Most of us know that Deadly Premonition appears in the Gamer's Edition of the Guinness World Records and holds the title of the "Most critically polarizing survival horror game of all time". The question we face today is, if this title stands even a little over three years from the game's release, after multiple revamped editions, several legendary playthroughs (Giant Bomb, Two Best Friends Play) and of course with the effects of the wonderful fanbase that enlarged DP's cult status. Simply because everybody seems to love Deadly Premonition nowadays (including me - as you probably guessed based on my avatar).
When the game released it was promptly slammed in the legendary IGN "2.0" review and later highlighted as an extraordinary train-wreck in Jim Sterling's perhaps finest game review to date. People were confused and those ballsy individuals who had the guts to actually try the game out for themselves immediately divided into two groups. Either they didn't understand DP's strange appeals or they embraced it and loved the finished product to bits. It's always a little cooler to be the one swimming upstream and elevate a game that deserves more attention in the process. I believe that that game already got all the attention it needed and improved it's overall status from "polarizing" to "legitimately good".
It's a similar story to David Fincher's 1999 film Fight Club. Now considered to be perhaps one of the best films of all time and a landmark for modern Hollywood movies of the 21. century, it was no instant classic when it originally released. It received crushing reviews from the likes of LA Times or Roger Ebert and was a huge blow to David Fincher's career as a filmmaker (who luckily reinstated himself some years later with Panic Room and Zodiac). And yet, Fight Club is now on the 10th place of Imdb's TOP 250 list and you would probably search for a long time for a "Top 100 Movies..." list without the inclusion of Fincher's 1999 epic about the descent into anarchy and mankind's return to animality.
When I first played Deadly Premonition last summer, it was still an Xbox exclusive with a nice cult following that was progressively getting weaker since the game was already two and a half years old. Still, it was a valiant effort from the community to keep releasing fan-art everyday to keep the "genius loci" of the game intact. I had no idea what to expect from the game itself and when I ended up loving it from start to finish I swiftly joined the DP fan-club while searching for an ideal recipe for the (in)famous Sinner's sandwich. I loved it even more because of the fact that the clerk at my local game store had no idea what I was buying and gave me the stink eye while contemplating about what "a piece of shit" he was just selling to me. After playing Deadly Premonition for two times I can safely say that I personally consider it to be one of the best games of all time.
The game has changed however. Not the game itself, but the way it's presented by us... the gamers. With the release of the Director's cut for the PS3 a whole new batch of reviews was released, now miraculously with higher scores than three years ago (excluding the complaints about frame-rate drops and technical hiccups). Somehow, everyone seems to understand Deadly Premonition nowadays. And I'm not saying it's a bad thing, it's what we wanted after all. For more people to cherish and enjoy this beautifully extravagant experience. And it looks we've reached that goal. Several months later, DP was announced for the PC and was the quickest game ever to be greenlit in the history of Steam Greenlight. Those are not accomplishments of a cult game for a few weird hipsters.
When I was recommending DP to a friend of mine a while back, I immediately felt the need to explain to him what exactly DP is. I told him about the bad graphics, fantastic story, quirky characters, awful controls and about the pitch-black humor. I admit, maybe I spoiled the whole experience for him a little bit, but without that he would most likely play the first five minutes and then shut it off for good. And this is the way Deadly Premonition is "marketed" by us lately... as a very weird game that everyone will love when he's ready to have a unconventional experience.
I feel like I need to clarify this again, I'm not saying that more people enjoying this delight of a game is a bad thing. I'm very excited for every copy that gets sold because every single one of them is bringing us a step closer to perhaps seeing Agent Francis York Morgan again on new consoles. When I listened to one of the earlier episodes of the Super Best Friendcast (which is a fantastic podcast hosted by Two Best Friends Play of Machinima and The Sw1tcher) last week, one of the hosts was talking about how Deadly Premonition never really struck a chord with him and how he's never really understood the appeal of the game overall. That would be absolutely fine only if he didn't receive a solid amount of hate about this particular opinion. In that moment I realised that Deadly Premonition was much more than "that odd little game with a cult following". It felt like if someone who wanted to criticise DP had to have the same bulletproof argumentation like when criticising the story of The Last of Us - a tour-de-force game that is madly loved by about 95% of the gaming world (including me).
Deadly Premonition grew into something much more than it originally was - it is now oficially a good game, since everyone is ready to experience its grotesque wonders. The real question is: If something like this happens, isn't part of the game's magic gone? Are new players robbed of the element of surprise when they're now approached by something that is considered to be a good game?
