Deadly Premonition – Review

Title   Deadly Premonition - Review
Developer  Access Games
Publisher  Rising Star Games
Platform  Xbox 360
Genre  Survival Horror, Adventure, Mystery
Release Date  29th October, 2010

Most things in life, no matter how absurd, bizarre or confusing, tend to have some sort of reasoning behind them. For example, thousands of years ago, people believed fire was a gift from the gods but, since then, science has proven that fire isn’t a sign that the bearded man upstairs has had a curry but, in actual fact, occurs when a combustible material is combined with oxygen and exposed to a heat that is higher than the flash point of the oxidised combustible – or something like that. There are still a few things in the world that defy logic and science however.  One of those things is Deadly Premonition; a game that is so bat shit insane that it might actually eat your children if you don’t buy it.

While most of the finer details of the plot seem to make little to no sense, the main idea revolves around chain smoking FBI Agent, Francis York Morgan, or York (that’s what everyone calls him apparently) and his investigation into the brutal murder of a young woman by the name of Anna Graham in the fictional American town of Greenvale.  York – who is quite clearly insane, raising many questions as to the recruitment process within the FBI – is joined by the town’s slightly more normal Sheriff George Woodman and his attractive deputy, Emily Wyatt in their hunt for the typically unimaginatively named ‘Raincoat Killer’.

There are also a whole host of secondary characters who populate the open game world of Greenvale; all of whom seem to be just as crazy as York.  From Polly Oxford, an elderly hotel owner who seems to take a request to sit slightly closer than ten foot away from her as a sexual advance, through to Thomas MacLaine, a deputy who’s more camp than Dale Winton singing Candle in the Wind to Julian Clary and has a staggering knowledge of squirrels, the characters in Deadly Premonition make Greenvale feel like a holding ground for the clinically deranged.

Back to the main character, York for now though. York is by far one of the most intriguing, unusual, unstable characters I have ever had the pleasure of playing as.  For a start, York often interrupts people’s sentences to talk to his imaginary partner, Zack – who appears to hide down York’s sleeve – which leads to some very interesting moments in the game; my particular favourite, so far, being when York meets Emily for the first time and decides to tell Zack, out loud, how attractive Emily is while she is standing right in front of him. What makes situations like these even more intriguing is that none of the other characters seem to register what York is actually saying, and often reply with “did you say something?” which  makes me wonder if the entire town is deaf.

Next up on York’s checklist of insanity is the apparent ability to predict the future through his coffee.  Tea leaves would’ve been a stretch, but at least there is actual folklore attached to the reading of tea leaves, yet someone neglected to mention this to York who is adamant that he can read the future through the swirling pattern of milk in his coffee. I could go on for hours talking about the quirky habits of agent York: how he’s very particular when it comes to biscuits, his obsession with 1980’s film directors, the fact that his smile looks like he just shat himself, etc. but you have a life to lead.

At its core, Deadly Premonition is a supernatural detective story with elements of survival horror, borrowed heavily from the Resident Evil series, thrown into a sandbox town to explore at your leisure. It’s a bold move to combine survival horror, investigation and sandbox and, in some regards, Deadly Premonition pulls it off but, for the most part, it leaves the game feeling a little too disjointed. For a start, exploring the town is almost always a hassle as walking takes too long and, despite the vehicles having some nice touches like controllable indicators and windscreen wipers, all form of steering seems to have been removed. Cornering often ends in crashing head first into a wall, yet the slightest movement of the left stick while on a straight road sends the vehicle veering into a tree or oncoming car. In short, the vehicle physics seem to have been designed exclusively to plough you into objects. Other than that however, the sandbox elements of the game are actually quite fun. Not only is there a fairly robust character maintenance mechanic that requires York to eat, sleep, shave and change clothes regularly, but there are various side quests to complete: you can go fishing or play darts, or you can hunt for the trading cards hidden around the map.

Where the gameplay really falls flat is in the horror sections. Occasionally, during the investigation, York will seem to slip into some sort of dream world where the environment you’re exploring (usually a stereotypical horror setting such as a lumber mill or hospital) will become subject to typically moody lighting; red vines will grow across the walls and strange zombie like creatures appear and attack York. The first time you experience this, the creatures are genuinely unsettling; the way in which they move and phase through the environment is unnerving but, after ten minutes of hearing “I don’t want to die” over and over again, the shock soon wears off. Also, the creatures mindlessly walk towards you, allowing you plenty of opportunity to put a few bullets in them, thus removing even the cheapest of scares from a sudden and unexpected attack. After what seems like an eternity of “shoot monsters, open a door, shoot more monsters, open a door, get lost in a maze of corridors, shoot more monsters, escape” you soon begin to dread these nightmarish sections of the game for all the wrong reasons.

As you might expect from a budget title, Deadly Premonition’s graphics are generally very low quality, with level textures often looking more like a Playstation 2 game than 2010 360 release, however, player models hold up relatively well in comparison with other budget games. Sure, they’re not brilliant and sure, York occasionally looks like a sex pest when he laughs but the characters’ animations are as quirky and interesting as their personalities. There is an alarming lack of colour in Deadly Premonition, however, with everything but the trees being a different shade of beige. The horror sections try to mix this up a little but it fails drastically by just making everything purple and red instead.

