Survival horror is all but dead these days. Even Resident Evil, the franchise that invented the genre, has skewed more towards action roots. Being a fan of suspenseful, atmospheric games, I am constantly on the lookout for games that might provide a jump scare or two. My search brought me to Deadly Premonition. Deadly Premonition is a budget title directed by the infamous developer nicknamed Swery. The game follows FBI special agent Francis “York” Morgan as he investigates a murder in a dwindling lumber community, Greenvale. You guide York from a third person perspective as you fight lumbering creatures and relive nightmares from York’s past. In between combat areas you can explore Greenvale, open world style, to unlock bonus items to assist you in your investigation. The whole world is loosely governed by a time mechanic that dictates where and when you need to be, although if you miss your deadline you can just wait till the next day. It is an interesting premise that will grasp you attention if you fondly remember PlayStation titles such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill but not everything about Deadly Premonition will let you relive the glory days of survival horror.
The controls aren’t broken for DP, but they are so cumbersome that you might think they are. Holding a controller with trigger would lead one to believe you would use them to shoot. Not here. Instead you hold right trigger down then press A to shoot. It can be rather confusing if you have played a game like, oh I don’t know, any other game ever. Granted you can customize the control mapping but when I tried to make the shooting controls more intuitive, the driving control became jumbled. However the driving feels rather stiff to begin with. This is mostly due to the first car you have. If you drive past your turn, you will have to make a five point turn to swing back around. Later in the game you can buy better cars but then the problem is that the cars handle too sensitively and the slightest touch will send you head first into oncoming traffic. Another big problem is switching weapons, which is done with the D-pad. As long as you keep cycling things are fine but if you slow too much on one object, you are frozen on that weapon for a moment. It doesn’t sound like a big problem but given how fast the enemies can move it will often lead to unavoidable damage.
Annoying Map Screen
Imagine the floor of your living room. Now imagine if you covered the floor with postcards and you had to find a stain by turning the cards over one at a time. That is how the map in DP works. Greenvale covers a rather large area but you can only look at a small section at a time. You will continuously get lost trying to find your way around town. This is amplified by the map rotating depending on which way your character is facing. It wasn’t until several hours in that I learned the layout of the town enough to travel between destinations smoothly. However, by that time other people would probably have just given up on the game. It is such a simple feature that I am shocked at how poorly it is executed. I honestly didn’t know you could mess up a map screen that bad.
One appeal of replay value is to use the strengths you have built with your character on a second play through. Sadly, DP leaves much to be desired in that regard. You can choose to replay any chapter once you defeat it, but this doesn’t seem to really count toward anything. The difficulty achievements do not stack, so if you want the full 1000G (or Platinum Trophy on PS3) you are going to have to beat the game from scratch three separate times. This makes the appeal of some of the later side missions obsolete. You will have more than likely defeated the main story before you receive the more powerful special weapons. I went to the trouble of unlocking all those weapons and found I had nothing to use them on. It’s a shame I couldn’t use them as I stepped up the difficulty ladder. Another weird thing is you can only have one save file per storage device despite which profile it relates too. To my knowledge, I don’t know of any other 360 game that works that way.
For all of the problems Deadly Premonition has, the story was more than enough to keep me engaged. The main character is quirky to a degree that the players quickly grow attached to him. As the story escalates, the game flirts with the fourth wall barrier enough to make me question the reality of the situation. The only other universe to achieve that level of realism with me is the Metroid franchise. The rest of the cast, each of them having their distinguishable characteristics, are well voice acted and prove to be vastly entertaining. You will find yourself doing boring fetch quests and meaningless errands just to learn more about the inhabitants of the town. To make things even better, the main story line has that over the top feel that plays out similar to shows like Lost and 24.
Keep in mind that this game retails brand new for $20 USD. Remembering that helps you look past some on the more glaring flaws the game has. Once you get past some of its problems, a player can draw a lot of enjoyment out of Deadly Premonition. It has a certain buggy charm that triple A titles can’t deliver. Playing games is supposed to be fun, sometimes that means killing hoards of aliens as a super tough cyborg, and sometimes that means laughing as your character get stuck and flips out trying to walk through a door. If you have some extra cash and a little free time, at least give DP a rental and see if the story grabs you. You might be surprised how much the game will reel you in.
Final Score: 3/5
Total Time Played: 52 hours
All achievements unlocked
Game purchased new at full retail price