Hello dear readers and welcome to the latest edition of my occasional series, The Rookie Plays, in which I take an in-depth look at a game I’ve recently completed. This time around I am looking at a game so divisive it holds a Guinness World Record for being the Most Critically Polarizing Survival Horror Game (obviously that’s a thing…) and that game is none other than Deadly Premonition! Why not join me for a look at what this game has to offer.
The fact that I’m publishing this post now is not a coincidence, as tomorrow a sequel (or prequel?) to this legendary game will be released. Yep that’s right. Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise comes out on July 10th 2020 and I am VERY hyped for this, so I thought I’d offer my thoughts on the original which I played after it was ported to the Switch.
First though, why did I play Deadly Premonition in the first place? Well basically, I got drunk one Friday evening and bought it on the Nintendo EShop only to wake the next day forgetting I had done so. As it turns out, this was a good decision by my drunken self and now that I’ve finished it I will certainly never forget it again.
I have already noted that it is quite a divisive game amongst critics, where even some positive reviews lump it into the ‘so bad it’s good’ category. For me though this is a far too simplistic evaluation of a game which lurches from the good to the bad to the extraordinary and somehow ends up being a masterpiece.
There are a few things within Deadly Premonition which make it stand out as a truly exceptional and unforgettable experience. One of its greatest achievements is the sense of place it creates. Everything about the town of Greenvale where the events take place feels eerily believable. Not that it necessarily reflects the reality of small town America, I mean, I’ve never been there so I couldn’t comment, but instead it is a perfect example of how small town America is depicted in fiction. It has a hotel, a diner, a couple of bars, a police station and various other locations you might expect, and each of them is filled with atmosphere. The characters too are full of personality and have an unexpected level of depth which leaves you with the feeling that you really know them.
On top of having a compelling cast of characters, the game also enjoys a fantastic (if bizarre) script, full of humour and weird little asides. Quite famously, there are many scenes in the game where our protagonist, FBI Agent Francis York Morgan speaks to an ‘invisible friend’ called Zach, and during these conversations the player hears all kinds of interesting facts, mostly about 80’s movies. For me this was a pretty unique and creative way to get to know the character.
Every good horror game needs a good antagonist, and Deadly Premonition’s Raincoat Killer is a genuinely frightening and memorable enemy. One of the things that makes the Raincoat Killer so scary is an inspired use of split-screen. During the ‘dungeon’ sections of the game Agent Morgan (or York as he prefers to be called) is sporadically chased by the the Raincoat Killer. These scenes are presented in split screen, so you can see both York and the Raincoat Killer catching up to him. This is particularly terrifying during times when York is hiding in cupboards, as you can see the Raincoat Killer coming into the room and looking around for any trace of York. This makes you feel completely helpless as all you can do is try and control York’s breathing, knowing that if you slip up then it is game over for the good agent.
Another intriguing part of the game is its open world nature. This seems pretty unusual in the survival horror genre. In fact, Deadly Premonition is almost like two separate games, one where you can explore a town and take on random side quests, and another more linear game where you fight ghoulish enemies and hunt for clues in decaying environments. As the game progresses there is an element of merging between these two realities which really messes with your expectations.
Despite my overwhelming enthusiasm, there are reasons why this game is so divisive and these cannot be ignored. Personally I don’t think it would be quite the same if everything worked properly, but there is a line between being quirkily bad and just plain annoying that Deadly Premonition crosses a few times. The driving element is probably the biggest crime against video games here. Clearly it isn’t a driving game and I wouldn’t expect it to handle as such but it is SO difficult to drive a car around Greenvale without crashing that sometimes it is easier just to walk. Combat too isn’t all that great, although it is at least fairly straightforward. The liberal use of QTE prompts on the other hand really could’ve been toned down.
There are a few other more niggly complaints I have, the biggest probably being the map display which I have seen described on the internet as ‘The Map (from hell)’. It doesn’t have a proper zoom function so it is super difficult to see where you are in relation to where you are supposed to be going, which often leaves you driving around aimlessly wasting petrol (and yes… you have to fill your car up!).
So I think I’ve established that it isn’t perfect, and has a real mix of good and bad. On top of that it has a lot of just plain weird. How on earth they came up with some of this stuff I will never know (although if creator Swery 65’s Instagram account is anything to go by I think it might have involved copious amounts of whisky #drinKING).
There’s the whole Zach thing, which is very odd but also pretty important. There’s the demon dog thing where demonic dogs appear inexplicably if you go out driving after midnight. There’s also the way York uses coffee to help him solve cases and how a turkey sandwich costs nearly $100. Actually, there is quite a lot of weird things about sandwiches in this game. Finally, there is a scene where you have to chase a Dalmatian called Willie around town in the middle of the night to an entirely inappropriate but somehow brilliant musical soundtrack. It is utterly bonkers.
There is so much more I’d like to mention, but I think I’ll wind up here to allow you to go and check the game out for yourself! I really would recommend it to anyone who likes being surprised by video games, people who enjoy strong and interesting characters and people who have a twisted sense of humor. I will concede that it is not for everyone due to being a little broken and a lot gory, but I hope I have got across how much I enjoyed the game, and I really hope you will check it out!
So what do you think Zach? Have I sold you on Deadly Premonition? Maybe you are already a fan and are getting hyped for Deadly Premonition 2? Maybe you could let me know your thoughts below in the comment section!
Thanks for reading,