Deadly Premonition: Director's Cut review
I don't even know
I tried. Over there. Really, I did. I wish I didn't even have to give this game a score, because it's not even worthy of one. Neoseeker made me. I could make a case this is a 2/10 just as easily as a 9. I wish I didn't have to slap a score on it, mostly out of principle, but also because this game shouldn't have one. A score is a shallow mark of quality and the epitome of laziness in both a reader and a reviewer. But it's especially worthless with a game like Deadly Premonition. Anybody interested in this game (and trust me, you should be interested in it) should either have to research it a bit or just dive in and hope their money doesn't get wasted. But the arbitrariness of media scores is another topic for another day, so let's get a bit more into this game.
If you have read a bit up on this game, especially the reviews (which you should, don't throw your money around, kid. Grow up), you've certainly heard that "it's so bad, it's good". I hate when I hear that, it's a poor excuse for explaining and backing one's opinion and is totally misleading, so I'm not going to use that cliche. Many parts of Deadly Premonition are bad. Really bad. And should be scorned. But there's a bunch of good, nay, great ideas that are completely unique to any genre and break many open world, horror and and general gaming conventions open and should progress the art of videogames as a whole.
I don't know where to start, so let's just go. Deadly Premonition is an open world, survival horror game that was originally slated to be a PS2 release and was turned over a lot before being released to relatively little hype but quickly became a cult classic, if only due to the fact that it was so critically polarizing. From the opening cutscene, one can tell this was a PS2 game; there are about three textures on the ground, glossy graphics reminiscent of early sixth generation games when devs were trying to figure out how to make things look good, and poor motion capture that leads me to believe this was originally some art house graphic short film using tree models are character actors. It looks pretty awful and doesn't get any better from there. But everyone over the age of twelve should know graphics don't matter, so if you're getting turned off, grow up kid (but congratulations on getting this far in the review before calling me a fag in the comments and going to whack off).
"So the graphics are bad", you say, "shouldn't you tell us about some of the redeeming aspects of this game?" Shut up. Don't tell me how to do my review. Just for that, here's some more bad shit.
Deadly Premonition's gameplay is largely based of Resident Evil 4 over-the-shoulder, body part targeting third-person shooting which is so damn popular nowadays, with spinkles of the Silent Hill series' melee combat thrown in. "Well those are two great games, shouldn't the gameplay be awesome? You're not making any sense here Jake." Ok, you're annoying me now Zach. Don't interrupt me again (and my name here is Demonfurby, stupid). Deadly Premonition indeed does take it's combat ideas from possibly the most influential game of the past decade, but it executes it so poorly it's impossible to even get through the game on any difficulty other than Easy. And not because Hard is challenging or anything, it's just so boring and repetitive that nobody should have to drudge through the same enemy over and over and over and over again while putting eighty handgun bullets in every guy. The gunplay doesn't have the same reward of shooting a person's knee and suplexing their head off like RE4. Every enemy you face is a being called a Shadow that's basically a zombie that comes from the ground and teleports a few feet at a time while showing off it's contortion abilities (which is admittedly pretty cool).
Hitting a specific part of a Shadow doesn't cause them to slow down and show their pain like a Ganado which is disappointing, and removes all the reward of precision. Having an unlimited 9mm as your first weapon doesn't help promote diversity in they way you kill either. There's literally no reason to use any of the melee weapons other than smashing open containers, and utilizing other guns if purely for when you're so bored with your handgun you have nothing else to do. But even then, there's only like five guns in the whole game, so it's all for naught. The reticule used for shooting isn't intuitive like RE4's laser sight, and (I cannot believe I'm saying this) the lack of context sensitive quick time event's dimishes variety to practically nothing. There are qte's, but they're all total shit. To be fair, the levels themselves are decently designed and pretty nice to stroll through even though you have to kill a bunch of the same things over and over to enjoy them. But the combat isn't even close to being the main focus of this game.
"But this is supposed to be a horror game, so combat shouldn't really matter if you're getting scared, right?"
Though it's supposedly a horror game, Deadly Premonition isn't very scary. Actually it isn't scary at all. It has some good atmosphere, but that's only during the combat sequences, and the overworld is pretty much standard fair when it comes to open world gaming. It's not meant to scare. But that's not to say the game ditches horror conventions. As previously stated, the levels are macabre to the fullest. The walls ooze black stuff, darkness soaks the rooms and hallways, everything is broken down and dirty. There are also a few specific spots taken almost directly from other horror series. One that stands out in my mind is a door that uses a handshake to open (name that horror game!). Though not particularly scary itself, Deadly Premonition is one big homage to the genre. But it's not all references that horror buffs will be able to pick out; it does invent some unique aspects itself. One of my favorite parts in the game is, during several levels, the antagonist plays hide and seek with your character in a sequence that splits the screen into two, one through the perspective of the baddie, and the other to a view of the room. One cute mechanic in the game is a breath meter that helps you get by shadows without fighting (which is pretty useless), but it's one nice use is during these sequences when tension is building, the killer is looking for you in your hiding place, and you're holding your breath hoping he doesn't find you. They reuse it several times during the game, but it doesn't lose any of it's charm.
