Deadly Premonition is the durian fruit of video games. To the average person, it will seem repulsive--about as appealing as a used diaper. But those who’ve developed a taste for all things out-of-the-ordinary, or steeled themselves for its exotic strangeness, may just find themselves regarding it as a delicacy. Deadly Premonition is regarded as one of the best worst games ever, provided you can get past its ugly duckling exterior. The PS3-exclusive Director’s Cut is the version to own, but only if you think you’d fit right in with the eccentrics who helped solidify the original game as a cult classic.
The story follows the affable Francis York Morgan, an FBI special agent sent to investigate a ritualistic murder in the rural town of Greenvale. In order to deduce who the culprit is, he’ll need to question the outlandish locals during the day, and fend off otherworldly horrors at night. Though you control York’s actions, the player is cast as Zach, who appears to exist as Morgan’s split personality. This structure creates a fascinating narrative hook, with constant confusion as to whether or not the fourth wall is perpetually being broken.
Within minutes of booting up the game, Deadly Premonition will whack you in the face with all of its most prominent drawbacks. The textures are grainy, the animations are stiff and robotic, the voice-acting is dreary, and the story will immediately evoke stupefied reactions of “WTF?” from the uninitiated. The Director’s Cut boasts improved graphics, but only keen eyes will be able to discern the difference made by refined lighting and some new textures. No matter how you slice it, Deadly Premonition looks only moderately better than a PS2 game.
But looks aren’t everything. Despite its pervasive clunkiness and at-times agonizingly slow pace, Deadly Premonition has an incredibly distinctive charm to it. Its cutscenes are so stilted, its conversations so awkward, and its characters so nonsensical that you can’t help but relish them all. It feels like intentional unintentional humor, and many memorable scenes achieve the same campy, melodramatic hilarity as Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. Once you’ve acclimated to the game’s deadpan voice acting, every other line of dialogue becomes giggle-worthy. The cheesy, non sequitur music that pervades each scene only makes matters funnier.
You can think of Deadly Premonition as Twin Peaks: The Game, with a sprinkling of survival horror mixed in. The influence of David Lynch’s surreal TV series can be felt at every turn, from the quirky-but-brilliant FBI agent and his strange monologues to the quaint lumber town setting and bizarre supporting characters. The parallels even go as far as the inclusion of a senile Pot Lady in place of the goofy Log Lady.
Against all production value odds, this is also one of the most convincing open-world games around--simply because of how authentically ordinary it feels. Greenvale’s small population lets you keep tabs on individual suspects, each with their own agendas and daily routines. Time passes as it does in the real world, and these people will work, eat, and sleep with or without your presence. You’ll have to do the same, ensuring that York isn’t sleep-deprived or starving while he tracks down the murderer.
This kind of mundane, day-to-day activity is hypnotic, immersing you into the world with its believability. You can’t just hijack passing vehicles--you’ve got to drive police cars that cap out at a sluggish 50mph. You can’t buy groceries whenever you feel like it--the general store’s staff doesn’t work late nights. For all their intricate city designs and bustling populace, games like Grand Theft Auto IV can’t offer the experience of peering through someone’s window and watching them make dinner. Deadly Premonition does. And what other video game rewards you for shaving daily?
If you’re already familiar with the story of Francis York Morgan and Zach, the Director’s Cut offers decent reasons to play through it all over again. A handful of new cutscenes weave an additional thread into the narrative, though they’ll feel wildly disconnected from the story at first. Hardcore fans will go gaga for minor additions like extra costumes and the potential for DLC, though the port to the PS3 seems to have taken a bit of a toll, with some sporadic frame rate issues and strange, echo-y bits of dialogue. But while the visual and audio departments don’t convey much in the way of enhancement, the controls have been significantly improved for the Director’s Cut.
No longer is York bound by stiff, unintuitive tank controls akin to the PS1 Resident Evils; now, he handles in a manner far more appropriate for the third-person perspective. There’s an option for Move compatibility, though this control method is more of a novel addition to the game’s many oddities; you’ll invariably stick to the trusty DualShock. The control reworks also substantially improve the combat--Agent Morgan now aims with the right stick and fires via the shoulder buttons, so you won’t have to contort your hands into a claw every time you need to lock your sights on an approaching enemy.
Speaking of enemies, the menagerie of monsters is incredibly limited compared to the likes of, say, Silent Hill. You’ll mainly fend off contorted, eyeless ghouls; their jerky movements and droning voices are initially creepy, but hearing them moan “I don’t want to die!” becomes laughable after your 10th straight kill. You’ll also be accosted from time to time by an axe-wielding brute, which leads to some genuinely pulse-quickening chase scenes--though having to replay a segment after failing a climactic quick-time event is as unfun as ever.
They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Where one gamer will see an ugly, boring, schizophrenic mess of a survival horror game, another will see the splendor of its expansive setting, idiosyncratic cast, and spellbinding mystery. Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut is the misfit’s masterpiece, offering an inviting and affordable chance to see which side of the oddball gamer fence you stand on.