The weird peaks of cult hit classic Deadly Premonition

Mauricio Salas
Mauricio Salas

It was 2010 when a game titled Deadly Premonition, developed by Access Games Inc. (a Japanese video game developer based in Osaka, Japan, founded on January 16th, 2002), was launched for the Xbox 360. I first read an article about it by consummate chance. The article apprised Deadly Premonition as a survival horror game with zombies but also highlighted a police thriller type of plot peppered with surreal elements, somehow very similar to the one seen on the TV Series ‘Twin Peaks.’

As I researched images related to the game, I quickly noticed that the graphics seemed to be a step closer to the PlayStation 2 other than to Xbox 360, and then I learned this was a budget game. I have never been the kind of player who set graphics as a priority so it still got me interested in the game. At this point, I decide to read some reviews and I was flabbergasted by the fact that they were polarising to the extreme, ranging from scores as high as ten out of ten to bottom-low like two out of ten. Soon, I had to curb this game. Nowadays, these kinds of polar opposite opinions are something we rarely read in the industry, so I had to see what was distinctive about this game.

It was quite of an endeavour for me to obtain the game itself, mostly because the original copies in my country, Chile, were extremely limited. After quite an effort, I managed to get a hold of a copy and fired it up on my console. Over the next few days, I was completely absorbed into the atmosphere of the game, it was so unique and diverse from anything I had played earlier. I could now understand why the game was so polarising and unprecedented and it is my intention with this article to inform gamers who have not yet played this game do so and give it a try. Let us begin.

In Deadly Premonition, we take control of the FBI special agent Francis York Morgan. The game starts as he is driving to the rural town of Greenvale to investigate the murder of a local teenager, Anna Graham. It is at this point when we notice something strange. Special agent Francis York Morgan is talking to himself while he drives, he addresses someone named Zach but he is alone in the car. Then I realised that in the same way that special agent Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks communicated with Diane through a tape recorder, our FBI special agent talks to his split personality named Zach. Just moments later a mysterious figure wearing a raincoat and handling an axe suddenly appears in the middle of the road; our protagonist tries to avoid it but loses control of the car in the process and ends up going off-road into the forest and sprawling then tries to find his way to town on foot just to be attacked by zombies of some sort; these are not regular zombies, as they walk backwards and adopt a posture like someone would when playing limbo. From this point onward anyone who plays this game will know this will not be your run of the mill horror game.

Once you get to Greenvale the world opens up and your investigation to solve the murder of Anna Graham begins. This portion of the game consist of going to the crime scene and other places of interest to investigate the clues the murderer (a murderer that we will later call The Raincoat Killer) left behind and in that way you can advance the plot. At key points of the game, everything will turn weird like in Silent Hill and these mysterious zombies will appear, but only when the main character is alone, leaving the player scratching their heads and questioning York’s sanity and the reality of all we are experiencing.

Deadly Premonition’s main quests are divided into investigation sections and shooting against these supernatural creatures. You can also do side content which will allow you to get to know the townsfolk a lot more. Greenvale is full of interesting and weird people to talk to. The locals will ask for help with everyday things like finding a missing item for them, to collect certain objects or things you can find scattered all over the town. You can also take a break from the investigation and go to the town’s bars, go fishing or even take off to your hotel room and do things like change your clothes or shave. This is a nice contrast to have when you are not chasing a violent murderer and shooting at zombies. As you drive through the town from point A to point B there are optional conversations you can have with your split personality, Zach York,( the main character likes to be called just York as a way to set himself apart from his other personality) he and Zach are huge movie fans so lots of the conversations are about classic movies like Star Wars or even cult classics like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.

The technical aspect of the game is where most of the negative criticism comes from. The graphics are not what you would expect from a game on the Xbox 360, it has more of a Dreamcast feel, and the shooting gameplay is just not very good at all, with the zombies taking too many shots to be killed and a less than satisfactory aiming system. The map that you use to navigate your way around town is also not up to the task.

But incredibly, the story, the unique characters and strong soundtrack of Deadly Premonition carry all the weight and ends up compensating for all the gameplay and design shortcomings. I finally understood why the game had such mixed opinions from everyone, there are those who hated it because of the gameplay and lacklustre graphics, but those who looked past that and focused on the plot ended up loving Deadly Premonition. The creator of the game, Hidetaka Suehiro, (also known as Swery65) explained that he wanted Deadly Premonition to be an investigation game with no combat, but the publisher wanted shooting segments so he was forced to implement it, so knowing that is now not so surprising the combat feels out of place.

In 2013, gratefully to the cult-hit status the game had archived, Deadly Premonition got a Director’s Cut release available for PC and PlayStation 3. This version of the game features a better control layout and some improvements to the graphics and enemies who take a lot less effort to kill as well as some extra cutscenes for the story. It was clear that the goal of this edition was to make the gameplay easier to get through so players could focus on the plot, the strong point of the game. The game still had issues, for example, the combat was still basic even though now it was not as frustrating, and now the game suffered a lot of dips on frame rate not present on the Xbox 360 version, but once again Deadly Premonition captivated, even more, gamers despite its shortcomings.

I was porously vague regarding the plot and characters you will encounter in the game because it is my goal with this article to spark your interest in the game without spoiling much about it so you can have purer first experience with it. If you are a fan of detective stories and surreal elements and if you can look past the flaws regarding gameplay and performance, you will most likely have a blast with Deadly Premonition.

This game challenged the industry, fans and reviewers alike because it proved that a unique game is more than the sum of all its parts. It reminded us that products with flaws can still shine if one key area of its  “sui generis” enough to make an impact.

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