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Love GTA, Heavy Rain and Resident Evil? Well Deadly Premonition is better than all of them. Here's why

It makes old-school survival horror work for the modern player. Also fact

Fans of old-school survival horror have a big problem right now. And that problem is that no-one is really making much old-school survival horror any more. And as far as I see it, the reason for that all comes by way of a gross misconception. The assumption, in this more refined and oh-so-more-wise age of gaming, is that the controls and gameplay mechanics of traditional SH were crap. “Ho ho!”, people so wisely laugh. “How rubbish they were, with their relative orientation and ‘push up to go forward whichever way your character is facing’ ways. What a crappy old relic from the days before the PlayStation had analogue sticks. Now we have smooth, responsive controls and mega-athletic action-bastard characters, and so we are better human beings”.


Above: Are motorbikes scary? Is anything, when you have a friggin' car-mounted turret?

But those people are full of crap. What they don’t get is that Resident Evil and Silent Hill’s clunky old ‘tank’ controls were a very conscious design decision, and fundamentally important to the success of those games. They made navigation awkward. They artificially weakened your character. They made sure that you were always on the back foot, and that every single enemy encounter could be serious trouble. That’s why a lot of current players hate them, but the serious horror fan knows that that’s why they worked. They worked by putting the player right into the shaky shoes and panicked mind-set of the over-faced, grossly outnumbered protagonist, and turned what would otherwise have been flagrant monster killing sprees into genuine horror experiences. They were essentially the video game control equivalent of method acting.

But we’re too sophisticated for that now, so we want slick analogue control, over-the-shoulder aiming and a million different evasion and retaliation options. Because if we can’t absolutely, positively decimate every monster-frightener in the room, then we see the game as a failure. Because we have become decadent and stupid. 

And thus we end up with hideous messes like Resident Evil 5, which by trying to blend survival horror with Gears of War end up as miserable half-way houses with zero identity and a surplus of conflicting, half-realised gameplay mechanics. Dead Space and Resi 4 are great, of course, but they’re much more like atmospheric action games than real horror.


Above: You think that's creepy, wait 'til it starts begging you not to kill it

But Deadly Premonition gets it right for everyone. How? As with most things it does, with effortless simplicity, inciting a great big facepalm of “Why the hell didn’t anyone think of that before now?” along the way. It provides Resi 4 and 5’s over-the-shoulder camera and modern 3D analogue control in order to keep the action players happy, and simply tempers it with ‘crap’ floaty aiming, slightly stiff character movement and tricksy, duck-and-weave enemies to keep the horror purists satisfied. And it works. And yes, Resi 4 detractors, you can even side-step (albeit in a slow, clunky way).

The control interface is immediate enough as to exclude no-one, but the mechanics of shooting are challenging enough to simulate fear and oppression, just like we used to get in the old days before a quick jump-scare followed by a retaliatory tac-nuke became the order of the day. You can run, you can evade, you can kill everything and there are explosive barrels aplenty. But you will never feel safe, you will always have your eyes on an escape route, and every single time you hear a zombie you will panic, even if it’s a quarter of a mile away. And yeah, I said “zombie”. Slow, shambling, useless zombies. Deadly Premonition proves that you don’t need leaping, sprinting, bullet-sponge beasties in order to compensate for modern controls in a horror game  You just need to get those controls right.

And so it’s highly ironic that so many have spent 30 seconds with Deadly Premonition’s combat before labelling it as rubbish. Because it's not. It's brilliant.

There's far more I could say about Deadly Premonition. Far, far more. But if I carry on, I'll end up writing a dissertation. And that dissertation would be full of spoilers. And I want you to discover this utterly marvellous, clever, witty, warm, affecting game for yourself. So I implore you, do so. You can get the 360 version for about £13 on Amazon right now, and it's coming to the Games on Demand download service next week for £15, so you don't even have to try to track a copy down. The PS3 version, Red Seeds Profile, was never officially released outside Japan, but it's voiced in English and is available to import (albeit for a higher cost).

And in the meantime, head over to director Swery's blog. He's a lovely chap, and all of his posts are being translated now. He has a cracking discussion of Deadly Premonition's philosophy of "loveable game design" on there, that you really should read if you want more background on just why this game is brilliant. He's also touting for a publisher so that he can make his next game. Someone, help him out. Because that needs to happen. That needs to happen very soon.

June 29, 2011

94 comments

  • godisanarc - July 8, 2011 5:38 p.m.

