Deadly Premonition – PC
Developer: Access Games
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Released: February 17, 2010
Genre: Survival Horror
Nerd Rating: 9/10
Reviewed by ryanvoid
Link to Game
Imagine a game designed and written by a genius eight-year-old who’s just marathoned Twin Peaks and has only ever read about video games without playing a single one. Are you imagining it? Yeah, it’s weirder and more disconcerting than that, but it’s a pretty close approximation of Deadly Premonition.
The story follows FBI Agent Francis York Morgan (“Just call me York. Everybody else does”), who arrives in the small town of Greenvale to investigate the ritual murder of Anna Graham, a young local girl. He has a number of odd habits, including the ability to tell the future according to the way the creamer swirls in his coffee, and his constant communication with “Zach,” implied to be an imaginary friend or split personality. Throughout the game, he is stalked by a faceless killer in a raincoat, as well as a slew of contortionist phantoms, and he learns that these strange happenings are related to the testing of biological weapons in Greenvale during the 1950’s. And down the rabbit hole he goes, interrogating gas-mask wearing millionaires and squirrel-obsessed cops as he unravels the mystery of Anna Graham’s gruesome death.
While the premise is fairly stock (FBI agent clashes with local law enforcement while investigating bizarre murders), DP is very good at making it feel fresh and unique because of its obsessive attention to oddball details. You have an active role in collecting clues and piecing them together by way of jarring cinematics, but the details all add up to a strange and clever plot that twists and veers through psychosexual hallucinations and non-sequitur goofiness. It’s easy to look at certain elements of the gameplay as being derivative of survival horror classics (Resident Evil 4′s over-the-shoulder shooting, Silent Hill‘s shadowy, contorted monsters), but what’s refreshing about DP is its mutation of these concepts into something wholly original. It’s impossible to create a survival horror game in a vacuum, and rather than attempt not to acknowledge its influences, it parrots them in a pantomime that’s genuinely unnerving. Like a mashup of screaming torture victims set to a disco beat.
And it’s the details that make this game so intriguing.York needs to shave regularly or suffer social penalties. You need to toggle the windshield wiper while driving in the rain and keep the gas tank filled or risk being stranded. While talking to Zach, York compulsively talks about movies while always naming the directors and years they were released. If DP had painted itself in broad strokes, it would have been rightfully consigned to the trash bin labeled “generic survival horror clone,” but I can’t think of any horror game quite like it. Immediately after witnessing a gruesome murder scene, jazzy upbeat music plays while York cracks wise about it. And the theme, Life is Beautiful, which features prominent use of whistling, will be stuck in your head for days, and at wildly inappropriate times.
The controls are wild, unwieldy, and awkward. For just about any other game, save possibly Octodad: Dadliest Catch, this would be a huge drawback, but in the case of Deadly Premonition, it fits perfectly with the overall aesthetic of the game. The car controls, for example, are comically awful. It’s almost impossible to drive straight for long periods of time, so you’re constantly veering in and out of lanes and colliding with fences and hillsides. York jerks around like a spasmodic marionette as he navigates through diners and abandoned industrial factories while exploring the open-world town of Greenvale. At times, the controls cease to be charming and can become an exercise in frustration, but it’s during the sphincter-clenchingly scary chase scenes with the Raincoat Killer that they justify themselves and add to the tension of the gameplay.
The graphics are not DP‘s strong suit. Mouths frequently move out of time with the dialogue, and the monsters stutter and clip while they menace you with weird poses. For a game made in 2010, it has the blocky gracelessness of the old-school horror games it’s been endlessly compared to. The important thing, though, is what DP is attempting to do, and how well it accomplishes that. The anachronistic graphics help contribute to the hallucinatory imagery and the nonsensical, barely-matched-to-mouth dialogue. This is a game about atmosphere, and the odd graphics are a feature, not a bug.
All of this adds up to a singularly bizarre and infinitely playable gaming experience. Attempting to rate DP with conventional metrics almost misses the point of the game itself; it’s a combination of elements that shouldn’t work, but ultimately work beautifully in producing an insane internal logic that I’ve yet to see in any other horror game. No matter how many games provided the inspiration for Deadly Premonition, not a single one can be compared to it.
Reviewed by ryanvoid
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