Deadly Premonition is, in many ways, a bad game. It performs poorly, it’s pretty ugly, the controls are shoddy, and a lot of its gameplay mechanics are just incredibly ordinary in design. If it was judged on looks alone, you’d only have to spend a couple of minutes looking at a gameplay video and it’d probably be enough to turn you off for good.
Yet somehow, despite all of these flaws, it has a cult following of people that absolutely adore it. Behind the rough (and I mean rough) exterior, there’s this charming and quirky experience that’s hard to step away from once you become a part of it. It hooks you in with it’s bizarre one liners, it’s eccentric cast of characters, and the unnerving mystery behind the Raincoat Killer, and once it has got you it won’t let go… it’s certainly unique. Truthfully? I’ve loved it ever since I first played it on the Xbox 360 back in 2010. I’ll say it again: Deadly Premonition is a bad game, but it also offers a unique and brilliant experience that few video games can replicate.
Deadly Premonition puts you in the role of Agent York; a peculiar young detective that heads to the town of Greenvale to investigate a mysterious murder (and improve his profiling skills). After crashing his car on the way in and encountering the Raincoat Killer, he soon finds that not all is as it seems – not just because the town itself is full of bizarre and uncooperative people who seem to know more than they’re letting on, but also because he often finds himself having to trudge through a strange alternate dimension representation of Greenvale where he faces off against monstrous foes. York isn’t alone on his investigation though; besides having help from the local police force, he’s also joined by his imaginary personality named Zach (that is essentially the player’s role) with whom he’s always willing to share little bits of information regarding the investigation as well as facts about the many different facets of pop-culture. It sounds bizarre, right? That’s because it is, but in a VERY good way.
The narrative is probably the highlight of the whole package. Don’t get me wrong, it can be utterly baffling at times and it certainly isn’t afraid to head into bizarre territory, but between the strange cast of characters and the situations you find yourself in, it’s hard not to find yourself totally invested in the tale. If you’re a fan of Twin Peaks, you’ll particularly appreciate how a lot of story sequences unfold and will notice more than a handful of references to David Lynch’s masterpiece of a TV show throughout the investigation. It’s good stuff.
It’s worth mentioning that it’s probably worth doing a second playthrough, too. Deadly Premonition is a fairly lengthy game, but once you’ve seen the investigation unfold once, you’ll be able to notice all of the little clues and hints the second time around. In honesty, some of them are MIGHTY obvious when you do notice them, but they all add to the quirky charm of the game.
It’s when it comes to the gameplay where Deadly Premonition shows some of its poor qualities – that’s not to say it’s all bad, but these are where the flaws creep in. The basic gameplay formula sees you exploring the open-world town of Greenvale, heading to objectives within certain time frames (there’s an in-game clock on display that you have to work to), finding the clues to help York’s profiling ability, and then shooting vicious monsters in the game’s strange other dimension-like setting.
Exploration is a mixed bag. The town itself has an abundance of personality, whether that’s with the eccentric folk that you get to meet or with the almost normal (yet somehow distinct) locales you’ll encounter. There are plenty of side-missions to complete whilst out and about, whilst collectible trading cards will have you scouring every nook and cranny of the streets as you look to complete your collection – you can even partake in a little bit of fishing if you tire of hunting down an elusive killer. It’s also always made clear where you need to go with the main mission clearly marked to the player as well as the time in which you need to get there, so you’ll never find yourself lost or wondering where you need to go.
Sounds good, right? Well, actually getting around the town is a different thing altogether, with the controls of your car proving to be pretty awful. It handles terribly and there’s no real way to gauge its speed, whilst it’ll also randomly start veering off to the side for no apparent reason. It’s clear a bit of effort has gone into the vehicle in the game thanks to the fact that you’re able to use things like the indicators and have to fill it up with gas when it empties, but using it to get around just feels incredibly clunky and not a lot of fun.
