It has some the best writing this-gen. Fact
I have to reference Heavy Rain here. I’m sorry, but I really have to. David Cage’s pretentious 2010 gloom-fest was heralded by many (and by none moreso than Cage himself) as a new bar for character and story writing in a mature video game. But it wasn’t as good as Deadly Premonition. In fact it was schlocky and a bit crap in those respects.
Above: The murder that starts it all. And you will not believe where it's going from here
It’s long been one of my conceits that you only really show genuine maturity when you don’t feel the need to prove your maturity any more. There’s just an assuredness and worldly understanding that means you don’t try to prove how deep and well-rounded you are, because you’re too busy getting on with it. That’s true of people, and it’s true of media as well.
And while Heavy Rain heaped upon the player so much misery, heightened soap-opera emotion and overblown caricature of cinematic grit, Deadly Premonition just does what it always does. It concentrates on the real and the human, creating much more loveable characters and a much more affecting story.
No-one in Deadly Premonition is a stereotype. There are archetypes, of course. It’s impossible to write characters without using them. But while the brilliant-but-odd FBI agent, bull-headed-but-noble sheriff and young, sharp, undervalued female deputy are all present and correct, no-one begins and ends with their character summation. Everyone has strengths. Everyone has flaws. But most importantly, all are written without succumbing to that other literary cliché, the over-flawed stereotype deconstruction.
Above: You'll love these three like your very own family before long
Writing characters to deliberately defy type is such a hoary old cliche that it’s become a type all of its own. And you see it all the way through Heavy Rain. Everyone in Deadly Premonition though, is just well-rounded and real. There are no fatalistic, self-destructive obsessions here. No personal hang-ups that haunt characters beyond the ability to function. People have individual virtues and failings, but they’re all basically just getting on with things and trying to make the best of life they can. You know, like real people do.
Yes, the extreme quirks of Deadly Premonition’s cast are what have gained it so much attention over the last year, and many people have interpreted their odd dialogue and off-kilter behaviour as a symptom of badly-written, badly-translated dialogue. And that’s understandable, to a degree. If you’ve only seen the odd clip on YouTube, the age-old video game trope of bad Engrish is an easy assumption to fall back on. But in Deadly Premonition it just doesn’t apply. Because the thing is, Deadly Premonition’s characters aren’t weird or cartoonish.
The thing is, most video game characters are stoic clichés, speaking and behaving functionally, as their stereotypes demand. And we’re used to that. So when we see characters who act like real people, with all their quirks, oddness and idiosynchracies, and compare them to most video game characters, they do seem odd. But in actual fact, they’re just acting like real people. Because real people are quirky and odd and idiosynchratic.
Above: What's going on here? I'm telling you nothing. Find out for yourself
Particular note also, must be made of Deadly Premonition’s central mystery, which is masterfully told. With its initial jumping-off point of David Lynch's Twin Peaks, the blend of real-world investigation, horror, and existential strangeness is what will immediately grab you, but the reality of its character psychology and the layering of its exposition is the really rather stunning bit.
Perhaps drawn into even greater relief by the unbridled strangeness occurring elsewhere in the game, the thoughts and drives of the main cast have an accuracy and plausibility that isn’t often seen in a game. It’s impressive enough on a day-to-day level, but once you get to trying to guess the killer (or even the nature of the mystery) yourself, you’ll notice some bloody well-researched forensic psychology at play, and find yourself showered with new suspicions. clues and red herrings.
You might only notice this if you’re interested in the workings of the serial killer mind-set in real-life. And you might miss some of those scenes and conversations completely, depending on how you navigate Deadly Premonition’s deceptively organic world. But one thing’s for certain. There’s important, stimulating content from start to finish, much of which you’ll only spot (and kick yourself for missing) in hindsight of the game’s mental-overload climax. And even with the game’s fantastical overtones, all of it is a great deal more satisfying and plausible than the Origami Killer’s cartoonish, cod-psychological motivational hokum.
Next: The horror, the horror...