Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut Review
It’s getting quite rare to see a game that tries to do something different from everything else out there. Venture into your local game store and chances are you’ll see a whole range of sequels, spin-offs and clones on the shelves, and those franchises that are different can often be summed up in a single sentence, such as ‘oh, it’s just like Call of Duty’. Even though Deadly Premonition can be explained by comparing it to other games such as Silent Hill, Resident Evil, or even Alan Wake, once you get into the meat of the game, you begin to realise that Deadly Premonition is a beast quite unlike any other and, for better or worse, you won’t find an experience quite like it anywhere else.
Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut sees players take on the role of Francis York Morgan, an FBI agent who has been called to the rural town of Greenvale in order to investigate the murder of Anna Graham, a local beauty whose body was found cut open and tied to a tree. The ritualistic aspects of the murder pique Agent York’s interest, and he soon finds himself thrust deep into a supernatural world of Eastern-style monsters, eerie red foliage, and a whole host of strange and mysterious characters. You’ll soon realise with Deadly Premonition that although the subject matter is serious, the game seems to enjoy dealing with it with tongue in cheek. In fact, much of the game feels as though you’re watching a made-for-TV movie, and you’re almost desperate to call your friends over, just so they can share in how bad, yet awesome, the game is.
First impressions with Deadly Premonition aren’t exactly promising. Visually, the game looks as if it belongs to the late-PS2/early PS3 era, with poor textures, awkward character models, and a generally ugly look to the town of Greenvale. There’s quite a lot of visual pop-in as well, to the extent that early in the game, I hit a tree located at the side of the road that I didn’t know was there, all because the visuals for it hadn’t yet loaded. What’s more, York himself can get caught on pieces of scenery quite easily, and he is even subjected to some amusing clipping issues, such as his tie clipping right through his body and waving in the wind out of the back of his suit. Overall, Deadly Premonition has a distinct whiff of poor production values about it, perhaps best summed up by the grammatical and spelling errors in the subtitles, such as “it’s” instead of “its”, “affect” instead of “effect”, and “pedant” instead of “pendant”. On more than one occasion the subtitles don’t even match up with what’s being said on screen, which defies the point of them being there in the first place.
The town of Greenvale is expansive, and there is plenty for York to do within its borders. As Greenvale is rural, many of the locations are spread out from one another, meaning that the best way for York to get around is to drive. Early on in the game York is presented with his own Police Car, and this will be your ride for the duration of Deadly Premonition. Unfortunately, you’ll grow to hate the car fairly quickly, as the driving in this game is one of the worst representations that I’ve seen recently. If you’re going in a straight line, you’re fine, but any form of turning makes you feel as if you’re merely riding a box on wheels, which just happens to be skidding along the surface of an icy lake. And god forbid you hit the handbrake, as that increases the chances of you flying off the road into a tree tenfold.
Navigation isn’t much better either, with a minimap that proves useless unless the location you’re looking for is within immediate proximity (very unlikely in a rural town), and a map screen that for some reason refuses to zoom out enough to be of any use at all. You’re also unable to set manual waypoints, making any attempt to veer away from the narrative line almost more trouble than it’s worth.
The narrative line will prove familiar to anyone who’s played Alan Wake, or has watched a TV serial in the last few years. Deadly Premonition’s story is broken down into seven episodes, with each episode containing a number of different chapters within it. Each episode starts off with a ‘previously on…’ segment, which sums up the progress of York’s investigation so far and, new to the Director’s Cut, some episodes are book-ended by brief sequences outside of the main story itself, the significance of which is revealed towards the end of the game. Unfortunately for Deadly Premonition, though, the acting within the game is reminiscent of a poor daytime TV soap, with both the physical and voice acting coming across badly. Character models seemingly have only a couple of pre-assigned reaction animations, most of which are overdone, such as York’s psychotic ‘happy’ smile or Emily, the Deputy Sheriff, throwing her hands in the air melodramatically at every opportunity. Often, you’ll find that the movements don’t fit the mood of what’s actually happening or the emotion that they’re trying to convey. Similarly, the voice acting is incredibly wooden, and most lines sound as if they’re delivered in isolation, unrelated to the conversations that are going on around them.