Before you start sighing, no, this is not another praise piece on Bioshock Infinite. We've had our fair share of articles and blog posts praising every imaginable thing about the game and it's certainly been great to see that the game industry can be so affected by a release of a single game. The famous Marcus Beer could've ranted about the supposedly broken combat for another 20 unbearable minutes, but not a single thing would be different today. The praise phase ended, the hate phase ended, so what do we do now? Go back to playing other games? Well, that's where the PBIS might hit you in the face.
PBIS is a rather strange disease I've encountered lately. After completing Infinite for a second time, it was finally time for me to leave Columbia and give something else a shot. April is not a particularly steamy month for game releases, so I decided to play a game that slipped through my fingers last year, the allegedly amazing action-RPG-adventure Darksiders II. A couple of hours later - I promptly decided to quit the game for good and never go back to it again. I praised some of its technical qualities, the overall visual style and fun combat system, but the game just didn't do it for me. "That's normal, happens sometimes..." you might say, but the same thing happened with two other games since that moment (Lone Survivor and Injustice). And there was always this one game to which I returned.
The worst thing about this is that I truly appreciate the quality of Darksiders, Lone Survivor and Injustice, I've had a lot of fun with all of them, but I ultimately put them down and got back to Comstock's lair of racism and greed for the third time. Is it possible for a game to set the bar so high for an individual, that the individual won't play any other games until another similarly perfect comes around? Or is it just me? Probably the latter.
In a normal day and age, I would cherish the hell out of Darksiders II, Lone Survivor would serve my pretentious/artsy needs for an old-school indie game and Injustice my simple needs of a good fighting game. I guess this speaks a little about today's gaming industry as well. I personally consider Bioshock Infinite to be one of the best games I've played in the last 10 years and yet I'm willing to admit that it's by no means perfect and has many flaws. Still, the PBIS is haunting my game experiences.
I guess only Special Agent Francis York Morgan can save me now.
Earlier this year when I found myself replaying last year's amazing Deus Ex: Human Revolution, I realized how much I hate to choose between lethal and non-lethal style of gameplay. It's never an easy choice, but the developers are definitely not helping us with the decision we have to make. Two other stealth games this year also put a huge emphasis on non-lethal combat, Dishonored and the new-released Hitman: Absolution and both have the same case of ill-advised decision-making between killing a person or simply knocking them out.
I can see how most of you are already saying: "What the F is he talking about, this makes the game deeper and more engaging..." Yeah, you might be right, but the main problem I have with "lethal vs. non-lethal" is that the developers often want you to go non-lethal and support you with that decision with additional experience (Deus Ex), a better ending (Dishonored), a better final score (Hitman) and thus making you bypass all the parts of the game that are sketchy or not done well. This is particularly noticeable in Dishonored, where you get tons of achievements/trophies after finishing the game with no kills or with no one seeing you. It's entirely possible to finish the game without ever fighting a group of guards or ever using one of your powers (Blink being the exception), which is fine, but with supporting non-lethal combat you do what the developers wanted you to do. To skip the clunky combat system and realizing how easy the game actually is. Now, they may say in developer interviews that the player has all the choices (and oh boy, they did that a lot), but you really don't. And if you somehow mistakenly decide that you want to go all Rambo on the world of Dishonored, it's practically impossible to conclude the game with a good ending, which is something that makes my blood boil. Like in Mass Effect, the conclusion should be a consequence of your own decisions throughout the story, not your style of gameplay. If you kill to many people, the world turns into a gruesome place filled with rats, the undead (or whoever that was) and everyone is even more depressed than before. Well, great, so now I have to go all choke-y!
That pretty much goes for Deus Ex aswell. Adam Jensen knocks everyone out and you get additional experience for being all subtle. When no one sees you, but you kill now and then, then you can't afford that cool enhancement you always wanted for your eyes but couldn't buy. Off course, I'm exaggerating here a bit, the experience bump is fairly low and doesn't change the game that much, but on the other hand, I should be able to play how I want... right?
With all this hate towards developers that encourage you to do non-lethal combat, I just started playing Hitman: Absolution and after I few hours of gameplay I feel that it´s done right in this case. The game punishes you for any kind of violent interaction with the world and because of the newly implemented score system, you feel like you´re competing with someone. Blending in and walking through the level incognito was always a huge part of Hitman and the joy of completing level without being seen is followed by a great sense of accomplishment. Not so much in Dishonored and Deus Ex, where you feel like the game strips you of some fun mechanics and just leaves you with the most basic gameplay that becomes repetitive after a while. And when the shooting mechanic isn't that stellar (and it isn't), you have no choice but to go back to non-lethal.
Back in the day, nobody bragged about how many different choices you have, they just gave you a tranq gun a regular gun and let you do whatever you wanted to do. That wasn't that long ago...