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Deadly Premonition

Review: Deadly Premonition

2:00 PM on 02.27.2010 // Jim Sterling
  @JimSterling

Previously during the investigation ...

Deadly Premonition arrived with no fanfare, and even fewer appearances on store shelves. In fact, not many people outside of the hardcore gaming community (and not a great deal more within it) know of its existence. Yet, this $20 horror game has been in development for years. I first heard about Deadly Premonition when it was still called Rainy Woods in 2007. However, the game is older even than that. 

We knew it would be a disturbed, crazy, very silly game, and we were prepared for more than enough cheesy, ironic humor. We were ready to laugh at it, in other words. However, nobody at Destructoid was truly prepared for this game. Nobody can be prepared for it. Despite taking its cues from Silent Hill, Clock Tower, Resident Evil and, of course, Twin Peaks, Deadly Premonition manages to be completely unique. In all honesty, there is nothing like this game. Perhaps there never will be again. 

If you want some "FK" in your coffee, please read on for our full review of Deadly Premonition

Deadly Premonition (Xbox 360) 
Developer: Access Games
Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
Released: February 23, 2010
MSRP: $19.99

Special Agent Francis York Morgan (just call him York, everybody else does) is an FBI criminal profiler with an interest in the murder of young girls. He's also got a split personality called Zach, whom he talks to frequently and openly in front of other people. Other people never question this particular quirk. York is on his way to Greenvale, where a young woman has been cut open and hung from a red tree. However, as soon as York arrives, he realizes this won't just be any other case, not least for the fact that Greenvale is crawling with undead horrors that bend over backwards and like thrusting their arms into his mouth. 

When Deadly Premonition starts, you'd be forgiven for thinking it would be a derivative, po-faced survival horror that simply rips off Silent Hill or Siren. However, once the prologue has been completed and York arrives in Greenvale, the game throws a complete curveball and becomes a ludicrous pantomime of pop culture references, shamelessly contrived humor, and the kind of dialog that leaves you both scratching your head and laughing your face off. Very much like Agent York, Deadly Premonition is a game with a split personality -- equal parts atmospheric horror and farcical comedy. 

The game knows it, too. It constantly undermines its scary moments with awful one-liners and some of the most amusingly inappropriate music in videogame history. Seconds after witnessing a brutal murder, Morgan will make wisecracks while a jazz saxaphone starts to play ... sometimes with the body in the very same room. He'll share anecdotes about serial rapists and killers who urinate in female skulls, making light of brutally horrific crimes over dinner. Agent York is clearly insane, and the cast of eccentric characters he meets aren't far behind. Deadly Premonition is a virtual zoo of strangeness, and the player's job is merely to be confused by it all.

Gas mask-wearing "mysterious capitalists' who only communicate through rhyming servants, creepy angel twins who speak in riddles, crossdressers, killers and half-mad war veterans are all part of the game's ridiculous cast, each one of them overacted and full of senseless dialog. In short, this entire game has lost its mind, if it even had a mind to begin with, and it's fantastic. 

It may surprise you to know that Deadly Premonition is more than just a survival horror game. It's open world as well. The town of Greenvale is free to explore and quite huge. There are sub-missions that York can undertake, as well as collectibles strewn across the map. The game is split between these open world sections, where York can explore, gather clues, and talk to townsfolk, and the various "dungeon" levels, full of zombies to shoot in a Resident Evil 4 style stand-and-shoot combat system. 

Taking a cue from Dead Rising, York can activiate certain missions only during specific times of the day, and he has plenty of downtime in between tasks to explore of his own free will. While wandering around Greenvale or driving about in cars that handle pretty decently for a PS2-era budget game, players will have to make sure York stays clean-shaven, well fed and wide awake. He has a tiredness and hunger level that need regular maintenance. When he becomes tired, he gets hungry quicker. When he gets too hungry, his health depletes. It sounds like a drag, but it's actually no big deal. You just need to remember to find beds or diners at regular intervals. Or, you can carry snacks and coffee to keep the meter up. It never really interferes with the game. Plus, York gets special cash bonuses for performing mundane tasks like shaving (his beard grows in real time) and changing his clothes, to buy food, cars, and weaponry.

The horror sections of the game are more straightforward, and involve York solving various simple puzzles while routinely shooting at zombies. As with Resident Evil 4, the enemies mostly stay the same (although there is some variety and a few insane boss fights toward the end) and combat is quite simple. York stands to fire, and has access to a growing cache of weapons that include your average videogame mainstays -- pistols, machine guns, shotguns and the like. At first the game is very easy, but later becomes quite tense as zombies grow tougher and spaces grow tighter. 

York has one trick up his sleeve -- the zombies detect breath. By holding his breath, York can slip past enemies and move to a more advantageous position. However, he has a pulse rate that increases when running or holding his breath, so he cannot be invisible forever. Despite the lack of enemy variety, the game manages to stay interesting thanks to this tactical use of holding one's breath. The horror is also ramped up by a particular enemy, who seems taken straight from the Clock Tower book of "shit your pants" scary -- The Raincoat Killer.