Thankfully, the gameplay in Deadly Premonition holds up much better than the aesthetics, even if it does get a little repetitive by the end. The game is broken up in an almost halfway split between two different genres of game, that of an adventure/detective game, and that of a survival horror. Half of your time is spent exploring the town of Greenvale and talking to its inhabitants, and the other half will see York battling his way through twisted versions of the town’s locales (such as the Hospital and the Art Museum) fighting against creepy humanoid monsters. The exploration aspect of the game is well-done, as Greenvale operates on a 24-hour clock that runs at an approximate speed of 300% faster than real-time, with a 24-hour day taking about 8 hours. Similar to Majora’s Mask, people within Greenvale operate on their own schedule, meaning that they move around town of their own volition. Many of your objectives will revolve around being in a specific place between certain times, such as meeting someone in a diner during opening hours, or holding a meeting in the Community Center whilst the town’s populace are still there. Using this method gives definite encouragement in driving York’s story forward, and it goes a long way towards making Greenvale feel like a living, breathing community.
The combat sections in Deadly Premonition are similarly well-done, even if they aren’t that different from what we’ve seen before. Players will aim with the L1 button, and fire with the R1 button, although York can be made to lock-on to a target by holding R2 (which is never really necessary). The handgun that the game provides you with at the start is fairly weak, but comes with infinite ammo, meaning that for the beginning of the game, at least, ammunition conservation isn’t a priority. Later weapons have finite ammo counts, which can be replenished by purchasing supplies at stores, or by finding ammunition on the bodies of enemies that you’ve killed.
Unfortunately, there are only two main types of enemy through the course of the game: a shuffling zombie type creature that resembles something out of The Grudge, and a wall-crawling monster that moves a lot like Samara from The Ring. There are some variations on the initial shuffling type, such as those that can fire supernatural shotguns, but most of the time you’ll be fighting the same enemy type, just with a slightly different skin, be it policeman, housewife or lumberjack. The oft recurrent cry of “I don’t want to dieeeeeee” gets monotonous incredibly quickly as well, but sadly gets repeated ad nauseum right to the end of the game.
Outside of the narrative, Greenvale’s sprawling acres presents the player with a lot of activities to pass the time, many of which seem to be taken from the RPG genre. On a basic level, York’s hygiene needs to be maintained, from making sure he shaves and changes his suit regularly, to sending his suit for dry-cleaning, which avoids York being fined for being a ‘Stinky Agent’. York’s hunger and tiredness levels also need to be monitored, as they can lead to a loss of health if they’re neglected for too long. As for within Greenvale itself, York can collect trading cards, partake in races, go fishing, or help out the town’s citizens with sidequests. Most of these involve delivering particular items to certain people, although it can be difficult to work out just what the exact conditions are that are required to trigger each particular sidequest, as they’re not well advertised within the game. This means that you can spend a good 10-15 minutes working your way towards a particular person, only to find that it’s the wrong time of day or wrong weather conditions for them to be willing to accept your help.
If you’ve read this far, you probably don’t have a particularly positive opinion of Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut right now, and I can’t blame you. The game has a lot of issues. However, and this came as a huge shock to me, I had a great time with it. Sure, it’s cheesy, it’s clichéd, and it suffers from poor production values, but at least it tries. There’s so much stuff to do in Greenvale, above and beyond the 20-hour story, that this survival horror game actually rivals some RPGs in running time. However, I can’t help but feel that if the developers attempted to trim some of the fat and unnecessary activities from the game, it would make for a much better game. What it wouldn’t do though, is create a better experience, as Deadly Premonition is a special game merely because it is how it is. It’s stubbornly outlandish, knowingly cringe-worthy and entirely unique, and you’ll either love it or hate it. It certainly has its fair share of issues, and will never win any technical awards, but if you’re looking for a title that completely ignores any preconceived notions of what makes a good game and strives to create its own particular niche, mixing well-established genres along the way like a videogame smorgasbord, then Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut may pleasantly surprise you.
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