Alright, that's the combat, let's get to the other half of the gameplay: that oh so very fun open world. It seems that specifically during this generation of videogames, open world gameplay has become a crutch for developers to attract people to buy their games. While an open world is nice if the devs know what they're doing, in my amazing and incredibly accurate opinion, a linear game is almost always going to trump an open world game. There are several factors to this, none of which are pertinent to this review, so I'll proceed. Deadly Premonition incorporates both, with the previously mentioned combat bits, which are linear, and the open world bits that dominate most of the game. This isn't some cookie cutter open world, though. SWERY added in so much charm and unique (and somewhat arbitrary) mechanics it feels like this is the game changer open world gaming has needed since GTA III. For a game so whacky there are plenty of mechanics that are based in reality. Cars run on fuel, first person is the default view of vehicles, windshield wipers, turn signals, car horns, police lights, they all work. Time is slow. Not real-time slow, but about 1/3 real time. There are approximately 30 unique npcs in the game, and all of them have their own schedules. The main character's beard grows in real time and his suits get dirty when you're on missions and regularly need dry cleaning. If he doesn't keep clean flies start congregating around him. He has a hunger, thirst, and sleep meter that affects gameplay if not monitored.
But with all these neat little bonuses there are alot of useless, neat little bonuses. Throughout the game you can collect trading cards of characters and items, which do virtually nothing. There are little "medals" scattered in the world that count as detective points, and I swear, during all forty hours of my gameplay I didn't find them mentioned anywhere except on an on screen prompt telling me I've collected them. It's not bad that these are included, I just can't find a reason for them to be in other than some filler. The cars themselves drive like crap. Squad cars (your default vehicle) turn like bulldozers and barely push it past 70 when speeding. Collisions remind me of awful PS1 era racing games, yet there's a damage meter even if there's no visible damage to the car at all (and there never is). In what seems like a jab at the player, there are several races scattered around the map. Not a single *bleep* was given when I saw these. What makes up for all the driving short comings are, instead of a radio to listen to when driving around, there's always a rather enthralling conversation to listen to either in or out of a mission. On missions, you're usually accompanied by one or two of the town's police force, the sheriff and either one of the deputies. These usually only pertain to the investigation itself and are somewhat boring. Outside of missions is when the conversations are gold. The game's protagonist is an FBI agent who has had his split, second personality since he was a young child, so the two have experienced much together, and during the down time of the game, usually discuss films they consider "classics", such as Jaws, Back to the Future, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, or pretty much any John Hughes film. As you can tell, he's an 80s kid. When he isn't showing off his encyclopedia movie knowledge that would leave any middle aged woman with a hair metal band tattoo blush, he's passing the time sharing memories about their time in highschool, listening to punk (him and I really have a similar taste in punk ), or talking about their friendly competition with the beautiful sheriff's deputy. It all really comes back to the almost unnecessary but appreciated levels of realism SWERY added to his masterpiece (that's right, I said it. Fight me). On the surface, they're meaningless exchanges but strangely beautiful and somehow nostalgic in their own way, giving the characters depth that few games care about. It's a great way SWERY translated his own experiences and opinions into the game, but tied it into the game's narrative and backstory majestically while giving it a whole lotta weight. I'm getting ahead of myself, I let's fully dive into what I'm hinting at.
The real treat of Deadly Premonition is the narrative. "Oh so it should be the one redee-" SHUT UP ZACH, JUST SHUT UP. This is MY review.
I'll be blunt, the story is shit. It's riddled with plotholes, (mostly) awkward dialogue, and near the end of it, becomes so ridiculous a seemingly normal characters turns into a super saiyan troll monster (no lie). But that doesn't mean it's not enjoyable. In fact, the narrative is easily my favorite part of the game and one of my favorite in recent memory. The game is basically an elaborate fanfic of David Lynch's cult tv show Twin Peaks. It's about the charismatic, stand-offish FBI agent Francis York Morgan (Just call him York, everyone does) who's sent to the sleepy fictional Washington town of Greenvale to investigate the murder of a popular highschool girl. During the investigation he discovers she is killed in similar ritualistic ways that has happened throughout the country. He joins the local police department on an investigation that he eventually takes the lead of, which in turn, leads to several other girls (and one mildly attractive cross dresser) being murdered in similar fashions to the first girl. It's pretty much standard stuff when it comes to murder mysteries, except when it begins it's trip down a paranormal and disturbingly psychological path of the psyches of several key figures of the town, until it eventually becomes a full blown acid trip of whacky awesomeness that makes no sense whatsoever. But that's where most of the charm comes from, just how unconventional the entire things is, especially in the context of a rather normal town and the relatively normal start the game gets off to.