At various points in the game, Greenvale's resident serial killer will show up to ruin your day. He either grabs York to instigate a simple quick-time-event, he'll try and sniff York out while he's hiding in lockers or under tables, or he'll start off a surprisingly scary chase scene in which players must waggle the left stick to keep York running, while hitting buttons to open doors and evade thrown axes. The game throws these scenes in one too many times, but they are shockingly well done and manage to keep the game refreshingly spooky in amidst the siliness.

As far as the gameplay itself goes, Deadly Premonition won't be beating any of your AAA games on the market. However, for a budget title, everything is surprisingly competent and tight. The controls are decent enough, the combat is relatively balanced, and the action can scare when it needs to. Compared to your average budget game, Deadly Premonition is a new gold standard. The worst that can be said of it is that it is outdated. It's very clear this game was designed with the PlayStation 2 in mind, but if you have a love for old school survival horror, there is absolutely no reason why you should let age get in the way of something that would have been an utter classic several years ago.

The strange thing with Deadly Premonition is that everything it does is kind of bad, and there's no getting around that. The story is thoroughly crazy and doesn't make any sense. The acting is poor. The music is often too loud. The graphics are far below average. Yet, Deadly Premonition is the very first game I've seen that has been able to pull off that unique "so bad it's good" flavor. The fact that this game is so below standards actually works superbly. Usually a bad game struggles to maintain this ideal thanks to frustratingly awful gameplay, but since the combat is actually serviceable, this particular title can get away with being absolutely terrible in a completely hilarious way. It stumbles, psychotically, from one unbelievable scene to the next, managing to be shockingly tasteless, flagrantly stupid, and subtly self-aware at all times.  

Much of the game is simply too bizarre to adequately describe, and one definitely needs a twisted sense of humor in order to "get" what Deadly Premonition is all about. However, if you truly understand this game (well, as best as one can understand such a monstrous creation) then you will be struck dumb by one of the most memorable and truly unique titles ever crafted. Yes, Deadly Premonition is bad. By most standards it's terrible. And yet I wouldn't change a thing. Deadly Premonition is almost perfect at what it does -- it throughly, confusingly, entertains from start to finish. There is nothing about this beautiful disaster I would like to have seen done differently, apart from maybe lowered the HP on the really annoying wall-crawling zombies. 

From start to finish, this game consistently delights with its refreshingly offbeat sense of humor and its almost deliberately awful cutscenes. The fantastically cheesy soundtrack and the horrible B-movie quality acting only helps to seal the deal. Deadly Premonition is a masterpiece of atrocious, a veritable triumph of terrible. It takes everything we've come to accept as bad in videogames and somehow makes it work in the most ironic of senses. If the game was of high quality in any one area, it might run the risk of making the other sections look bad. However, the balance of rubbish is so well-maintained that it can only charm and endear itself to any player with a heart and a capacity for inappropriate laughter.

Deadly Premonition is like watching two clowns eat each other. It's perverse, it's wrong, and yet it's so fucking funny. There are many who will not understand, or not even want to understand what makes it so compelling and excellent despite its quality. For the twenty dollar price tag, however, there will be no finer experience for survival horror fans with a love for the darkly comic. The game took me just under nineteen hours to complete, and that was with plenty of side missions left to finish. In the budget game sphere, no title has ever been so lengthy, so robust, so varied and so very rewarding. One simply has to factor the price into the judgement for this one, because value for money is through the roof and the evident love put into this game's development is something you never really see from any other game in the same price bracket. Ultimately, Ignition could have charged a bit more for this and it would still be worth it.

When we judge a game like this, how do we do it? Do we judge simply on gameplay? If so, the repetitive combat and long drives around town may very well mark it as a mediocre title. Do we judge it on story quality? If so, then we have a game that makes no sense and frequently makes light of murder and sexual deviancy. I say a game needs to be judged by how often it made you happy, how much you laughed or became excited, and how long you spend thinking about it after it was finished. If we judge it by those standards, then Deadly Premonition, my friends, is simply stunning. No other game has made me laugh so hard, laugh almost to the point of tears, laugh just by thinking about it.  Deadly Premonition may well be the first game reviewed almost purely for its comedic value, but for a game so funny, it has to be done. 

Deadly Premonition is beautiful. No, not graphically. Graphically it's atrocious. It's a beautiful trainwreck, and it's well aware of the fact. Despite this game being quite like everything ever made, there's nothing quite like the game itself. There is absolutely nothing in this industry that can compare to how weird and wonderful the whole experience is. Judged as a piece of entertainment, as a game that consistently surprises and amazes and leaves jaws hanging, I have no choice but to say that Deadly Premonition goes above and beyond. This game is so bad, it's not just become good. It's pretty close to perfect. 

So says Mr. Stewart!



THE VERDICT

10

Deadly Premonition - Reviewed by Jim Sterling
Editor's Choice Award - Is it legal to marry a videogame? Because I want to be with this game every day for the rest of my life. It completes me. It is my soul mate.

See more reviews or the Destructoid score guide.

Jim Sterling, Former Reviews Editor
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