One of a Kind
When doing game reviews, more often than not you have a good idea of what you are in for. Whether it is Mortal Kombat, Mario, or Madden, certain expectations are there and largely met. Even for subpar entries, they usually fit within a particular genre while executing it poorly. Every now and then you are presented with a game that truly takes you by surprise. A game that has you either mentally or audibly saying WTF repeatedly, unsure of what the developer was trying to do. Deadly Premonition is that game.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way – Deadly Premonition, what I believe would be classified as a survival horror game, looks bad. Character models are bland; though, to be completely honest, I wouldn’t have been surprised if they were worse, and scenery offers little visual stimulation. Everything feels washed out and bland from the skyline down to the people in town.
A variety of artwork would have been appreciated as vehicles and enemies repeat far too often, far too quickly. You’ll fight the same enemy over, and over, and over again. Equally boring is your choice of police vehicles to drive, which don’t take any visible damage when crashed repeatedly into cars, buildings, or horses. And believe me, I tried. Extensively.
Just as bad as the artwork is the limited number of animated states characters have. Enemies don’t react appropriately when shot, instead recoiling with delayed reactions, oftentimes after several bullets have been fired. The protagonist could use with more frames of animation himself to smooth out his movement. When you switch on his flashlight he doesn’t hold up his arm carrying a light nor is he wearing a headlamp, no, the mysterious light seems to shine from his chest or eyes. Not that it matters, but it makes one wonder how exactly he is able to control his radioactive light emanating ability so well. And the list goes on graphically, with more than there is time and space for – never will the words “Deadly Premonition” and “polished game” belong in the same sentence.
It would be appropriate to mention the even more flawed gameplay. The most egregious offense is the controls. They are terrible . Think pre-Resident Evil 4 movement. Describing it in detail wouldn’t do justice to the frustration of reverting to this semi-archaic method of movement. At one time this sort of control scheme was accepted if not liked, but that was over five years ago, an eternity in gaming. Add in the unforgiving movement when running and frustration will quickly set in. Controls get even worse when the camera decides to give an overhead view.
Then there are the vehicles. Driving a cop car across town requires lots of patience mixed with wonder. Patience for when you are required to trek clear across the countryside to the middle of nowhere in a drive that takes ten minutes of boring travel time, and wonder for when you crash into something because it leads to a dead stop and sparks flying, even if what you hit was the aforementioned horse. I was unaware that horses were such resilient creatures, as after being hit by an SUV traveling at 50 miles an hour they just buck back and trot a few yards before resuming life as normal, none the worse for the wear, which I suppose makes sense if they are in fact made of metal and accounts for those sparks. Hmmm.
Combat is as tedious and repetitive as driving, while weapons are curious. If you thought that a gun would be the preferred weapon over a lead pipe in a shadow-zombie-ghost fight, well, you’d be wrong. Eight bullets equal one whack with the pipe, obviously. Though said gun is blessed with unlimited ammunition; perhaps anointed by Elijah to never run out, but that’s just a personal working theory.
Quick-time events are used from time to time to inject a different feel that mostly works, however. Some of these events are just options to extend dialogue conversations or other low stress moments. Occasionally, some quick button presses will save you from having a shadow arm thrust down your gullet and, even more rarely, from an instant death scenario, so it’s wise to be on your guard as these don’t crop up often enough to always be ready for them.
Sound is horribly unbalanced in terms of volume. Music can swell and overtake dialogue, leaving it hard to make out what is being said. Although captions across the bottom of the screen make it possible to read, this should have been leveled out. Music is also repetitive though oftentimes funny; I swear I heard a kazoo solo on one of the tracks. Sound effects are lacking in number and variety. There seems to be one sound for crashing into anything, whether it’s a bush, a wooden fence, or other vehicles.
That’s why Deadly Premonition is terrible. A slew of technical problems that is nearly unforgivable. It’s subpar to look at, hard to play, and derivative of several other popular games from the last decade and beyond. There’s no two ways about it; this game is not good. So However, let me tell you why it is also awesome.
Let’s start with an abridged version of the plot: FBI agent Francis York Morgan, who has a second personality, named Zach, who he frequently audibly speaks to, is investigating a series of murders of young women when another incident takes place on the outskirts of the small town of Greenvale. York, as he prefers to be called, eventually arrives to the town after wrecking his car and battling the shadow-zombie-ghosts that may or may not exist. After getting there he is greeted by the local sheriff and his deputy, the attractive Emily Wyatte. All characters are introduced in dramatic fashion in a still frame shot with name and title along with generally appropriate (or inappropriate) music swelling. With Emily’s introduction, the music seemed to be some sort of sultry love tune that had me laughing for a solid minute at the ridiculousness of it. Shockingly, the sheriff doesn’t like the FBI agent infringing on his turf and causing havoc in his town. From there you go to your hotel and the game really begins.
The dialogue in the game is truly remarkable and bizarre. I have no idea what the writers were thinking, but I’d love to know how the production meetings went. When making the insanely long drives around town, York will have conversations with his split personality Zach. They seem to have a particular fondness for movies and bounce around discussing classic 80s movies and directors as though it were perfectly normal. York often talks to Zach around other people, who seem oddly at ease with his schizophrenia. Unfortunately, not every conversation is given voice recordings, but instead text pops up that halt movement until exited.
Due to the disjointed and random nature of the game, along with the difficulty of describing how a game so awful can still be fun, I’ll present a brief list of the absurdities that makes Deadly Premonition oddly appealing and often (unintentionally?) hysterical. Lollipops are frequently lying around streets, along with jars of pickles. Crackers cost $35 in vending machines. The option to dry clean your clothes when dirty, and to shave (frankly, I’m disappointed there isn’t a shaving mini-game which could leave York nicked up with blood soaked tissue stuck to his face). Conversations that are so out of place and bizarre within the game’s context that they must be appreciated. York’s insanity is so severe that he casually looks to his coffee for secret, spelled out messages.
Of course, there’s more (a whole lot more) things that made me want to keep playing beyond the purpose of review. But let’s be clear: Deadly Premonition is not a good game. Not in the sense that we use to quantify and rate games, anyway. The problems are pronounced and obvious, but somehow it has a charm and appeal that defies logic. This game is not for everyone. In fact, it won’t be for most people. But, at an amazing value of twenty dollars, it may be a worthy investment for those that are bored of their current slate of games and are ready to put up with the numerous frustrations to experience the inane charm that Deadly Premonition offers, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 1.0 Graphics
Poor rendering, low polygon counts, bland color scheme, the problems are plentiful. 0.8 Control
Can’t emphasize enough how dated and frustrating the controls manage to be. 2.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Music is at times funny and at others annoyingly repetitive, but voice over dialogue is a bright spot. 3.3 Play Value
There’s enough in here for those willing to put up with all the bad that it just may be worth it, and at $20, the value is a bit easier to find. 2.5 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.