the opening sequence. The $20 price tag, however, makes the game easy to recommend as an impulse buy. Fans of Twin Peaks and survival horror especially will find a lot to love in this flawed title.