With David Lynch’s Twin Peaks making its comeback after more than 25 years, there’s no better time to look back at Deadly Premonition, the bizarre survival horror that owed more than its fair share to the classic early ‘90s TV series.
Like Lynch’s show, it tells the story of a coffee-loving FBI agent who’s sent to a small town to investigate the murder of a young woman. As he delves into the mystery he comes across all manner of ‘interesting’ characters and finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy involving a pair of coloured rooms that represent alternate dimensions.
Where Deadly Premonition differs from Twin Peaks is that it’s terrible. It looks like a PS2 game, its cutscenes are horrendously acted, and the bizarre jazz music almost never suits the situation it accompanies. And yet, despite being rubbish in almost every way, it’s absolutely glorious.
Hidetaka ‘Swery’ Suehiro originally envisaged Deadly Premonition as a PS2 game called Rainy Woods, but it was cancelled shortly after it was revealed in 2004. Four years later it made its return with a snazzy new title, ready to make its mark on the next generation of consoles, but development was still shaky: the game was nearly binned again no fewer than four times.
It’s a good job it wasn’t, because Deadly Premonition is a truly unique experience. It’s an open-world take on survival horror – one in which genuinely scary enemies make appearances from time to time – but this almost doesn’t matter. Indeed, if you were to judge the game purely on how it played, you’d dismiss it as a clunky, cheap-looking effort with cumbersome combat controls and a horrible camera. Instead, the madness of the storyline ensures this one leaves a lasting impression.
For starters, your character, Agent York, has a split personality who he regularly talks to in public with no regard for what people around him think (which is just as well, because they don’t seem to notice, for some reason). He also checks his coffee for secret messages, makes inappropriate wisecracks following disturbing scenes, and tells anecdotes that are borderline psychotic. The supporting cast is just as strange, from the mute gas-mask-wearing wheelchair-bound tycoon who can only communicate through his rhyming butler to the insomniac grave keeper who we’re convinced isn’t really alive. Few games have you actually looking forward to cutscenes, but Deadly Premonition’s cast is so odd, each cinematic is an absurd treat.
None of this would be the case were it not for the ‘genius’ of Swery, mind you. This is a man who actually flew to America so he could measure the road signs to ensure the game’s realism, then added a scene where your hero discusses John Williams soundtracks with his imaginary friend. There’s no rhyme or reason to most of the elements Swery’s put into this game, and it’s all the better for it. There are plenty of movies and TV shows that are so bad they’re good, but it’s much rarer to find this in gaming: most of the time when a game’s bad, it just isn’t fun. Deadly Premonition is the rare exception to the rule: almost everything about it is poorly made but it’s just so endearing and bizarre that it’s one of the most entertaining games you’ll play.
This article originally appeared in Official PlayStation Magazine. For more great PlayStation coverage, you can subscribe here.