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Deadly Premonition: Director's Cut Review

There’s something in the coffee at Access Games, and it isn’t sugar. Deadly Premonition is totally unique, massively ambitious and batshit crazy. It’s a game where even the bullets don’t mark the walls, yet the protagonist - FBI Agent, Francis York Morgan - has to cope with real-time beard growth that the player can shave off at their whim.

You could always be the envy of tier 1 operators worldwide and let it grow out, but then you wouldn’t get paid. Yes, in Deadly Premonition you get a wage for shaving.

Why? Why not?

You get paid for lots of things, like saving the game via a telephone, or checking the weather on a TV set. It doesn’t make sense, I know, but it’s more logical than many of the idiosyncratic events.

Deadly Premonition

The story begins with Agent York driving into rural Greenvale to investigate a murder, which is tied in some way to another series of past murders that he’s been investigating - a series of murders whose victims have ingested a rare red seed.

York also speaks to his right temple to a seemingly imaginary friend called Zach - it often feels like you, the player, are in fact Zach - in plain view of the townsfolk, who mostly don’t bat an eyelid. Oh, and he also sees premonitions in his coffee. “Do you remember what the coffee said, Zach?” says York... to his forehead vein. You won’t get that in any other game, that’s for sure.

The townsfolk themselves are an ensemble cast of fruitcakes and stereotypes - from the lady who talks to a cooking pot, to the capitalist who wears a gas mask and speaks in verse - the NPCs are all multi layered and mysterious. The characterisation, although caricatured - like the sheriff's deputy, with his lopsided head and camp, arm-flailing run - is brilliant, and it exudes an eccentric, cryptic charm.

The brilliant NPCs go about their business, regardless of the player: eating meals, going for walks and driving about town. It certainly helps to give Greenvale a sense of place. You really find yourself getting wrapped up in the story and the world, even with the character’s glassy eyes, and horrifying, inverted-lipped smiles.

Deadly Premonition

The nightmare-inducing facial expressions don’t always match up to the scene, either - with York often smiling to himself when he’s about to be attacked by a horde of lurching undead. The music shifts from jazz, to orchestral, to upbeat cheese, often causing yet more dissonance to each scene until your brain is so confused you just stare at it, enthralled.

The graphics are also inconsistent, looking terrible one second - with its trees often looking like two 2D models glued together - and passable the next, but often saved by the brilliant cinematography. On top of the rough textures, everything has a kind of specular sheen to it, generating some of the shiniest leather jackets ever seen on console.

The frame rate is terrible, with walking in open areas looking like it’s been pre-filmed in stop motion. Everything clips through everything else, with phones clipping through York’s ear, and at one point his tie even impaled him, sticking out of his back, erect.

I know it sounds like I’m just reeling off a list of problems, but the way it all ties together just seems to work... even though it really shouldn’t. It’s definitely helped by York’s constant musings about shoddy B movies that he loves, providing a sense of self awareness.

Deadly Premonition

It is just such an ambitious game, with a shoestring budget that doesn’t match up to its lofty aspirations, and you can’t help but feel entranced by it.

Greenvale is completely open to the player, with a minimap - that’s enlargeable to the point it takes up nearly the whole screen - visible in the bottom left of the screen. You can also look at the map in all its glory by pausing the game and navigating its clunky menu screens - and if you look closely, you’ll see that the map is intentionally shaped like the silhouette of a dog with its paw outstretched.

Why? AGAIN, WHY NOT?

You can use the various patrol cars dotted around the town to drive to each location, with handling models varying from ‘toddler on skates’, to, ‘tank with one set of tracks’, and they are all speed restricted. You can even activate the windscreen wipers when it’s raining - which comes in handy during the default in-car view - and you can flick the headlights on for when you want a really weak light to illuminate the not very dark road at night time. Oh, and you can indicate, even though there is no actual rhyme or reason to do so.

You must also fill the car with petrol before it runs out, or you may be in for a long run depending on where you are at the time - and the sound of York’s shoes trotting along the concrete is enough to drive anyone to smash their face through their TV set... or take of their headphones, whichever works for you.

Deadly Premonition

When you’re on foot, though, you often have to wait for a certain time, in-game, to trigger the next mission. This can be accomplished by going to sleep - which is also a requirement - or smoking a cigarette, which speeds up time.

