Deadly Premonition was released in Europe at the tail end of 2010, licensed from Japan (released there as Red Seeds Profile) by Rising Star Games, and launched straight into the budget range. It’s classed as a survival horror in which you take the reins of FBI Agent Francis Morgan York investigating the murder of a young woman in a fictional and rural town called Greenvale.
A lot of reviews criticise its gameplay, its graphics, its outdated look and feel, and others herald those very points as brilliant in an ironic manner, as indicators of why it’s so worth your attention.
Rather than just reviewing it, or belittling it with a score, we’re looking at it sincerely. We don’t want to champion it in a patronising manner or, equally, condemn it either. We genuinely enjoyed it! Sincerely! We did! Stop laughing!
It’s no secret that Deadly Premonition looks and feels like a PS2 game. It handles like Resident Evil multiplied by FRUSTRATION and the dirge of a screen that appears every time you pick up an item is grating, yes. In fact, the entire survival horror aspect of the game, we could do without. Yes, the enemies are repetitive and yes, killing them is a chore. But it’s a small price to pay for the rest of the experience. Because that’s what it is.
It’s the characterisation of Agent York and, pretty much, everyone else in the game that truly makes it special. We could quite happily play as Agent York in a day-to-day life scenario in which he gets up, goes to work, comes home, watches TV and goes to bed.
Without giving anything away, Agent York is a total prick. And it’s not often you get to play a total prick without there being some sort of epiphany moment showing how great the character really is. But, Agent York is relentlessly bullish and condescending. Not only that, he has the creepiest face we’ve ever seen. Especially when he smiles.
Yeah, it looks terrifying. And not in the way it intended to.
But, one of our favourite games of all time is Hunter on the Amiga which looks like a lot of boxes. It plays terribly, and there’s often nothing to do. However, the unprecedented freedom was overwhelming when we played it for the first time as a young ‘uns. We could take our boxy soldier and swim to empty islands (we say islands… they were more like boxes) and find boxy things like bikes and box-shaped cars that we could ride around on the empty boxes:
Apparently there was some sort of mission we had to complete, but we don’t think we ever did. Even back then, the graphics for Hunter, while ‘3-D’, looked pretty awful compared to the 16-bit Sonic colours that was released the same year. We can’t understand why people mark games down when it comes to graphics. Yes, they’re important these days and we’ve come to be quite picky about it, assuming bad or outdated graphics equals laziness, but a game can outshine its graphics. In fact, we all know the opposite can be true. Something gorgeous doesn’t always make the best playmate either. This should only be important if the entire package doesn’t hold up.
In an age where most of the main characters in games are either so customisable that you can’t attach any sort of personality to them, or so rigid and formulaic that they’re one dimensional it’s great to find yourself playing a character whose personality is already so developed and cracked before you’ve even touched it. Some games unfold characters throughout and you eventually see why they’re so troubled, why you fight the good fight yadda yadda yadda, but Agent York is just so truly weird regardless. Most of the fun we had with games like Monkey Island was in hanging around with Guybrush Threepwood, not so much the actual adventure itself. We can’t imagine really wanting to revisit Marcus Fenix from Gears Of War in some sort of supermarket adventure. Good characters you can place in any situation, and they’ll be just as appealing. Although, seeing Marcus duck and roll about in the aisles may be quite good. Ezio Auditore selling used cars? Not so much.
The town of Greenvale, while significantly empty compared to something like Liberty City from the GTA series seems vastly more alive than Liberty ever does. The reason being that with so few inhabitants, you can actually get to know them. You see them travelling around. You can go to their houses, and spy on them through windows as they sleep. Where GTA’s city is intense and huge, how often do you just run into a unique character you’ve met before unless it’s mission-based? When GTA was still getting off the ground and each release in the series was building on the living city and the customisation of characters (like eating and keeping fit in San Andreas), we were convinced that the series would eventually become one where each NPC had a unique personality, and a life-pattern that, if you were so bored, you could follow by literally stalking them day and night. Unfortunately, we think GTA4 was a step in the wrong direction, focussing on the comparatively linear and unflinching life of Niko Bellic, forgetting the city and the open world aspect that made it so compelling to a lot of players in the first place.
While Deadly Premonition is nowhere near that size, the fact you can stalk residents and see what they get up to is enough. It steps further in the right direction than GTA4 did as far as we’re concerned.
Agent York’s personality quirks - like his intense interest in 70s and 80s films - is on par with the anal precision of Patrick Bateman with bands like Huey Lewis And The News. And the fact, over the course of the game, he’ll grow a haphazard beard unless you keep shaving him and that his suits will start to stink if you don’t wash them (despite neither having any actual consequence on the game itself) is just perfect. Even the pause screen is a mindfart.
It’s no surprise that Deadly Premonition was compared to Twin Peaks – so much so that they had to change parts of it because it was such a rip-off – cough – because it was so similar. As a Twin Peaks fan, I’m happy that any game goes close to that winding and ambiguous story. Alan Wake tried its hand at it, but did so in such a boxed, conservative manner that it was like a grandad pulling off his thumb, then reattaching it, expecting you to be impressed. Deadly Premonition, with its bizarre dream sequences and fortune-telling FBI Agent not only comes close to the weirdness of Twin Peaks, but practically emulates it. Oh, no. Tragic. We like Twin Peaks. We like video games. Why is twinning them a bad thing? FINE BY US!
So, Deadly Premonition fans, we salute you. Genuine fans, that is.