Deadly Premonition

It’s finally here. My coffee warned me about this. You see, last week saw the delayed UK release of one of the most controversial Xbox 360 titles in recent memory. And no, it has nothing to do with Jack Thompson. Since its USA debut in April, critics have been furiously debating whether low-budget, survival-horror-mystery Deadly Premonition is the most genuine/ironic achievement of this generation, or a buggy waste of time barely fit to be classified as a “game”. Train-wreck of bad design or mis-understood classic? Let’s find out together, Zach.

Never judge a book by its cover, they say, and the old adage is no truer than with the first hour of Deadly Premonition. Although the introduction prompts intrigue from its striking central image (a naked woman, brutally murdered and nailed to a tree), what follows is more problematic. Before I even made it to the first-save point, I encountered stilted controls, blurry textures, odd cut-scene pacing, overly-loud (albeit catchy) music, glitched-physics and a section where I had to run down a mile-long road for literally no reason. And yet, none of that really matters. After all, Deadly Premonition is hardly about the gameplay. It’s about the characters, the story, and ultimately, the experience.

That’s not to say there’s a dearth of content in the game, mind you. Profiling crime scenes and avoiding local troubles will take up a significant period of your time (about 20 hours), but so will touring the open-world environment (a small town) where everything takes place. During each game “episode”, there’s a bunch of optional side-quests you can undertake, many of which rely on a Dead Rising-style day and night cycle. These quests might reward the player with gameplay goodies – such as a new means of travel around town or a shiny new machine-gun – but more importantly, they open up hilarious new dialogue and interaction options with story characters. The general controls draw many comparisons to the over-the-shoulder mechanics of Resident Evil 4, and this carries through to the combat portions of the game; you’ll stop and aim for head-shots on ‘monsters’, although more menacing baddies will require you to survive some genuinely tense quick-time-event button-mashing sequences.

But let’s move on to why Deadly Premonition matters. The game is set in the small community of Greenvale. While the town of Bright Falls in Alan Wake drew many thematic comparisons to the legendary television series Twin Peaks, Deadly Premonition’s town of Greenvale more accurately matches it in execution. Sure, both are aging logging districts situated in the American-Midwest, but what really made Twin Peaks so fascinating was its ensemble of charming oddballs, something Deadly Premonition has in spades. For every Log-Lady or Dale Cooper, there’s a Harry Stewart or Detective York here; the local denizens of Greenvale are kookier than a sleep-deprived Jack Nicholson, frequently spouting the kind of ‘did-they-just-say-that?’ dialogue that will have you either in fits of laughter or wincing in disbelief, but endlessly quoting after play regardless.

No review of this game could be complete without further discussion of the game’s protagonist, the enigmatic Francis “York” Morgan. Although the story evokes quite different reactions for each player (some interpret it as a deep, engaging and heart-wrenching tale of mystery and madness; others will find it so ridiculous that they just don’t care) most will probably agree on one point: York is awesome. Whether he’s commenting on the bizarre events around him to his friend Zach (is Zach the player, or is York crazy?), interrupting important character narrative for a smoke (which he never finishes), or discussing the merits of the Jaws movies (seriously), he’s almost always entertaining. In fact, he’s so amusing that I found myself often ignoring some admittedly frustrating gameplay moments just to hear what he might say next. By the time they’ve experienced the game’s conclusion, it wouldn’t surprise me to hear one or two players affectionately speaking of Mr. Morgan the way we address the likes of Solid Snake or John Marston.







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