When the PS3 and Xbox 360 began to gain popularity after their respective launches in the Philippines, a lot of us remained hesitant to move forward onto the next generation of consoles. After all, our “converted” or “modified” (if you know, you know) PS2 and Xbox consoles allowed us to buy games for much cheaper than their original retail prices, and switching to the latest consoles would have meant that we’d have to buy original games at full price.
And yet, we ended up upgrading anyway. For most of us, it was just too much to resist the cool new exclusives for the PS3 and Xbox 360, which included Gears of War, Halo 3, Devil May Cry 4, and Metal Gear Solid 4, among others. The only problem then, was that we had to be more careful of how we bought games–with video games then costing twenty times more than we were used to, we lost the luxury of being able to just buy a game on a whim, basing our judgment on the cover art without any prior knowledge of it.
Of course, it was a good thing that we got used to buying legitimate games rather than Jack Sparrow’d copies, but it also made us more inclined to buy only the best of the best. When you spend a good chunk of money on something, you’d want it to have great reviews, a lot of good publicity, and interesting jacket art, right?
So, I ask you this: Is there a world in which you’d ever consider buying a game called Deadly Premonition, with the above cover art, without knowing anything else about it? Of course not. At the time, there were better-known games like Resident Evil 4 or Dead Space that would have been more likely to scratch your survival horror itch, and Deadly Premonition’s lack of hype and mixed reviews had placed it far away from the spotlight. It was only years after its 2010 Xbox 360 release, and 2013 Director’s Cut PS3 release, that people began to catch on to its bizarre, unwieldy, yet entrancing gameplay.
Deadly Premonition tells the story of Francis York Morgan, a Special Agent from the FBI sent to the small, rural town of Greenvale to investigate and track down a murderer only known as the “Raincoat Killer”. Pretty run-of-the-mill survival horror stuff so far, right? Well, that’s where all the normal stuff ends.
Francis York Morgan (or “York” as he’s addressed by most characters in the game) also has an imaginary, off-screen friend named Zach that he talks to during cutscenes. Aside from his strange “conversations” with Zach, another of York’s eccentricities is that he finds hints and clues for his investigation in his morning coffee, like, literally. The clues emerge from the coffee whenever he pours milk into it.
So York is a weirdo, but the rest of the townspeople are normal, right? Nope. Everyone else is some other kind of weirdo, too, but I won’t be giving too much away about them in the hopes that you’ll still check the game out for yourself. Aside from a whole town of crazies, you’ll also be encountering the Raincoat Killer who comes to ambush you on rainy days, as well as some freakish creatures who move like part zombie and part ghost. There are also surreal, dreamlike sequences in a place called the Other World, during which York encounters other strange characters that help move the investigation forward.
Deadly Premonition is a survival horror game, but to put it in the box of the survival horror genre is an injustice, both to the game and survival horror mainstays like Resident Evil and Silent Hill. Deadly Premonition is in some ways better, and in more ways worse than these games, and the varying quality of its parts reflect the disparity in its critical reviews; it even holds the Guinness World Record for the “Most Critically Polarizing Survival Horror Game” for having garnered critical scores that range from 2 to 100, out of 100.
In Deadly Premonition, you’re able to freely roam around Greenvale on foot or by vehicle, but your exploration is hampered by your sleepiness and hunger gauges. In order to continue your daily activities, you need to buy yourself food and find places to sleep whenever York’s sleep gauge is almost depleted. And if you want to explore by car, you also need to regularly pay for gas expenses and car maintenance. You gain money by doing side quests as well as menial daily tasks, like shaving your face and changing your suit. Oh, and your clothes can get dirty too, and wearing dirty clothes will decrease the money you gain until you’ve cleaned yourself up.
Exploring Greenvale is also affected by the weather and time of day, as every non-player character in the game has a 24-hour routine, and their availability, as well as your interactions with them will change depending on the weather and when you choose to speak with them. At the very least, there’s no penalty for letting a day pass in order to make time to interact with a character at a different time the following day.
Combat in Deadly Premonition is as unwieldy as a PS1 horror game, as shooting and aiming, as well as running from the games’ paranormal enemies feels like a claustrophobic task. While the game can’t be commended on the quality of its mechanics, somehow the poor controls help to emphasize the terror of encountering hostiles, both human and non-human. Do you remember what it was like to run from Nemesis for the first time in RE3? That’s what the combat in Deadly Premonition feels like.
Each part of Deadly Premonition falls into a category or genre: it’s got survival horror combat sequences, puzzle-solving elements, open-world exploration, and even some simulation mechanics in the game. It’s a mishmash of GTA, Silent Hill, and Shenmue, with a touch of The Sims, but the sum of its parts makes for something incredibly unique that can’t be likened to any other game.
We’ve scratched the surface on Deadly Premonition’s strange plot and all-over-the-place gameplay, and separately they look like recipes for disaster, but together they make up what many consider to be a work of art. The best scoring reviews for Deadly Premonition acknowledge the gameplay’s jank and lackluster quality, but praise how all of its rusty cogs come together to create a survival horror experience that’s able to truly elicit a sense of discomfort and suspicion in the player. Nothing goes as you expect in Deadly Premonition, and in many cases, it goes even beyond what you can imagine, and that’s something that can’t be said for a lot of bigger budget, better-playing horror games.
The plot and gameplay are both presented through the game’s uncomfortably timed cutscenes, quick-time events, and poorly mixed, exaggerated dialogue. Listening to the characters’ conversations feels like the result of a Japanese game development team watching Twin Peaks on loop without subtitles and deciding to create a game set in America with the most caricature-like characters they could come up with.
You could say that Deadly Premonition is to video games what The Room is to movies, in the sense that both works were so incredibly bad that they ended up being “good” or at least enjoyable. But Deadly Premonition almost feels like its shortcomings are actually there on purpose. If the gameplay, plot, or voice acting were any better, the final product simply would have not made the same impact.
Yes, there’s more. The very reason we’re revisiting the original Deadly Premonition is that the game’s sequel, Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise is finally out this month, having been released last July 10. Announced last September 2019, the fact that a sequel was being made was a surprise to fans of the original game. It was a bad game that turned out to be good, but no one expected that a sequel would ever be made for it, especially if you look at its poor sales figures in Japan and the rest of the world.
When the sequel was announced, I expected that a better-performing sequel might just ruin the legacy of the original game, but a quick look at the launch trailer for DP2 tells me all I need to know. The frame rate keeps stuttering, the plot and the mini games seem as ridiculous as ever, and the voice acting is just horrible. It’s perfect.
If you’re interested in the sequel and you want to give the original Deadly Premonition a try, you can play the Origins remaster on the Nintendo Switch, and the Director’s Cut on PC via Steam. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you (about having a helluva good time, that is).
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