    I just went out and bought it because of this article. $17 seemed well worth it. Thanks as always GR.
  • leejohnson222 - July 7, 2011 8:29 a.m.

    when you have to use s sensationalised title that would sit right at home with the BS opinion peices passed off as fact on n4g i think your heading for trouble. I feel that dave is simply trying to show how everyone else is wrong and he is right.Its almost like this game is so bad its good, but the problem is it really isnt, dave is trying to show everyone missed a gem and you need to look deeper into this title.This article is just an exercise in self importance. comparing games and stating that one game is better than 3 others is just a pointless excercise unless you nejoy n4g.com.
  • Bamford38 - July 6, 2011 12:06 a.m.

    I ended up buying it after hearing Dave go on about it on talkrader a couple of weeks ago, and just finished it last night. I almost gave up on it at the start like so many other people. The terrible lip sync and graphics were severely getting me down. But its absolutely true what he said in the article, once you get sucked into greenvale you never even notice the things that annoyed you at the beginning. The only bad thing is that with the general bad impression people have of this game, i cant see it getting a sequel. Also, is it wrong that by the end of the game i was really starting to fancy Emily? My missus didnt think it was ok!
  • TheExperiance420 - July 5, 2011 3:41 p.m.

    Was looking for a new game to buy and this article made my decision for me. Deadly premonition is only 10 quid on amazon for those considering buying this :)
  • HitmanSB07 - July 5, 2011 11:19 a.m.

    DAMN IT!!! It's €29.99 in Ireland!!! I thought it was going to be €19.99? Damn it, I don't have enough points.
  • jonathancaddock - July 5, 2011 12:17 a.m.

    I bought this game a while ago, and after 5 minutes i hated it. Still i didn't put it down, after 10 minutes I still hadn't put it down. Thus I couldn't let go of it for hours at a time until I completed it. Begrudgingly I decided it was quite good despite my early reservations. That was until I saw article after article posted here about how this game is Jesus in a 3d rendered sandbox disguise. Articles like this actually remind me of everything which is wrong with this game. If we set aside the dated graphics and awful control system, then we can consider the story itself (We could also go and read a book seeing as we've removed a large chunk of the usual pleasure derived from gaming). The story is rather unusual for a game and kudos for trying, but it is also a blatant homage/Rip off of Twin Peaks. Combine that with some plot points which make no sense, some horror sequences which are actually less terrifying than the awful voice acting in the more relaxed dialogues and a script which might as well have been written by a cat walking over a keyboard hooked up to Google translate and you may find yourself disappointing. The thing is, as i said, I really did enjoy this game. But its surprisingly good considering everything that's wrong with it, to list three huge titles and suggest that this half baked (if rather unusual) cookie outstrips them all is ludicrous.
  • MancisFrorkYorgan - July 3, 2011 8:01 p.m.

    I hate to sound like an elitist; I hate to imply that one has to 'get it' to truly enjoy Deadly Premonition. But one does.
  • VaneTrago - July 2, 2011 11:04 p.m.

    After reading this article, I went out and bought the only new copy of Deadly Premonition in all of the GameStops in Alaska. The tank controls don't bother me in the slightest, because I'm the gamer who still goes back to play Contra and Twisted Metal on a semi-regular basis. I have got to say, that I am really starting to love this game. I never would have even looked twice at it if it weren't for reading this. Thanks for the recommendation, and any other obscure gems like this that you guys find, you should really give us a heads up.
  • YoungZer0 - July 2, 2011 4:53 p.m.

    "Valve, in particular, excels in this area. Its silent protagonists never alienate you with words or actions that you yourself wouldn’t say or carry out. Valve's lack of third-person cut-scenes ensures that you’re never pulled out of the main gameplay perspective, and its refusal to pre-render anything means that you're never divorced from the world. Its ambient storytelling through little details hidden within the environment makes sure that the player’s understanding of the game world is always at the same stage as the character’s at any given point in a story, and most cleverly, the way that the House o’ Gabe manipulates emotional and dramatic peaks and troughs to incite reactions and create empathy with a character’s situation ensures that in a Valve game, to put it plainly, you are not actually playing a character at all. That character is an extension of you." God, this is getting ridiculous. He doesn't say anything! No, he's not an extension of me, because i'd talk when Gordon doesn't. I do things different when he doesn't. This bullshit needs to stop, seriously. Silent Protagonist are all but unique, or good, it's in no way, shape or form an extension of you. They are dull, shallow hulls. Nothing more. If you give Valve so much credit for that, why not go ahead and give Infinite Wards the same amount of credit. "You know, like real people do." I never played this game, just saw the beginning with the Woman hanging on the tree. And a grandfather and two kids finding her. You know what real people wouldn't do? Let the kids stay and let them watch the corpse of a woman.
  • gilgamesh310 - December 19, 2013 3:02 p.m.