Music is also of a very poor quality with the same five songs being used ad infinitum – and usually at exactly the wrong moment, such as tense moments being accompanied by light hearted jazz or elevator music,  yet this adds to the charm and general insanity of the game. Deadly Premonition is a bizarre world where squirrels sound like monkeys, gunshot samples have seemingly been stolen from the N64′s Goldeneye and police sirens make the car’s engine rev twice as loud.  In terms of sound though, the voice acting really shines through. While none of the cast will be winning awards any time soon, the voice actors behind York, George and Emily bring enough believability to their characters to keep a foot in the door of reality, grounding a game that might otherwise be too surreal for its own good.

  • Greenvale is filled with interesting characters that you really want to learn more about.
  • York’s beard grows in ‘real time’.
  • Music and sound effects are almost always used at inappropriate times.
  • York is a fantastically insane lead character.
  • Enemy movements are very unsettling
  • Everything is beige.
  • Music and sound effects are almost always used at inappropriate times.
  • Horror sections become repetitive and dull very quickly
  • The map has no marker, meaning travelling around the town becomes a pain.
  • Shooting controls feel dated, where as vehicle and movement controls are just plain broken.

Deadly Premonition is by far the craziest game I’ve played in a while and also one of the hardest to categorise. People will either love the game’s quirky characters or hate them, yet a broken movement system in both vehicles and on foot, boring horror sections and occasionally abysmal textures are enough to cause problems for anyone, no matter how much they enjoy the subject matter. Given a bigger budget, Access Games’ ambition would surely have them making a masterpiece, but that game isn’t Deadly Premonition.

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  1. Edward Edward says:

    An amazing review for a game I really want to invest in Zack, but won’t be able to for a while.
    It confirms what I’ve thought about it, that it might be one of the first true “B” Games around, and I’m sure its quirky charms and insanity will indulge me more than the broken controls, driving and gameplay, Zack.

    F…K… In the Coffee! It works everytime ;)

  2. Lorna Lorna says:

    This game sounds absolutely crazy and, despite the problems you have mentioned, I am still tempted to try and round up a cheap copy and try it for myself. Any game with such a weird lead character should probably be tried, if only once. I think I can also hear Rich’s ears twicthing at the sound of a lemony game – you know he loves them ;)

  3. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    This… this just sounds so fucked up. I could be wrong, but it gave me the impression of being either the Twin Peaks or Donnie Darko of the gaming industry? Something that’s so mental and so off the wall that it becomes good purely because of how damn weird it is. Not weird like Robert Rankin or Bill Bailey, but weird where it’s dodgy as hell yet has charm with it.

    Talking to Zack up his sleeve is, as far as I’m concerned, genius… and to do so in front of people is fantastic. The fact that nobody seems to acknowledge he’s doing it is either them going for a “wtf?” comedic stance or perhaps implying that he’s not ACTUALLY saying anything out loud… like when Dexter talks to his glowy dead dad… I always thought that was in his head until one episode where someone replied to his mutterings.

    Also got to love that someone in the development team thought “let’s make this vehicle as realistic as possible… with indicators, windscreen wipers… oh but hang on… lol… let’s take functionality AWAY from the driving aspect, that’ll totally rock!”. I know that’s a terrible way to approach game mechanics, but I get a sense of twisted satisfaction from things like that.

    In all honesty though, I doubt I’ll buy it. Not because of the graphics, or because of the B (or C) movie status, but because I just have too much backed up and I’m not sure I’d get on well with it. I hated The Last Broadcast movie yet others cite is as being fantastic. I just need more than quirky surrealism to get me excited unfortunately.

  4. Adam Adam says:

    I started reading this and forgot this was a game. I was starting to be soothed into the idea that this was another brilliant explosion of your creativity Pix only to then remember that this is actually real.

    Regardless of the experience on offer from the game, I got my thrills from the write up :p

  5. Si says:

    I’m halfway through this at the mo and I have to say that I’m REALLY enjoying it. Yes, it’s ugly and yes, the gameplay mechanics are pretty ropey. However, the story is utterly fascinating and utterly bonkers. I think everyone should at least give it a go…


  6. Mark Mark S says:

    Brilliant review of a really crappy sounding and looking game lol.

    I saw the opening cut scene on the escapist a while back and thought, i wouldnt accept that game as a gift.

  7. Splicer261 says:

    How did i not hear about this game !?!?!

    lol loving the sound of the character York, gonna rent and give this a kind of crazy game :D

  8. Jimmy says:

    I watched the Endurance Run of this whole game on GiantBomb because I don’t think I have the willpower to play the entire game myself. It was pretty hilarious though – totally batshit game design.

  9. MrCuddleswick says:

    I think Deadly Premonition is probably more like The Core or Shark Attack 3, in that it’s so bad it’s good, rather than the likes of Donnie Darko or Twin Peaks which were intentionally offbeat and expertly crafted to be unsettling.

    After reading your review, I think I might get this. Tongue in cheek or not, fun is fun.

  10. Richie richie says:

    I do like a lemon and this seems like a good one.

    Cuddles, Donnie Darko was balls!

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