Monday, June 20, 2016

Unraveling the Allure of Deadly Premonition

Profiling Start

Deadly Premonition isn’t a great game, but it’s certainly a memorable one.

The bizarre cast, a surreal protagonist, and a Law and Order meets Scooby-Doo plot earned this game a cult following upon its release on Xbox 360 in 2010. Or maybe it was the fact that it debuted as a budget title and soccer moms are cheap. I don’t know.

In any event, I’m not sure how anyone played it long enough to enjoy it. This version of Deadly Premonition controlled like someone rubbed Jell-O in the player’s eyes and tied their fingers into their shoelaces. A younger Matt put up with it for about an hour before shelving the bastard.

Apparently other players were frustrated too, because a “director’s cut” was released in 2013 for PlayStation 3 and Windows. This version changes the controls to feel more like a video game and less like digital waterboarding.

I’d always wondered why people loved Deadly Premonition, so with the promise of manageable controls (and a sale that netted me the game for five bucks; guess I’m cheap too) I took the plunge.

Investigation Failure
The best way to describe Deadly Premonition is this: Silent Hill and Grand Theft Auto got drunk and had a threesome with the TV show Twin Peaks, while Sega Bass Fishing filmed it and Atari’s Hard Drivin’ uploaded it to a seedy website via Netscape Navigator. That is to say, it tries to be a lot of things, and isn’t very good at any of them.

The driving is awkward and the engine sounds like a cheap blender struggling to make an ice cream and lug nut smoothie. The one-note combat isn’t interesting until the player starts encountering bosses in the last quarter of the game, and even then, it’s still clunky and predictable. Odd music cues and bargain bin zombies make this game about as scary as the TV edit of Friday the 13th with the lights on, and the fishing scenes are much better at simulating bouts of depression than reeling in a whopper.

The fishing mini game made me question my life choices.

And despite what anyone tells you, the map still sucks.

Apparently, Deadly Premonition’s roots are as a PlayStation 2 game originally titled “Rainy Woods,” started way back in 2004. It’s pretty obvious, too, with trees that look like poorly disguised cellphone towers, Papier-mâché bushes, and a slew of murky colors. (See image below.)

Fun Fact: Either an homage or an oversight, the real estate office in the game still bears the "Rainy Woods" moniker.

“Now THAT is a good biscuit!”
Despite its many, many flaws, the more you play Deadly Premonition: Director’s Cut, the more it grows on you. What starts as a ho-hum romp through a backwater town to solve a boring murder case evolves into a life or death struggle for the wellbeing of mankind.

Getting to know the main character, York, and his “imaginary friend,” Zach, is one of the game’s most rewarding elements. Long car rides across town are punctuated with York talking about b-movies, punk music, and his inability to understand women to the ever-silent Zach.

Likewise, characters that initially got on your nerves become endearing somewhere along the line. You don’t even realize it until their face is impaled on a giant hook, leaving their cross-dressed body swinging from the clock tower, which is how I imagine Jason Voorhees decorates for the holidays.

Things really pick up in the game’s often touching, often stupid, always explosive finale. Plot twist after plot twist reveal who killer is, then who the REAL killer is, then the REAL REAL killer is. It culminates with an annoyingly quicktimey final boss. The last few cutscenes suggest a bittersweet conclusion, but the more you think about it, the more you start to question what it all really means.

Therein lies the crux of Deadly Premonition, the secret to its cult following. On my way to work today, I found myself reevaluating those last few hours of gameplay. I’d like to think that it ended well for York and Zach. And there’s plenty of evidence that it did. But there’s also subtle hints that they’re much worse off than even the guy you left swinging from the clock tower.

It’s been a few days since I finished – I got the platinum trophy for kicks – but Deadly Premonition is still on my mind. Somehow, I willingly spent 50 hours with the title’s poor gameplay. For some reason, I just kept coming back until I solved the case.

Charming the player into enjoying a bad game… I think that’s Deadly Premonition’s best plot twist of all. It’s that right, Zach? 

It really is, Old Snake from Metal Gear Solid 4. It really is. 

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