Deadly Premonition:Director’s Cut Review
It’s impossible to judge Deadly Premonition on any traditional scale. The graphics are laughable, the gameplay bland and repetitive, the basic mechanics borderline broken and the script filled with (hopefully intentional) cheesy lines. It is, by almost any measure, a terrible game.
Except it isn’t.
Although there’s hardly a single thing it does right, you’ll probably play Deadly Premonition right through to the end. You might do all the side quests. You’ll probably recommend it to your friends. And when you do, and they ask what’s so great about this ugly, boring game, you’ll say something along the lines of “you just have to play it.”
And in a review for Deadly Promonition, that’s actually 100% true. The only real way of knowing if you’ll enjoy it is to play it yourself.
Welcome to Greenvale
Francis York Morgan is an FBI agent who has been sent to Greenvale to investigate the death of Anne Graham. On a wet, cold night, he drives alone (apart from his always-present invisible friend Zach, who remains a mystery throughout much of the game), until he must swerve to avoid hitting a red-coated man standing in the middle of the road. York ends up in a car crash, lost in a dark forest filled with what appear to be zombies (which beg for their lives when killed) and squirrels that sounds something like monkeys.
Worse, the man in the red coat is in the forest as well, and tries to kill you before running off into the night.
From the very get go, there are problems. The shooting system doesn’t work – to the point where you’ll find yourself hitting things that you’ve obviously missed and vice versa – the graphics really are sub-PS2 quality at times and the scripting is beyond nonsense at times (Deadly Premonition opens on the sadistic relationship between Tom and Jerry, and quickly moves into the magic of coffee).
So Wrong, So Right
These are problems that will come up often. The most annoying chapters – those that have you exploring the demon-filled Otherworld, filled with combat and exploration – are too dry to enjoy. Combat is repetitive and forced, with the shooting system itself far too weak to support any actual action. Exploration manages to swing between hilariously bad and flat-out dull. There are only so many dark corridors you can run down without starting to feel the adventure has somewhat got away from itself, only so many of the same three of four enemies you can kill without feeling that perhaps the level designers were underpaid.
But you’ll carry on. Not because the mystery is especially strong or because there are questions that just need to be answered within the games narrative, but because the town of Greenvale is pretty much perfect, and completely unlike anything you’ll ever find elsewhere.
Let me be specific: it has faults. The layout is ridiculous and using your map is likely to get you more lost. Cars are stupidly slow and earlier vehicles run out of petrol too quickly. Of course, the graphics are no better here than anywhere else. So with all that going against it, how can I possibly use the word perfect in describing it?
The answer is simple: because of the people, because of the feeling of it being a real small town. Deadly Premonition re-writes the definition of survival horror. If you can survive the horror segments, you’re rewarded with deep side-characters, genuinely interesting side-narrative, hilariously quirky cutscenes and rewards that actually take Deadly Premonition a little closer to what it should have been to start with.
You’ll unlock faster cars and better guns. You’ll learn more about the town and its people. You’ll actually start rooting for them, getting sad as the Rain Coat Killer takes each of his victims. You’ll want to fight to save them.
And then you’ll get into another horror segment and work through it only to root a little more.
Playing to Finish
Deadly Premonition couldn’t have been a film, but it feels like it desperately wanted to be. The level of character building, the way the story plays out and the things you’ll do all feel distinctly film-influenced, but in a way that is also specific to video games. This is a 20+ hour adventure, and while much of that time will be spent struggling to drive a police car (even going in a straight line can be a problem sometimes), shooting the many demons you’ll come across or playing through the occasional ridiculous QTE, almost as much of it will be spent becoming genuinely interested in the world around you.
This is a game where you can say you play for the experience, you play to finish, you certainly don’t play for the joy of playing. This is where your opinion becomes split. If you’re there for the gameplay, there’s a good chance you’ll quit before getting past the lumber yard – the area at which the game really tests its player. That’s only a few hours in, and a rental will be more than enough to test your patience.
I reviewed Deadly Premonition when it was first released in the UK, and this Director’s Cut does little to improve on the basic problems. There seems like there’s a different filter and the frame rate is generally slightly better. There are times when things break down completely and there are other times when it’s a complete mess, but for all intents and purposes, the Director’s Cut is the version I’d suggest if somebody had a choice.
Those who already own the original version of the game are unlikely to feel the need to reinvest unless they were a huge fan of the original.
Graphics & Audio
You may be able to see this coming based on previous comments, but I think the visual style in Deadly Premonition is pretty much terrible. Some might say it’s stylized, and in many ways they’d be right. The way the demons move, the way the red ivy creeps across walls and shadowy portals grow like oil on the ground – all of this screams of a design team who knew how to do things differently.
It’s as if this fantastic design team started off thinking they were getting millions of dollars of investment money and then actually found out they had enough to cover a cheese burger and a movie. Everything, from the characters you meet to the textures on the hills, looks pretty dreadful. Animation is almost painful to watch at times, especially for the women in the game, and it’s possible that the lower framerate of the 360 version of the game may make things look less of a joke.
And yet there are moments when you’ll think “that was a pretty neat effect,” or “I’ve never seen anything like that before.” Those moments imply this was a game built for modern consoles, but they’re few and far between and never very convincing.
The audio suffers from a similar problem. You’ll hum along with songs, smile at certain themes, you’ll enjoy the delivery of certain lines from certain characters, but the overall production ends up being very substandard. The mixing could have used a complete redo and it sometimes feels unfair that professional actors had to deliver some of the lines they have, but I suppose they were in on the joke and it shows.
Still, like everything else in Deadly Premonition, it all somehow works.
Sometimes it’s difficult to find the blur between absolute genius and complete trash. I like to think that the creators of Deadly Premonition purposefully walked that line, although there’s a good chance they just got lucky. I’m not sure anybody is every going to so gracefully tread that wall between mediocrity and brilliance again. The end result is a game that will either have a huge appeal to you or which will make you want to cut up your credit cards in the hope of never making such a rash purchase again.
Your best bet is to rent it.