Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut
Developer: Access Games
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Genre: Survival Horror/Third Person Action
Release Date: 04/30/2013
Diane, I’m sitting here in front of my computer trying to think of the best way to do an intro for my Deadly Premonition review. Sure I could start with the usual comparisons to David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, which is not only accurate, but awesome, because other than the fanmade 2600 Black Lodge game, this is as close as we will ever get to seeing one made. I guess I could also mention other similar games that involve a quirky protagonist investigating strange happenings and serial killers. Still Life is a great example. My beloved Mizzurna Falls, made by the original Fire Pro Wrestling and Clock Tower team is another, and it is so similar to Deadly Premonition (even though it if fifteen years old) that it’s scary. I suppose I could also admit that I’m a fan of SWERY65 aka æœ«å¼˜ç§€å aka Suehiro Hidetaka and his previous games. Pretty much everyone on staff here at DHGF loves The Last Blade 1 & 2 and I felt the stories behind Extermination and Spy Fiction were incredible, and it was a shame they were trapped behind the sub-par engines that came with them. Perhaps though, Diane, the best thing to do is simply talk about a game I’ve known since I imported Red Seeds Profile for my PS3 all those years ago, and why it’s become one of my favorite games of this console generation. So I’ve brought my laptop to where North Bend meets Snoqualmie Falls, ordered some pie at Twedes’ Café and settled in for a long commentary on a game that may be extremely polarizing, but is definitely something every gamer of all ilks should experience.
Deadly Premontion is a Lynchian game. There’s no way to get around it. By now I’m sure you’ve all seen the comparison shots where locations in Greenvale exactly match those from the Twin Peaks TV show. Agent Francis York Morgan sounds and looks very much like Agent Dale Cooper, played by Kyle MacLachlan. You have a pot lady instead of a log lady. A lumber mill long past its prime plays a very important part in both stories. Both towns are filled to the brim with a cast of extremely eclectic characters. Both stories revolve around trying to solve murders committed by a serial killer that eventually veer off into the supernatural in terms of the whys and hows. Both have coffee and cherry pie and, of course, both FBI agents talk to someone that may or may not actually exist. To say that Deadly Premonition is a “rip-off” of Twin Peaks is a bit of an insult to both, as they still manage to be very different from each other. Besides, the Raincoat Killer is definitely an homage to Human’s Scissorsman, especially with the sequences where you need to hide and/or run from him. The game also takes a lot from Mizzurna Falls, straight down to the driving, a town full of people who follow an exact pattern and where timing is more important than speed (or a lack thereof). Even the darts and driving seem like they were taken from that Human developed title. So one could easily say that Deadly Premonition is SWERY65’s Frankenstein Monster. He has taken the best bits of various other truly wonderful products and combined them together, along with his own personal vision, to create a patchwork horror that may not be as good as its progenitors, but it still impressive in its own right, while accompanied by some definite and inescapable issues.
I love the story of Deadly Premonition. I really enjoyed each character and found myself really caring about the inhabitants of Greenvale. Agent Morgan and Zach quickly became one of my favorite characters of all time, because he was so quirky. I loved interacting with the townspeople and figuring out who would be where at what time. I became addicted to doing all the subquests, collecting the trading cards and simply getting to known Greenvale as if it were a real small community that just happened to be plagued by murders, cults and evil seeds. Sure, I figured out who the “murderer” was pretty quickly on, but that made the game no less fantastic to experience. I laughed when I should have, and also when I shouldn’t have, I grew to care for certain characters and feel bad when terrible things happened to at least one of them. There wasn’t an aspect of exploring Greenvale I didn’t fall in love with, including the fishing and racing mini-games, which I usually hate. Hell, Deadly Premonition ended up being the 18th game I’ve platinumed on the PS3 and I wasn’t even trying for that. I was just trying to find everything there was to do and see in the game, and eventually, I was surprised by the trophy blip in the upper right hand corner of the screen. I would honestly say Deadly Premonition is far better written than most of the other survival horror type games we’ve gotten in the past few years. The stories of recent Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Parasite Eve and other franchises pale when compared to what is here. Sure, it’s insanely weird and quirky, but it’s meant to be. This isn’t survival horror, but a merger of that with existential surrealist writing, akin not only to Lynch’s movies and shows, but works by authors like Camus and Kafka. Deadly Premonition is pretty much written for gamers like myself who enjoyed games like I Have No Mouth, But I Must Scream, DarkSeed, HellNight, and Shadow Hearts – all titles with stories that will blow you away, but are also accompanied by unusual gameplay that may not be to the liking of most gamers.
The director’s cut of Deadly Premonition features HD visuals for the first time. Considering the game was originally meant to be a PS2/Xbox title, it’s not surprising that gamers found the visuals less than impressive when it was first released stateside. I personally think the game looks quite nice now. It’s not going to win any awards based on its graphics, I’ll grant you that, but I really love the character models and the attention to detail displayed to each and every person in the game. The Raincoat Killer is also one of the coolest looking antagonists in gaming. It’s one of those things where I’d love to see him hanging out with Pyramid Head, Scissorsman and the creature from HellNight. Now the downside to the enhanced visuals is that the frame rate is drastically reduced at times. I thankfully didn’t experience this too often. I have the white 500GB new PS3 model and 95% of the time, the graphics were great. I experienced frame rate issues only rarely, and generally in non combat situations, like Elaine moving really slowly when doing stretches or trees coming into view later than they should have. The only time I encountered slowdown in Other World scenarios was in the Spirit Map C subquest where you fight the three bosses of the game back to back to back. There I noticed that dodging didn’t seem to be recognized. I’d hit the O button and dodge with plenty of time, but still took damage. There was also one time in Harry’s Mansion where only Michael’s hair and shoulders appeared for his character model, just floating around where the rest of him should be. That was messed up. Other than that thought, the game looked quite nice, and I was quite happy with the visual improvements from the original version of Red Seeds Profile. Again, it’s not going to be the best looking game ever, but we’re talking about a world the size of Fallout 3 here. It doesn’t look as good as Bethesda’s creation, but it’s also far less buggy, so take that for what you will.
Aurally, the game is fantastic. The voice acting cast does an amazing job of bringing the town of Greenvale to life. There are so many weird characters in this little town, but everyone gives their lines so wonderfully, you can’t help but grow to care about them. Except Sigourney. Man, I hate her. You give her a ride and all she does is scream at you. FIVE TIMES in a row. Is it any wonder that after doing her quests, I would hit her with York’s car every time I saw her? You’re no Catherine E. Coulson, lady. There wasn’t a character I didn’t think was voiced perfectly. Whether it was the west coast himbo accent displayed by rocker Keith or the raspy tones of Harry Stewart, the ensemble for Deadly Premonition has me longing for another game where they are all reunited.
The soundtrack to Deadly Premonition is equally fantastic. There are times when the tracks just don’t match up with the actual tale being told, such as the trademark happy whistling theme playing while Emily and Forrest are trying to find a kidnapped Agent York, but instead of detracting from the game, it merely enhances the weirdness and surreality of the tale being told here. I loved each and every track, even if Carol’s song was obviously “sampled” from “Falling” by Julee Cruise to the point where my wife, walking through the room, asked if I was listening to the Twin Peaks soundtrack. Whether you take the soundtrack on its own or pair it up with the cracktastic happenings in Greenvale, the audio aspects of Deadly Premonition are truly wonderful, and I can’t think of a fully voice acted game of this size where I haven’t nitpicked on at least something- save this one. Call it Kitsch, Auteur, Lynchian, Surreal, Existentialist or whatever, but listening to Deadly Premonition was as fun as playing through it.
In terms of gameplay, the director’s cut of Deadly Premonition is massively improved. If you’ve played the original, then you know that playing the game was a chore, which was too bad as the script was so brilliant. Of course, combat was thrown into the game at the last minute to appease Western audiences, and that was a mistake. The game (back then) really should have been a straightforward 3D adventure game without combat, ala something like Still Life or The Lost Crown. The controls of Deadly Premonition have been retooled to be similar to those of most third person action games, although to be honest, I felt this game played better than a lot of those! Sure, there are some noticeable quirks, like some bad collision detection with the Legendary Guitar, the fact that the Lock-On button sometimes locks on right ABOVE the enemy you are aiming for, and the game could have really used a quick turn button, but aside from that, the game was pretty smooth going through all aspects of the game. Combat was now a breeze instead of a chore and I died a whopping two times, both because of quick time events where a single mistake meant instant death. I actually really enjoyed the combat sequences of the director’s cut, especially compared to what came before. Sure, the Other World sequences are still the weakest area of the game, but they are vastly improved and fun now, making a game that was once bogged down by a heavily flawed engine into something almost worthy of the story being told here. Hell, I usually loathe driving in video games (L.A. Noire comes to mind immediately), but I did all the racing challenges in Deadly Premonition with ease and had fun doing so. I went out of my way to complete them all, and that says something.
Besides that, the level of detail that Deadly Premonition contains is amazing. Every in-game day that goes by, York’s facial hair will grow. You have to remember to shave, although you might prefer your FBI agent a bit more rugged looking. You also have to change suits daily or earn a “Stinky Agent” penalty. Not only will it cost you money, but flies will surround York and characters will react to his smell. Changing suits isn’t enough though; you also have to remember to have them cleaned. I love this. Besides hygiene, you also have to manage York’s hunger and sleepiness, similar to a lot of Mystery Dungeon style games. There is so much to micromanage that I couldn’t help but love the level of realism the game tried to impress on such a surreal setting and story. The juxtaposition was magnificent. You also have to watch the condition of your car and keep an eye on how much gas is in it. If that isn’t enough, timing is the biggest factor in the game. You can go through Deadly Premonition‘s core story easily, but so many of the sub-quests require you to be in the right spot in the right time in the right chapter for it to trigger. That’s pretty realistic, and something very few games give a second thought to. I loved this engine so much because the story is the centerpiece, yet every other aspect is fine tuned and far superior to the original version of the game. Had Deadly Premonition been released in this condition a few years ago, it wouldn’t have been polarizing at all, but a game many would have heaped GOTY honors onto without the slightest bit of sarcasm. The director’s cut of Deadly Premonition has turned it from a “so bad it’s good” game, or something akin to Rule of Rose where the story is fantastic but the actual playing of the game is god awful, to a game that has a few minor bugs but is otherwise fantastic… unless you try playing the game in 3D. That reduced frame rate makes the headaches people get from the 3DS look like bliss by comparison. I couldn’t be more thrilled with how Deadly Premonition played this time around.
There isn’t a lot of challenge to the game though. Combat is relatively easy, especially compared to how insane it could be with the original controls. Combat isn’t meant to challenge you though; it’s meant to be a means to an end. The Other World and its shadow creatures are meant to be easy because they are rank and file cannon fodder. Getting through them may or may not simply be a metaphor for Agent Morgan’s internal strife and dealing with his own personal demons while on this case; it all depends on how you interpret the story. Combat levels can be quite long, but you should not have trouble or ever die in them. It’s part of the story and meant to be more atmospheric and creepy than a hack and slash experience. At the same time, the Raincoat Killer scenes require split second timing or you face instant death. If I didn’t have the hand eye coordination that came with decades of playing bullet hell shoot ’em ups, I’d have died a lot more against the Raincoat Killer than I did. So most gamers will die horribly in those scenes. Again, we have a wonderful juxtaposition, and see that potentially the only “real” combat in the game is much like real life – quick and brutal. Keep all of this in mind, but chief of all should be that combat is not challenging for story-telling reasons, and once all is said and done, it will make a lot more sense why some aspects of the game require timing and perfection, while others can have you go through an entire level with a weed cutter or a rocket launcher and not take a single bit of damage. I will say that the last running sequence against the final boss HURTS after a while. Physically hurts. Damn that is a long time to be wiggling the L stick.
Replay-wise, I’m a bit torn. Sure, the game loses something of an impact when you replay it. The story only unfolds one way, and once you have all the twists and turns revealed, they aren’t as shocking or dramatic as they were originally. Still, that doesn’t make the tale any less impressive. I mean, how often do you replay a video game like Lunar: The Silver Star? Sure, we all know what Ghaleon is going to do, but that doesn’t keep us from replaying the game, enjoying the plot or loving the characters, right? So it is true with Deadly Premonition. Knowing how things are going to unfold makes the game less dramatic, creepy or shocking, but it also makes the game sadder and more melancholic. As Thomas says at one point, “Every character from birth to death is fated to the actions they take,” and while I disagree with that in real life, it is all too true of the weird, slightly mad and flawed characters that inhabit Greenvale. I know I’ll want to play the game over and over again as the years go by. My wife wants to play the game just from the bits she saw me do, and with DLC coming, there may just be a reason to return to Greenvale other than new suits for York.
As well, you can replay individual chapters over and over to finish off quests that you missed out (or failed) as well as the collecting of the trading cards, completing fishing, racing and dart mini-games and so on. There is so much to Deadly Premonition it’s not even funny. To 100% the game takes as long (or longer) than most RPGs. To put it another way, the time it takes to complete all six Resident Evils still would only put you at the half way point of 100%’ing Deadly Premonition. The story of this game alone took me eighteen and a half hours to complete, and the subquests another twelve to fifteen. This is a long game compared to its contemporaries, and honestly, it’s better than most of them in nearly all respects.
Originality is quite possibly where Deadly Premonition is at its weakest. I remember reading all these reviews by Western journalists that praised the game for being pretty unique while trashing other aspects of it. All I could think about was how this showed a) how little our current flock of gaming “journalists” know about the history of our industry and b) how sad it is that most of their readers are equally ignorant of what all is out there for an educated or worldly gamer. The fact I was able to realize this game is about 40% homages or “rip-offs” of a few Human Entertainment games from the 32 bit era within minutes of playing the game either means that I’m far more astute than I give myself credit for or most of the people commenting on video games these days can’t remember what came out two generations ago (or more likely, they haven’t PLAYED what came out more than two generations ago…). Add in the fact anyone and everyone has caught the massive Twin Peaks references in the game and it’s hard to call Deadly Premonition original. It’s a fantastic game, don’t get me wrong, but it’s so heavily influenced by three core other products that it is truly hard to say what is SWERY65’s original vision and what is cribbed from other creators. Sure, the core red seeds plotline and the raison d’etre from the fifty years of Raincoat Killer style murders are purely SWERY (and very Japanese to boot), but it’s all but impossible to truly sort out what actually came from SWERY and Access Games, and what came from other games. After all, some of the apparent homages may just be sheer coincidence, although I do find it hard to believe. Still, I can’t help but shake my head and sigh when people praise Deadly Premonition for originality, not only because it’s patently untrue, but because it shows you how terrible most gaming commentators are at doing their job. It’s like we’re in an industry of nothing but Michael Cole’s. Just remember there are a ton of reasons to praise this game, but originality, unfortunately, isn’t one of them.
As you can tell from this review, I really do love Deadly Premonition – especially the director’s cut. It’s one of my favorite games from this console generation, and I could sit and discuss not only the subtle nuances of the story, but all the various cross references and homages in the game for hours without touching half of them. I haven’t been this glued to a game in years. I honestly can’t remember the last game that consumed me like this one did. I want to say Fallout 3, but I might actually have to go as far back as Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 2 or even Dragon Force. I think I needed Deadly Premonition at this point in time much as York needed Zach, and had this game been released in this condition back in 2010, I think I would have fought tooth and nail for it to be a GOTY winner. Hell, God knows it probably would have won too.
That said, I can’t really recommend this game for everyone. If you’re the type of person who looks at survival horror where it’s a lone person mindlessly killing hordes of monsters, then this probably isn’t for you. Deadly Premonition has combat, but I think I killed maybe five or six hundred creatures total in the game. This is far more a game of story than combat. I guess I could make allusions to Koudelka, which also featured an amazing story but whose gameplay and micromanaging of food and weapon conditions was not for everyone. Hell, it was barely for ANYONE. In truth though, Deadly Premonition has more in common with point and click horror games for the PC. Titles like Dark Fall, Barrow Hill, Scratches and the like, with titles unfamiliar to console only gamers. Deadly Premonition is more about metaphor, atmosphere and getting to know the town of Greenvale than it is about putting bullets into the brains of undead creatures. At the same time, I can’t really recommend it for diehard gamers or casual gamers. Diehard gamers will find the combat to easy and will probably not enjoy that the game is mostly story, cut scenes and interacting with NPCs – especially with how long the game is. Casual gamers, meanwhile, might be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content in the game. Do you do the main story? Do you do one of several activated subquests? Do you replay an Other World battle? Do you do a race? Go Fishing? Get to know the town? Is it time to eat? When was the last time you shaved? So on and so forth. The game’s options can drown someone who doesn’t realize that this is far from a linear hack and slash experience. I adore it, but you pretty much have to like some really weird artsy stuff to truly get what Deadly Premonition is all about. Ask yourself this. Can you sit through a Twin Peaks marathon? Is Robert Chambers one of your favorite authors? Do you listen to Bruce McCulloch’s “Eraserhead” every now and then? Have you enjoyed games like Lunacy, Enemy Zero and D? If you answered yes to at least two of those questions, Deadly Premonition is for you. If you have no idea what any of those products I’ve mentioned are, or haven’t taken part in at least one, you should probably stay far away from Deadly Premonition, because not only are you far from the target audience, but you probably won’t enjoy it.
When all is said and done, I love Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut , not only for what it is, but because of how improved it is over the original Red Seeds Profile in gameplay and visual quality. I love the plot, the characters and the town of Greenvale, but I also recognize than even in its new and improved form, Deadly Premonition is not for everyone. It’s very much a niche auteur title that will be one of the best experiences you’ll ever have gaming if you are in the right mindset for the product and can get past the occasional visual and gameplay hiccup that occurs. For me, Deadly Premonition was about getting to know an a entire town of weird and flawed individuals and growing to care about them in spite of their minor (or major) insanities. It’s like a Japanese version of Twin Peaks, but actually getting an true definitive ending to the story (Thanks a lot ABC!) . To some it will be artistic brilliance, to others it will be nonsensical mish-mash. What’s important, though, is that Deadly Premonition is a lot more playable in its director’s cut form than it was originally, meaning more people will have the chance to experience and enjoy the game for what it is instead of giving up on it due to how poorly it played and performed. In the end, as a video game, that’s a win no matter how you choose to view the rest of Deadly Premonition, which I still like better under the name Red Seeds Profile.
Short Attention Span Summary
Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut is basically the same game as the first, but with upscaled graphics, a few new cut scenes and massively improved controls, making the game far more accessible to the average person. The game’s story is still as brilliant, surreal, and bizarre as ever, and while the game won’t appeal to everyone, those who miss the titles like Clock Tower, Hellnight, Shadow Hearts and Enemy Zero will love this, while other gamers will be left shaking their head at the sheer amount of adoration this title gets. Sure, it’s easy to write-off Deadly Premonition as a Twin Peaks homage or even a rip-off of Lynch’s seminal TV series, but it’s just as much influenced by Mizzurna Falls, a fifteen years old PSX game that itself was a tribute to Twin Peaks. The bottom line is, it’s been years since a game has sucked me in as totally and utterly as Deadly Premonition has, be it in its current form or as Red Seeds Profile. It is definitely NOT a game for everyone, but it is a game everyone should experience, either first hand or by watching someone else as it’s truly a bizarre offering that one will hate or love with no real middle ground.