For those concerned that this is not an editorial, fear not. Due to the potentially aggressive conversation regarding the now announced Xbox One, I figured it would be best to post my article on Friday to avoid showing my cards early. In the meantime, here’s a review!
When Deadly Premonition initially released on Xbox 360, it was an anomaly. At $20 it was a tempting purchase amidst a sea of $60 games and $15 digital titles, well worth the risk to most. As a community I’m not sure gamers and critics knew how to handle this title either, review scores peaked as high as 10/10 from Destructoid to 2/10 from IGN and most other major outlets remained luke warm on the title. They all had the same message though: it is a long, unique, and creative romp through a technically flawed game. Personally I attempted to best the title, finally losing my mind at the infamous Lumber Mill mission (those that have played it know what I’m talking about) and gave up. Now Deadly Premonition Director’s Cut returns a few years later to the PS3 with updated graphics, sound, and controls (ie: technical traits) to expand the title to a wider audience. I must admit that these updates are welcome – I didn’t die once during the Lumber Mill and managed to complete the game – but once you strip away the mechanics what remains is still an unfocused, labor-intensive campaign with one hell of a payoff. Such an amazing payoff, in fact, it may well justify the shortcomings.
If you have not played the game, its premise is not unlike that of the Twin Peaks television show that teeters upon blatant rip-off. FBI agent Francis York Morgan is sent to the town of Greenvale to investigate a hideous murder of a young girl. Right off the bat things get weird because Morgan begins speaking to himself in his car but hides it behind naming his audience Zach. Additionally your first area to overcome is a rain drenched woodland after a car accident that has Morgan exploring for an exit while battling eerie seemingly possessed people who bend over backward and attack with deep haunting voices. From this opening I figured the game would be all about fighting creatures in the night, especially considering the crazy axeman you encounter at the end of the sequence, but instead the game opens up to the town of Greenvale and you then discover it’s actually about solving a mystery. As you progress you will investigate areas, question citizens, perform an autopsy, drive around, collect items, and of course rummage through the occasional combat sequence. This is an arduous, time-consuming task and it felt like work much of the time, but it only takes about two hours of play to determine if you find the gameplay taxing or right up your alley. In either event the story was what kept me going and as the plot unfolds in the late hours of the game’s campaign you cannot put the controller down. I was impressed, I did not see that ending coming (even though for a long time I thought I had the plot figured out).
As for the updates in the Director’s Cut, I must say that from a content perspective there really aren’t any. A few sequences were added here and there thanks to the new visual options embedded into the story, but at its core the path to discovery of the events of this town and Morgan as a whole remain unchanged. Visuals have been updated, although it looks more like a rushed HD remake, and to its credit Deadly Premonition on 360 looked like PS2 game. Unfortunately the framerate takes a massive hit on some of the more simple visuals, but given they are in-engine suggests it’s just the struggle of programming for PS3’s cell technology. Although sound was updated, it seems identical to the previous version, but if it’s a better mix of 5.1 it sounded fine all the same. Most notable of the updates are the controls, which felt to me like night and day. I struggled with the original, unable to take out even the weakest of enemies effectively, so needless to say I didn’t last long through sequences that don’t seem to be geared at being a challenge. Now I’m easily picking off enemies (perhaps they adjusted difficulty as well), getting headshots, and appreciating these sequences for the obstacle, not challenge, that they represent. There are times where you will encounter quicktime events (QTEs) and for some reason those don’t appear to be tweaked, they are still unfair and require one or two annoying repeats in order to overcome. It’s not all that taxing, mind you, because the game checkpoints right before any sequence like this. Otherwise the game remains untouched complete with no jumping, awkward invisible walls in open forests and side alleys, and a terrible driving mechanic. Apparently this is part of the charm but for me it just made my collecting a frustrating task to the point I eventually gave up.
That’s where the gripes for this game start. I don’t understand why this game decided to make “hidden” items completely visible but the path to getting them so mundane and difficult. Nothing is explained to you, which doesn’t bother me much in terms of playing the game, but if you want to introduce side missions, item collecting, and challenges it’s best to explain that this is what they are. Until I finished the game and finally did a search on some of these items I had no idea they unlocked side plot and missions. This is probably because the map is also poorly marked and does little to help you out. Why even give me a map if it’s unreliable, doesn’t allow fast travel, and won’t even permit waypoints. I could see on the map where I wanted to go but the town of Greenvale is so vast and the map doesn’t allow you to zoom out enough to know where you need to be. In short, the map is useless. Waypoints do appear when you need to progress in the story, so I don’t believe that developers were incapable of integrating player selected ones, they just didn’t. There’s a tiredness and hunger mechanic that doesn’t seem to do more than create busy work for you, but to ignore them results in death and the need to start from your last save point, which with the random exploration in Deadly Premonition can account for tens of minutes or even hours of actual gameplay. Finally I found the game overall to be a lot of work with little reward (until the end) and with someone who has limited hours to play that is not good. This game may well benefit from playing in short bursts over a few weeks. Perhaps I didn’t “get it” because it seems most people found a brunt of the game enjoyable, so if you have more free time or get an opportunity to rent it first, I would recommend that.
There is almost no game that came out this generation quite like Deadly Premonition, which is saying a lot in the current copycat nature of the gaming market. While it may not be for everyone, there’s no doubt that this Twin Peaks-esque mystery will keep you guessing from start to finish. Like a bad b-film, the draw in this title is the oddity and the flaws that make it enjoyable, which some may claim is lost with the new upgrades. Still the Director’s Cut was the only version I could make progress in thanks to the fixed controls, so I consider it to be a necessary evil. Some initial reactions scoffed at the now $40 price tag versus the $20 original release, but given that version is out of print and usually sells for the same used, there are plenty of justified reasons for the still budget-priced increase. With a nearly 25 hour campaign, 40+ hour exploration playthrough, and encouragement to play multiple times (definitely necessary to get all the trophies without a guide) there is plenty of content to justify your purchase. Whether that content is the kind of experience you’re looking for is up to you.
Deadly Premonition: Director’s Cut is available on PSN or in retail stores for $39.99 and a review copy was provided. The main campaign took approximately 23 hours to complete with an overall play time of 32 hours by the reviewer. Coverage on this title can also be found in episodes 207 and 208 of the B-Team.