Parody. Inspiration. Homage. Whichever way you spin it, the survival horror indie video game Deadly Premonition is a creative (and debated) release. This underrated budget game came out as competition against the more heavily publicized Heavy Rain, and while the competitor received more of the critical praise, this video game has gained somewhat of a cult following and earned the Guinness World Record for “Most Critically Polarizing Survival Horror Game” (it’s reviews has ranged everywhere from 10/10 to 2/10). Whether “it’s so bad, it’s good,” “a clunky mess” or “a masterpiece/disaster,” the opinion of its players has never felt so varying. But sit back, enjoy a big cup of coffee, and let us dive deeper into this quirky adventure.
Available on Xbox 360, PC and PlayStation 3, Deadly Premonition is a 2010 open world survival horror video game set in the fictional small town of Greenvale, Washington. After the dead body of 18-year-old Anna Graham is found tied to a mysterious red tree, FBI special agent Francis York Morgan is called to help investigate the strange ritualistic murder. With the help of the deputy sheriff Emily Wyatt, Sheriff George Woodman and his assistant Thomas, York dives deeper into the town’s secrets and begins his investigation as a serial killer is now on the loose.
Does this plot sound a bit familiar? That’s because…it is. Deadly Premonition could be described as an homage to the psychological mystery show Twin Peaks, which ran on ABC from 1990-1991. The similarities are astounding: an FBI agent who talks to himself and a mysterious woman, his love of coffee, the murder of a beloved high school star, a small town with many secrets and quirky characters, a killer on the loose, and so on. If someone had envisioned how the TV show could translate to a video game, this would be the example. In fact, after playing Deadly Premonition, I binge-watched the original Twin Peaks on DVD to pick up all the references. (It’s one of the reasons I asked for the two season box set for Christmas!)
Speaking of the open world concept, Deadly Promotion incorporates a non-linear structure to its gaming mechanics – which is almost unheard of for a survival horror game. Gamers can explore the wide open town (the town is HUGE!) by driving/walking around and interacting with all the town’s citizens or buildings. There are dozens of side missions to complete and extras to explore, as well as the main missions which do need to be completed for the progressions of the story. However, the nice added touch to the game is the moving clock aspect.
Everything in the town – from the buildings to the characters – operate within a controlled time schedule. Characters will be moving around, shops will open/close, and missions can only be available for certain times. This feature gives the game a more realistic tone as in real life being punctual and adhering to deadlines do make a difference. You wouldn’t believe how many times I made York smoke a cigarette for the day to progress so that I could talk to a certain character! Bars like hunger, hygiene and sleep do also affect your character’s performance in the game.
Now with the good comes the bad – and it’s most debated qualities. At the time, Deadly Premonition was released on the most current generation of consoles. However, its controls and graphics looked like it belonged on a previous generation, like the PlayStation 2 or original Xbox. This could be due to the fact the game is a reboot of the developers’ early cancelled game Rainy Woods, but this shouldn’t be an excuse. Its graphics give it a nostalgic charm and one that doesn’t detract from its strong plot and character development – the highlights of this game really are the plot and the characters! The items almost look like they’re stock cut-outs or simple photography. Though, you can’t play this game without noticing the controls.
They’re terrible, at best. The car swerves on its own without any control, the gun misses occasional, and the running is almost too forced for the character. When the game reaches its more climactic and intense moments, I may have screamed out a few times when a control issue resulted in my death (I’m working on competitive nature). But if you get into a rhythm and figure out the aim, you should be good to go.
With every successful game or release, there’s always the discussion of a sequel. The idea has been presented and there’s some chatter about it being worked on. However, I’m not sure how I feel about it at this time. The original game is almost like lightning in a bottle – its “so bad, it’s good” nature and quirkiness could be hard to replicate. Would it have the same tone or would it be inspired by a new theme? The Twin Peaks-style worked so well for this story and the complex characters it created, but a sequel for the sake of a sequel could miss the mark.
I’m still on the fence if the world needs a continuation to this story (or if it would be new) but I would be open to it. It’s been six years since Deadly Premonition has been released and York’s last adventure. Maybe it’s time to head back to say hello to the “Raincoat Killer” once again?