Unlike the B-movie genre, its video game equivalent is stagnant. Our industry has Hollywood parallels elsewhere, with big-budget blockbusters and smaller, independent games a dime a dozen. But B-games, with their low budgets, poor graphics, broken mechanics, and hearts of gold, are nearly non-existent. Deadly Premonition is all of these things – and despite its flaws, the game is a veritable diamond in the rough.
It begins with a premise that should be familiar to Twin Peaks fans – a quirky FBI agent comes to a small town in Washington to solve the murder of a teenage girl. It’ll be your goal as Special Agent Francis York Morgan to drive around town, interrogate suspects, fish for evidence (literally), and smoke far too many cigarettes.
But before you can do that York crashes his car in the woods. This begins one of many survival horror sequences in the game. Zombies shamble toward you and you’ll take them on in a poor man’s rendition of Resident Evil 4 or 5.
Just to get this out of the way, these combat areas are easily the weakest part of the game. In the beginning they’re quite fun despite the poor aiming controls. The zombies are odd, unnerving, and nailing head-shots on them is satisfying. However, as the game goes on (and it goes on for quite a while), these sequences become repetitive. In lower concentration they’d be a nice diversion, but as more than 25% of the game, they begin to feel like filler.
The real fun begins once you start your investigation. You’ll take to the streets of Greenvale in a standard police vehicle that, for a while, doesn’t go much faster than 55 MPH. It sounds slow and boring, but there’s a charm to driving a car in a game at normal speeds with working windshield wipers, headlights, sirens, and turn signals.
Deadly Premonition is steeped in mundane aesthetics unseen since the Shenmue series. You can shave, go fishing, or buy some groceries at the local market. Shops have particular hours, day turns to night, and you’ll find yourself checking the weather in the morning after your daily cup of coffee.
The game is relatively linear at the outset, with a handful of “drive to destination/watch cutscene/do mission” loops before things really open up. Eventually you’ll have some time to kill before the next major story mission, and this is where you can start taking on side-quests. Deadly Premonition features 50 side-quests, each tied into truly useful rewards and story elements. Some of the things you unlock include fast travel, better cars, and guns with infinite ammo. The unlockables are a little absurd – you’d expect to get these things with a cheat code or after the game is over. It’s weird, but it’s also rewarding to subvert the mundane elements of the game before they start to drag.
What’s even better about these side-quests is how heavily they can influence your thoughts on who the killer is. Deadly Premonition’s greatest achievement is its engrossing mystery. Stiff dialogue and busted animation give the game its low-budget charm – often leading to some unintentional humour – but the plot and characters shine through despite the campiness. By taking on side-quests, you’ll gain a lot of insight into the town and its quirky cast of characters. Sometimes they even lead into a multi-part investigation trail.
By making significant plot elements optional, the game gives you some agency in the story. It also means you can miss out on bits of foreshadowing, or even a clever red herring. Don’t expect anything immensely complicated, but most of the townsfolk have a simple day-to-day routine. In the thick of a big lead, the trail can go cold simply because characters aren’t around. Racing around, trying to solve the crime yourself before the day ends can be incredibly exciting.
Deadly Premonition’s over-arching mystery is genuinely good. The plot wraps up in a way that, in its own insane universe, actually makes sense and actually satisfies. The investigation feeds into the gameplay in such a way that it makes the experience more fun. The cast of characters are genuinely funny, charming, and unique. Agent York alone is one of the best characters in a video game ever – whether he’s talking to the voice in his head about old 80s movies or being an awkward jerk to everyone in town, he’s a constant source of comedy gold.
If it sounds like there’s a big “but” coming it’s because there is. In all honesty, Deadly Premonition isn’t for everyone. This is a budget game, and therefore requires patience and a tolerance for flaws. As previously stated, the survival horror sections drag later on. The driving controls are simplistic, and the physics can send you careening into walls at random. Plus, the game looks like it came out almost a decade ago, with graphical glitches that you probably don’t even remember existed.
It sounds bad, but in all honesty if you’re willing to give the game a chance, most of these flaws become trivial. No single issue (except for maybe the graphics) ever stands out so much that it drags the game down.
Offer Deadly Premonition your patience, and it will reward you again and again. It’s rare that a game is this funny or self-aware. It’s campy and corny, with a mix of genuinely good humor and awkward, unintentional hilarity. This is somehow balanced with characters you’ll like and a murder mystery that’s truly worth solving.
Deadly Premonition makes a case for the low-budget B-game. In an industry governed by all-or-nothing AAA releases it offers an avenue for developers that want to take more chances. Sure it could make peanuts and fall into obscurity, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything like it.
Originally posted at: http://www.criticalgamer.co.uk/2010/03/09/deadly-premonition-review/