Combat isn’t quite as bad, with the shooting mechanics themselves proving simple but bearable. York is able to use a decent variety of melee and ranged weapons in combat, with an auto-lock function used to aim at your enemies and a simple press of the shoot button required to pummel them with bullets. You don’t have to do any awkward manual aiming if you don’t want to, but can instead let the game do the hard part for you (which, as you can imagine, is probably a good thing). You’ll never get inundated with enemies either and it’s pretty easy to sneak past most of them, so there’s nothing frustrating about combat – it’s just very, VERY ordinary in design.
However, there are some QTEs thrown into the mix that can be a little bit too unforgiving for comfort. There were a few occasions where the game didn’t seem to recognise my commands when using the control sticks, and even when I had to press a button to react it didn’t give me a whole lot of time to do so – I suffered plenty of QTE failures throughout the game and most of them just felt a little unfair in design. The worst part? Sometimes you’ll have to play through lengthy sections again when you fail them, which is a bit of a pain considering that there’s a good chance you’ll fail the QTE again the second time around. Admittedly, some of these failures could be down to my lacking skills, but I’ve never struggled with QTEs this much before in any other game…
Visually, Deadly Premonition looks ugly. There’s no other way to put it; sure, it has plenty of personality in its design, but everything about it looks like it belongs on a PlayStation 2 (and not in a way that it holds up well today). Thankfully, the environments themselves are mostly interesting to explore (with the exception of some of the bland other-dimension locales), but you shouldn’t expect to see anything pretty in the game (except for York’s dashing smile).
The sound design though? Outstanding. Don’t get me wrong; you’ll rarely encounter a scene in the game where the music seems to fit what’s going on, yet it’s so bloody charming that you couldn’t imagine it any other way. I remember some of the music from when I played the game the first time around all those years ago and it certainly brought a few smiles to my face hearing it again. The voice acting is… uh, interesting too. That’s not to say that it’s bad, but rather that the voice actors themselves sound like they didn’t always know how to respond to the off-the-wall script. Again, it’s probably a good thing, and it fits the tone of the game brilliantly.
From an audio perspective, both the music and the voice performances do a great job at embracing the strangeness of Deadly Premonition. That being said, there were a few occasions where the sound seemed to cut out a little bit and the volume levels seemed off; this was supposed to be fixed in a recent patch (and from what I have heard it’s certainly a lot better than it was), but it’s still not quite perfect yet.
That’s not the only flaw either, with a problematic frame rate, some awkward controls, and a camera that doesn’t always seem to follow the action properly creeping in on more than a few occasions. Deadly Premonition really does have a lot of problems, some of which seem a lot more obvious on the Nintendo Switch (which doesn’t include the extras of the improved Director’s Cut). Somehow though, these flaws won’t stop you enjoying the game; yes, they’re annoying and yes, they should have been fixed so many years on, but none of them are game-breaking and somehow they feel endearing given that you’re playing a game that’s meant to be ‘so bad that it’s good’. I don’t like to give games free passes, but believe me when I say that despite it being a bad game in design, you’ll have a good time with Deadly Premonition.
I said it at the start and I’ll say it again: Deadly Premonition is a bad game. It has technical issues, it doesn’t control that well and it looks like it should have come out in 2002… this really isn’t the recipe for a good experience.
Despite all of its issues, I can’t help but to adore the game; not just because it’s ‘so bad that it’s good’, but because it’s full to the brim with charm, has a narrative that’ll completely hook you in with its oddities, and because it offers something genuinely unique that we don’t see in video games all that often. Add to that the fact that it was CLEARLY inspired by Twin Peaks (a show that I’m obsessed with) and it just makes it even easier for me to love the game.
It’s always going to be divisive and rightfully so. I think it’d be an insult to give it a super high score too, because even as a fan I can recognise all of its shortcomings. If you can look past Deadly Premonition’s obvious flaws and embrace what director Swery65 was trying to do when he created it though… well… you’re going to get to experience something pretty special.
Publisher: Numskull Games, Toybox Games
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch