Deadly Premonition is a game that provides a memorable experience even though its technical aspects are uniformly underwhelming. The game is set in the fictional town of Greenvale, an apparent homage to the small towns of the American Pacific Northwest, and centres around the gruesome murder of a young woman and the subsequent investigation by FBI agent Francis York Morgan. The game is split between exploring the town of Greenvale and fighting supernatural enemies in plot advancing “otherworld” levels. The gameplay in the otherworld will be familiar to anyone who has played Resident Evil 4 or 5. However, most of one’s time will be spent completing side-quests for the townspeople, but as you’ll learn, this is not a bad thing.
Middle of Nowhere
The town of Greenvale is a large bland area with no memorable locations or establishments. One of the more disappointing experiences is making the trek to the waterfall on the outskirts of town and finding it completely lacking in majesty. The developers seem to have been more concerned with creating environments that seemed rooted in reality, rather than ones that would draw out a particular emotion in the player. This aura of realism is used to create a sense of duality with the “otherworld”, but the town is so bland that it fails to create any contrast, and as a result, both come across as lackluster.
A Bad Dream
These “otherworld” areas are, supposedly, nightmarish versions of some of the towns bland locations but are mostly just dark and grungy. The level layout is very bland, and with many reused assets and recurring enemies the game sometimes seems like a slog. Perhaps the only interesting aspect of these sections is the fact that Agent Morgan treats the “otherworld” as a natural occurrence but the other characters never seem to see it. This makes you wonder if the “otherworld” exists at all or if it is just a delusion experienced only by Agent York. Apart from this, the “otherworld” presents very little to intrigue the player. Some of the “otherworld” levels include sections where the player must hide or run from the “Trenchcoat Killer”. The hiding sections are enjoyable and do a good job of building suspense even though the actions you can take after the initial concealment are limited to looking out of your hiding place and holding your breath. The escape sections are bad quicktime minigames that suffer from awful design and that accomplish nothing except wasting the player’s time.
The basic character archetypes of the “quirky mountain town” setting are all accounted for, however, very few of them are well developed. With the exceptions of Deputies Emily and Thomas none of the characters is given more than two layers of depth. These two layers are always presented in the same way: the first impression you are given of a character is revealed to be only superficial with the secondary characteristic being contradictory to the first. In practice this means that the senile lady is doling out serious wisdom, the emotionally abusive cook is a misunderstood art aficionado, and the big- talking gas station owner is afraid of his much younger wife. In spite of their simple construction the citizens of Greenvale are at least memorable thanks to their overall silliness; what they lack in originality they make up for with energy.
Just Go With It
In fact, energetic silliness is the term that best describes Deadly Premonition’s story. It’s filled with twists and turns that really don’t make a lot of sense, but are thrown at you with such gusto that you can’t help but go along with them. Serial killer hiding in plain sight? Sure. Magic, crazy making fog? Alright. Demons? ‘Kay. And best of all is that Agent York, and by extension the developers, is with you through it all, winking and nodding and saying Boy, this sure makes perfect sense. It’s a welcome change among a sea of games that are often weighed down by their own self-seriousness.
It’s the Little Things
However, it’s in the side-missions that Deadly Premonition really shines. They’re not what anyone would call clever, but more often than not they give the player insight into the workings and personalities of the townsfolk. You will find yourself smiling at Emily’s attempts to cook, smirking at the ramblings of the “Pot Lady”, and giggling at the corniness of Keith’s crazy stories. Furthermore, many of these missions can only be undertaken at certain points in the story or while certain time and weather conditions are present. As a result, you’ll often find yourself racing around town hoping to catch a person while they’re doing errands or before it starts raining. The feeling you get while doing this; the feeling of being a small part of a large, living environment; is what makes Deadly Premonition ultimately work.
That a game is more than just the sum of its parts is a well-worn cliché, but in the case of Deadly Premonition it is true. The game fails in many ways, but its success at building an engrossing world, as well as its unflagging sense of humour, make it a game you won’t regret playing.
Did you play this peculiar gem last gen? What did you think of it? Sound off in the comment section.