Taking a page out of another flawed masterpiece, Beyond Good and Evil, even though the game is rather poor on the writing side of things, it easily makes up for it in the "charm" department. The characters each have their own personality, and they're always interesting. A schizophrenic old lady who can speak to her pot (not that kind, stoners), a weird, loner gravekeeper, an emotionally abused waitress who works at her husband's diner, a sheriff with mommy issues, and an enigmatic, rich old man in a wheelchair and adorned in a gas mask who only speaks through his British mouthpiece of a servant who talks in rhymes like some kind of Grunty ripoff are a few of the great characters that fill the game. All of which you will be missing out on if you don't meet. The game also has a kind of watercooler effect. A player can have a totally difference experience than another who plays the same game because of how huge it is and how little direction is needed. Since it's one big investigation, a new player will (if you don't, I suggest you do) usually follow see a key suspect at a suspicious area during a certain time and can
Videogames are still a relatively new medium, and there has been a lot of copy-pasting in terms of ideas and few developers try something new when it comes to their games. I mean, it's easy just to go with what's popular instead of sticking your neck, and reputation, on the line by trying something different. Few games try to be funny. Few games try an artsy approach. Deadly Premonition goes down both alleys, and succeeds immensely with the former, admirably with the latter. It kind of pains me to discuss games as art; it's such an awkward and complex topic that I have little knowledge of. I have very little background (read: none) in fine arts, which are universally accepted as art, so it feels a little disingenuous for me to talk about it. But I do watch movies and read books, which are also considered art, so it's a wash. Several reviewers have called Deadly Premonition an art game, and I have to agree with them to an extent. If I ask Google, it gives me:
Deadly Premonition certainly fills it. I mean, if films are accepted as art, for every Citizen Kane there's eighty Scary Movies. So if true expressions of artistic intentions like Deadly Premonition gets passed over solely because the medium it's expressed in isn't completely over as a form of art, I call bullshit. And I call it loudly. Another definition I hear frequently with art is an emotional response must be triggered. If those are the two criteria, there's no doubt Deadly Premonition counts as one of the greatest art games ever, and a pioneer in the genre. As mentioned above, I think the narrative of this game is awful, but I still love it. At the climax of the game, York makes an emotionally weighty decision to kill a character and his character arc is completed right before he must kill the final boss. After the game was completed, I spent no less than an hour thinking about what just happened. I didn't know what I was feeling. I was angry, sad and intrigued. The game's final moments stayed with me for a long time. If that's not art I honestly don't know what is. Maybe I should keep my mouth shut while some pretentious asshole berates me for not thinking the Velvet Underground is the greatest band ever while drinking Starbucks.
I completely glossed over the comedy aspect of the game. Simply put, it's hilarious. York is a confrontational ass with a lot of know-how and experience, with a strong opinion and isn't afraid to show it. The first scene he's in he's talking on the phone about the psychological relationship between the characters in the show Tom and Jerry. Further into the game he shares a story about a case where a man killed people and drank his own piss from their skulls over a meal without any hesitance, feeling it's an appropriate dinner conversation. The humor is helped by the awful graphics and animations, making their serious discussions seems trivial when they can barely convey their emotions adequately without looking constipated. When people think of comedy games, I really only ever hear Grand Theft Auto and Conker's Bad Fur Day. Deadly Premonition is funnier than both (not to say it's the best in that category ahem
Alright, that was pretty weighty, let's wrap this up. One thing one notices when beginning the game is how good the music is. There's a light-hearted folk song with an irresistible whistle melody that everyone, even those not fortunate enough to whistle (me ), will be joining in on, a surreal jazz track, an atmospheric chorus-driven piece, a grand, acoustic hymn, and... hmm.. that's about it. There's probably about ten songs in this game, four of which get any legitimate play during the course of the story. They're all good, I really really like the soundtrack. But they get replayed ad nauseoum. It's hard to enjoy "Life is Beautiful" after the fifteen hundredth time, no matter how catchy is may be.
If you think you aren't going to like this, that's cool, this game certainly isn't for everyone. But it's only $20 (at least when it was released, probably lower now), and the PS3 is getting a director's cut soon with a bunch more added to the experience. If you're a completionist you can easily squeeze out fifty hours or more, there's that much to do. Every character has at least one sidequest, with multiple characters giving several. The town is huge, and not huge like Just Cause 2, not nearly as big but it's filled with many many interesting features and isn't copy-pasted for twenty square miles. But this game is something different. Even if you read through this and think you won't like it, give it a shot. Who knows, you could find yourself liking the Sinner Sandwich.
So says Mr. Stewart.