Thursday, June 24, 2010

Deadly Premonition, and why you should buy it.

Simply put, this game is genius. It is so utterly unconventional that a jaded old gamer like me just can't help but love it. It is quirky and Japanese, involves copious amounts of absurdest humor, is self aware on a level that is almost baffling, and unlike anything you have played before.

Shitty critics were quick to dismiss the thing as a cash in on PS3's very popular detective drama Deadly Rain (note that I never called it a game), and a poorly executed and woefully budget feeling Resident Evil 4 clone.

And actually, both of those things are true. The game's opening hand presents both of those types of gameplay, which happen to be the weakest cards in its deck. I can see how, based on the first hour of play, you could believe that that is what the game is all about. But after that first hour the game opens up into what it does best: Open world crime solving (and the occasional meaningless public service quest).

The majority of the game has you moving around in an open world (ala GTA), and observing the inhabitants of the town (IE: suspects of the murder case) while trying to solve the case. The game town is on a real schedule, so in the morning some suspects go to work, they have something to eat in the evening, and then they go home to sleep, etc... This means that you have to observe and interact with suspects based around their real schedule, sort of like the old Ultima games.

Getting information from the town folks usually involves doing some side quests for them. The side quests, which are of your usual RPG side quest variety (fetch this, find that, talk to them, fight this thing, solve this puzzle, etc...) net you some fancy additional gear, as well as further your knowledge of the crime and the suspects. And since the game plays out on a schedule, this means that if you fail to talk to a certain town person early enough in the game they may wind up dead later and you will be missing a key piece of the puzzle. It really makes you feel detectivey in a way I haven't experienced in a game before.

The game plays out in chapters, where you start in the open world gathering info on people (doing sidequests and the like), and then typically is book ended with the not-so-great RE:4 style gameplay. While the RE:4 gameplay isn't the greatest, it at least serves as a nice breakup to the open world game and occasionally even has some interesting and tense moments, such as when you have to hide from the super powered serial killer.

But as decent as all of that is, what really makes the game special is its presentation. No, not the graphics - this game is PS2 ugly. But the writing, the audio, and the speech.

Deadly Premonition has all your typical Japanese wackiness to the story, but somehow they do it in such a self aware way that you won't hate it. You play as FBI agent Francis York Morgan... Kind of. Really, you play as Detective Francis York Morgan's best friend, who happens to be the schizophrenic voice in his head, Zack. Throughout the game Francis will start talking to you, or Zack. He often does it right in front of other characters, who just sort of go with it because they chalk it up to a genius crime solver's eccentricity.

Now, Detective Morgan is a HUGE film fan, especially of 80's B-horror, and when he is alone in his car he will start waxing poetic about his favorite B-films and actors and directors... And it is great! I swear that there was an occasion where Morgan started describing a movie to Zack about killer moles starring Billy Zane, and he paused for a moment and I instinctively shouted out "Critters!", and then he goes "That's right Zack, Critters from 1986!" as if he had just heard me answer him. It happened a few weeks ago so that I can't remember it all word from word, it might not have been Critters but some other 80's movie, but the point is that it was a great moment of fourth wall breaking where it felt like I was really there just shooting the shit with an FBI Detective. And this happens all the time.

Other great moments include the wonderfully obsurd music, which, during conversations where Morgan's mind is wandering, will start to BLARE through the speakers to the point that you can't really hear what is being said. A lot of reviewers chalked this up to being a cheap game flaw, but personally I feel that this was done intentionally for humor. Then again, I can't really say I know myself for sure.

I think that is the real genius to the game. It walks a razor thin tightrope between being a shabby budget game with actual inadequacies and being so incredibly self aware that it can actually pretend to be shabby for comedic effect.

I have actually come up with a test to see if someone will or even can appreciate this game. It follows:

This is the driving controls screen. If this looks confusing and frustrating to you then you won't like this game. If this looks confusing and hilarious to you then you will like this game.

That one screen full of Madden-like red lines sums up the game. Either the game is clunky and awfully put together, or things like this are part of the big joke between the developers and the player.

Simple as that. I really could go on and on about how the game surprises me at every turn, but I'm getting bored of writing this and everything really important to be said about the game already has been.

So yeah, pick this game up.


  1. Well, it sounds like a pretty cool game. However, I must say that I hate games that let you keep playing, and don't let you go back, after you've missed some crucial step. that before then, you didn't know was crucial. Lots of early PC games were like this like Monkey Island. It made for some pretty frustrating game play. Lots of time and effort wasted.

  2. Very true. I had planned to blog through Ultima 8 about a year ago, but after several hours into the game I found out that some seemingly insignificant item I left behind in a place that was literally called "The Pit of Death" (and since you played Ultima 8 you know more than anyone that they aren't kidding around when they call a place a pit of death in that game) was needed to progress.