If you want to pass the time naturally, though, there are a variety of things to busy yourself with: side missions, collectibles, fishing spots - or you could visit witnesses and either go into their homes for a chat, or stand outside and spy through their windows, if menacing voyeurism is your thing. It’s all optional, and there are countless little details that one could miss if they just ploughed through the main story.

The main narrative missions are both compelling and tedious, but the need to know what is coming next outweighs the myriad annoyances. The game kind of strolls along, and ‘pow!’ gut punch, and someone has a meathook through their face, and they’re hanging, suspended by their head.

Because most of the game has a strange upbeat feel, these instances of brutality feel all the more impactful. At its base, this is a story about a serial killer who bites off people’s tongues, after all. I just can’t help but feel that the game would have benefited from having less - or no - combat.

Deadly Premonition

The shooty bits all take place in a twisted version of reality, evoking memories of the early Silent Hill games. There are about six character models for the enemies, and you kill countless of them throughout the game. The main, fodder-like enemy is called a ‘Shadow’, and they’re basically a zombie with a bad back, who can teleport short distances.

You can either use a melee weapon - which allows you to strafe with the weapon ready - or you can stand, with your feet planted, taking shots at them with the handful of firearms you can acquire.

The guns all feel woefully underpowered and about as impactful as throwing a handful of sodden mashed potato at your foes. Not that the combat sections are difficult - I never felt threatened once, and I only ever died because I failed a QTE section - they just start to grate after a while.

This isn't a short game, you see, and the ‘other world’ environments are really quite bland and uninteresting, with reused assets aplenty. I often found myself running past the idiotic AI, but not out of fear, it was out of haste to get to the next good bit. The only bit of creepiness from the enemies comes from a distorted, “I don’t want to die”, as you shoot them repeatedly in the face.

Deadly Premonition

A chameleon-powered wall crawling enemy is introduced later on, and these bar progress until they’re defeated. You must wait for them to turn visible, shoot them with your chosen pea-shooter, rinse and repeat until dead. It’s not fun, and it’s not challenging, it’s just a test of patience.

On top of these encounters, there are also a handful of bizarre, and identical QTEs, where you must wiggle the stick to make York run from your pursuer, whilst every now and then pressing a button to make our hero roll out of the way of an incoming axe.

As I mentioned earlier, these are the only sections where I died. You will run into crates that, instead of running around, you have to push... really slowly, until your pursuer accidentally breaks it with a projectile. It doesn’t help that the antagonist - the raincoat killer, as he’s called - looks like the mage in Final Fantasy IX.

There are other QTEs, too, where you must hide in a room, every now and then holding a button to hold your breath until the enemy has strolled around the whole room, really, really slowly.

Deadly Premonition

This director’s cut is billed as the most complete version of the 2010 cult hit - packed with extras, such as, 3D compatibility, improved textures, an extended ending, and a controller layout more in line with modern expectations. With this being my first experience of the game it’s hard to say if this is worth getting if you played it the first time around, but if you like an endearing, twisted story in the vein of Twin Peaks then look no farther.

It’s testament to what Access Games have achieved, when, regardless of an obvious lack of polish, you come away enjoying the experience overall. It’s compelling, yet tedious. Beautiful, yet ugly. Deep, yet shallow. Your enjoyment of the game will be mostly dependant on how much you value personality, charm and story. Look at the subscores below - if there was one for the three things I just mentioned, each would score full marks. This is a game that’s more than the sum of its lopped off parts... isn’t that right, Zach?

7.00/10 7

Deadly Premonition (Reviewed on PlayStation 3)

This game is good, with a few negatives.

There’s something in the coffee at Access Games, and it isn’t sugar. Deadly Premonition is totally unique, massively ambitious and batshit crazy. It’s a game where even the bullets don’t mark the walls, yet the protagonist - FBI Agent, Francis York Morgan - has to cope with real-time beard growth that the player can shave off at their whim.

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
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COMMENTS

The Griddler
The Griddler - 11:38pm, 3rd April 2015

Nice review. I watched a play-through of this game before it came out in the UK. It's a shame they didn't fix more of the game's issues for the director's cut release but I'm still tempted to give it a go purely based on how bonkers it looks.

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Ewok
Ewok - 11:38pm, 3rd April 2015

I honestly think it would lose a lot of its charm if they 'fixed' it. It's good, in a B-Movie sort of way.

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The Griddler
The Griddler - 11:38pm, 3rd April 2015

I agree to a certain extent, but I don't think bullet sponge enemies and a bad frame rate do much to add charm.

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