    I'm not going to defend the points he made about Valve but you'd really have to actually play some of Deadly Premonition to see that he is right about the characters. Sure they tend to be over the top in their quirkiness at times but they do stand out as real people more so than 95% of game characters overall.
  • MrBlond - July 2, 2011 10:08 a.m.

    Having played it through to it's completion I can't say I agree with all the obsessive praise it gets. Sure, it is a breath of fresh air in that it has a genuinely interesting story and character development but these things alone in my opinion do not make a great game. Starting with the controls, they really are some of the most cumbersome I have encountered in both the third-person perspective and the driving. At the time I was also playing Stranglehold and Saints Row and to compare it in terms of its controls with those two stinkers is to me, justified. Next up, the repetition of enemies that you have to lay waste to is staggering, at first I really enjoyed them especially the moans they make (I dooooon't want to diieee!) but it becomes tiresome fast and there are literally around 3 or 4 different types. Along the journey, around the mid-section of the game you come up against what can be termed as 'the boss battles'; a blatant rip-off of the 'Ring' girl who scurries along the walls and ceiling trying her best to attack you. This happens around four times through the game, with no explanation of what she is and why she is any different to the other enemies. Despite this the same cannot be said about the last boss which is actually decent. Now I don't want to rip into the game too much as there were genuinely moments in the game that I honestly enjoyed and I would be interested to see a sequel if only to see if they can fix the problems. But it seems to me that if any higher profile games had even one of the many flaws this game has - it would be ripped to shreds by the gaming press. And that is what I can't understand. Yes it has a compelling story and quirky characters, so does GTA IV and many other games but if they had serious flaws in their gameplay mechanics like one this does they would not gain such high praise. The 8 and 9 scores being thrown around are just far too high, at best it's a 6 or a 7 and to compare it to the games in the upper echelon shows a disrespect to the people who have worked their arses off on games like Fallout 3, Dead Space and Mafia II because I cannot state that the same level of hard work has been put into this game.
  • spektreumek - July 1, 2011 1:27 a.m.

    I am going on Amazon now and getting it thanks to this review. Excellent review mate, I honestly cannot wait to play it. After reading this i searched for DP and found something awful.com's review, which had me laughing my tits off. Anyone who wants a proper belly laugh, i suggest you go and read that review too. Thanks for bringing this to my atttention, i know i am going to love it.
  • skankmustard - June 30, 2011 3:13 p.m.

    I was intrigued by this game when it came out, but this article made me buy it yesterday. What a strange, wonderful and creepy game. Thanks for persuading me to take the plunge! There were loads of copies in HMV in Oxford Street for £15 if anyone's in London and can't locate a copy...
  • yagirlfriendsfavoriterapper - June 30, 2011 12:24 p.m.

    DP is a bad game, I played it and was not impressed.
  • philipshaw - June 30, 2011 11:23 a.m.

    I get that it's a strange game but I watched GB play the whole of this game and that was enough to know that I never want to play it
  • nathstyles - June 30, 2011 9:15 a.m.

    Okay its on the lovefilm list now - but if the above comment is to be believed I'll be waiting a while - dont think with my limited funds I can risk a purchase of such a divisive game (the user reviews on lovefilm are certainly that). Why am I such a sucker for story? Well whether they ever send it or not I hope at least he gets a good publisher for his next game as it sounds as though with a bigger budget he might be able to put the polish on that us pampered modern gamers crave - imagine that game.
  • papergoon - June 30, 2011 9 a.m.

    i'm still with eternal darkness being my favourite survival horror game. aside from the overhyped (but still fantastic) sanity meter, i felt that it was able to nail the essence of horror and fear.
  • TheShape108 - June 30, 2011 6:09 a.m.

    I bought a xbox360 specifically to play Deadly Premonition. To this day I consider that to be one of the best decisions I've ever made. Fantastic game, I pledge my 60 dollars to whatever Swery does next.
  • Shanetexas - June 30, 2011 3:24 a.m.

    Dude, let it go. This game sucks and will forever suck. It's a niche game. Just because a niche game is fun for you doesn't make it fun for everyone else. Better than GTA? Come on now.
  • TriforcePlayer - June 30, 2011 2:33 a.m.

    Its good game but better than GTA? I don't think so.

Showing 1-20 of 94 comments

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