Platform Reviewed: PlayStation 3/ Price: £24.99 / Time Played: Ten hours-ish
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Hidetaka Suehiro is paying more than lip service to David Lynch.
There’s no way to get around it; Deadly Premonition always was a bit more of a stylistic take on the Twin Peaks ideal, right down to the finer details – a woman whose friendship with an inanimate object is both endearing and creepy, dream sequences that are both artistic and mysterious, a horrendous crime the local force is unable to resolve and the seedy, dark underbelly that lies at the very core of an otherwise sleepy, normal looking mid-Western town. It’s not even the only game this generation to attempt this: but where Alan Wake tried to manoeuvre its way around the problem and ultimately couldn’t quite escape, Deadly Premonition wallows and celebrates its creative origins in a way that very, very few video games have ever been able to.
It’s also – let’s be honest – overly ambitious with it. Deadly Premonition has a crude, almost 90’s aesthetic. It’s not a “modern” video game, in the sense of slicked visuals and honed, refined gameplay. It’s decidedly old-school, a classic survival horror incorporating elements of investigative detective work and adventure games into its body. It’s this strange balance between old and new that makes Deadly Premonition a hard game to pin down in terms of a review.
You play as Francis “York” Morgan, a chain-smoking FBI agent on his way to a sleepy little town that’s been subjected to a gruesome murder. From the off, there’s a dream sequence; trees, woodlands, a TV, swathes of red velvet and twin children who are both ignorant and all-knowing. From there, the game slows down a touch as you get to grips with the mostly open-world layout, arranging your hotel room and getting to know your hostess – a doddery old lady who is lovely and yet seems suspiciously spaced-out in spots. Then there’s the town itself; ambitiously to scale, requiring you drive around in a poor-handling American car whilst listening to the radio. All the while, Francis often quips and talks to someone called “Zack”, an entity that is there and both not there. Some argue that the player is “Zack”, and that the choice of name was simply governed by the characters past raft of companions, but it adds a narrative that does help alleviate the tedium of driving about a largely empty down whilst at the same time allowing you to sink into the character. It’s a clever device.
Deadly Premonition balances out these moments of great design clarity by adding in elements that are lumpen and needlessly awkward. The driving is wonderful, but the waiting around (whilst smoking a cigarette) is a bit tedious, waiting for the times when things are meant to happen. The investigation stuff is wonderfully crystalline, but the survival horror aspects such as the scares, the combat and the signposting are all dodgy and poorly implemented. It swings from being hopelessly pretty to needlessly ugly in the space of a breath, and the whole package is as you’d expect from something steeped in the Twin Peaks bath full of individuals who are at times fascinating and at other times hopelessly irritating.
It’s not then a perfect game. So why do so many like it?
This is the hard one to quantify, and it makes Deadly Premonition a pain in the ass to review because it’s one that is entirely subjective and will depend largely on individual tolerances. You see, it’s all well and good to ape Mssr. Lynch and base your whole game in that fantastical threshold between fantasy and reality, but at times – much like the original Twin Peaks for my tastes – it straddles the line too much, and you don’t get a sense of it being grounded in either. For a survival horror title, it’s woefully short on the latter and the former is at times dependent on multiple forces such as luck, fate, state of mind, how much sleep you had, how many beers you downed last night and so forth. The scale of the project is breathtaking, but driving around it can – even with the narration – feel a little lacking in soul and passion, a hesitant compromise that never quite works.
But there is something to like in Deadly Premonition.
It’s hard to put your finger on, but with the soulless husk of Silent Hill: Downpour rotting somewhere downstream, and Resident Evil having abandoned any and all pretense to the survival horror genre, Deadly Premonition is an oddly interesting oddity. It’s never truly mindblowing, and a lot of it – for avid Twin Peakers – can be figured out in advance. It goes up and down without a care, but there’s ambition and heart and soul pouring from every orifice. The people who made this game clearly gave a damn, in spite of a clearly limited budget and plans and ideas that could never have been polished to a mirror shine. But it’s not really as suave or as clever as it likes to think it is.
So the game is contentious at best – unfortunately, the “Director’s Cut” is anything but. For this PS3 release, you have some new 3D options and PS Move support. And… err… that’s about your lot on the technical side. The additional scenarios aren’t much to write home about and actually feel more awkward than ever before, as is often the case when retconning stuff back into a game. It’s a game with scant little to justify a repurchase.
But the main reason you shouldn’t buy the Director’s Cut is that, somehow, they made the game technically worse. Cutscenes stutter, stammer and jump without a care in the world. The game world plays speeches and voices where it shouldn’t, at times almost spoiling what is to come. The game slows down at the most inopportune times, and it’s just not as precision as it used to be. It’s a sloppy, technically poor and rushed port of an otherwise alright game, and today, it’s just not acceptable. We’re told patches are coming. But this was hardly the most ambitious port in the history of the world, and if they thought the extra content could carry it, they were sorely mistaken.
Which is a bit of a shame. Because Deadly Premonition, for all it’s foibles, is a game most people should at least try once to see how they take to it. It’s a hard game to pin down at the best of times as each person enjoys specific points where others may not. It makes it a game hard to review because opinion and tolerance can vary so wildly on a game of this scale and ambition. However, The Director’s Cut is a much easier beast to get down to. When a port is over three years late, and technically poorer than the machine prior, then you’ve got to ask yourself if the expense and effort was really worth it. Deadly Premonition was never the most ergonomic ride through the human psyche, but it at least ran smoothly enough that you could appreciate the rough with the smooth.
The Director’s Cut takes away that smoothness, and it’s just a consistently bumpy ride full of jolts, judders and yelps at the most inappropriate times. It makes it a much harder game to appreciate as a result.
And a much easier game to avoid. Get the 360 version instead.
- It’s Twin Peaks!
- It’s as ambitious as it ever was.
- Umm… the box art is nice.
- It’s a survival horror game!
- It’s Twin Peaks!
- The game isn’t for everyone.
- Especially this one with all its technical imperfections that go alongside the odd design choices.
- Wrong speech, wrong area, massive spoilers alert for new players.
- It’s Twin Peaks!
OVERALL CONCLUSION – When you’re strange, people are strangers… (4 out of 10)
Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut is anything but an improvement on the game. Technically poorer, content that perhaps should have remained cut and serious performance issues hamper what is otherwise a bit of a cult classic. There is absolutely no need to subject yourself to a game ported this badly, so if you absolutely must experience this game, get it on the X-Box 360. The cut content won’t be missed, and you’ll enjoy a far less rocky ride throughout. Zach can’t help save this version from an unceremonious demise…
* Image used is a promotional screenshot. No copyright infringement intended.