I’ve trashed and re-written this review for Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut twice now, because it sucked (my writing, not the game). So instead of trying to be all hipster about dropping references to David Lynch and explaining the storyline, I’m just going to buck the standard reviewer trend and tell you exactly why you need to get up off your lazy ass and buy this game right the hell now.
By now it’s common knowledge that Deadly Premonition as it was released on the 360 in 2010 is one of the most divisive games ever published. Guinness created an entirely new category for it because reviewers either loved it or hated it. I never played the 360 version, though I watched its development over the years with interest from back when it was called “Rainy Woods” and was slated for a PS2 release. And I liked what I saw.
I’m very much a fan of companies taking chances. It’s far too easy to fall back on sequel after sequel after sequel, churning out obvious money-makers every year until your own fanbase is so flush with Stockholm Syndrome they accept sequels literally identical to last year’s game and thank you for it. Some of the best games in history have resulted from a company or developer taking a “what have we got to lose?” position. They hurl themselves into the melee with only two possible results: create a spectacular game, or go out in a blaze of failure. Live or die.
“Something different” gets harder and harder to do with each passing console generation. How do you re-wire the FPS in imaginative ways to distinguish yourself from “Grizzled Space Marine Alien Chainsaw Death Squad 3″ and “The Only Colors We Recognize Are Gray, Brown, and Blood-Red 5″? How do you resurrect the RPG format and liberate it from the world of hour-long cut scenes? How do you make a puzzle game that doesn’t have reviewers immediately comparing it to Tetris? I don’t know. That’s why I don’t develop games. I can’t answer that question.
What I can answer is why you should be playing Deadly Premonition: because almost everything you think you know about it is wrong.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: “Deadly Premonition” stands as quite possibly the single greatest video game love letter to Twin Peaks since “Mizzurna Falls” on the PS1 in Japan. There’s simply no mistaking it: from the quirky FBI agent who sees the answer to riddles in his morning coffee to the resident crazy taking far too much interest in her beloved inanimate object, from the idea of an insular lumber mill town that doesn’t take kindly to outsiders to a dark, sinister force at work responsible for the murder of a beautiful blonde teenager, “Deadly Premonition” is the video game David Lynch never knew he wanted to make until Hidetaka Suehiro Frankensteined it into being.
Here’s why budget titles (it’s a $40 game brand new right now) are worth checking out. DP knows, right off the bat, it can’t compete with the big boys. It doesn’t have the budget to render 27 hours of 1080p video cut scenes set to a four-hour symphonic soundtrack recorded by the London Philharmonic. It can’t afford to mine the A-list roster of voice actors. License the Unreal engine for level design or Havoc for its in-game physics? Are you kidding me? Budget titles have one thing and one thing only going for them: they take the chances nobody else will, because succeeding is the only way they can outshine the competition. DP is survival horror, sandbox, and adventure gaming mutated to create a hybrid that would make Ford turn Eco-Boost Green with envy.
And because it has no other choice, DP does all of this stuff to the best of its abilities. It’s not perfect: the graphics look Wii-level at best (despite the upgrades in this Director’s Cut), the voice acting isn’t anything to cheer about, there’s no multiplayer, no on-line component–it reeks of something that would have been cutting edge ten years ago. If your criteria for what makes a great game is that it has to be a product of its current day and age, then close your web browser and go play another round of “Gears of War” because you cannot and will not ever understand: none of that matters, because DP knocks it out of the stadium with what it can do.
Deadly Premonition’s story is top-notch. The execution of said story is beautiful. Multiple chapter breaks that can be replayed to uncover new details add in replay value that can’t be touched by standard survival horror or sandbox-style games. The puzzle solving and inventory management is straight out of the vintage PC adventure game playbook (be here, at this time, with this item to defeat obstacle). You come to care about the characters as you learn about them and their town. You come to care about the town itself. The murders are graphic and disturbing, made moreso by the lower-res graphics and voices forced to rely on implications of things done than on being able to showcase it all in glorious HD.
But DP improves on all of these fronts spectacularly. You are given a pistol with unlimited ammo at the start of the game, so resource management isn’t as vital as Resident Evil or Silent Hill. You’re given the ability to progress time at your leisure (via smoking your favorite cigarettes) so you aren’t driving aimlessly for an hour waiting for the right moment to start or finish a quest. Like the best sandbox games, there are diversions a-plenty from the main storyline: everything from a multitude of optional side-quests given by town residents to simpler tasks like fishing or roaming the town for collectables. The ability to replay a given chapter allows the player to re-experience any part of the adventure without having to start from the beginning, and items gained or lost in those replays carry over into your main save, so you’ll find FBI Agent Morgan just the way you left him when you pick up the main plot threat again. The game gives you kudos and penalties for everything from shaving in the morning and changing out of dirty clothes to knocking down telephone poles or smashing up other peoples’ cars. Half the fun is getting that little ‘ding’ for doing something unexpected and earning (or losing) a few extra bucks.
What most resonates with me is how thoroughly unashamed Deadly Premonition is to be a video game. It doesn’t try to be cinema. It doesn’t try to be grand opera, or great literature, or anything else. It knows it’s a video game, and it’s content to allow the player to treat it as such. It’s amateur, guerrilla game design given a second chance on a second platform–something so few neglected classics ever receive.
I bought Deadly Premonition on the day it came out with my own money–it was worth every last cent of that $40 for me, not just because it’s such a fun game, but because I want developers to keep trying to make games like this. Hidetaka Suehiro (SWERY) needs to make more games. He needs that cult following given to the likes of Suda51. And even when he fails, even when he stumbles, I want him to get up and try again. Because that, not another Call of Duty or Madden, is the only thing that will bring new life to the gaming industry.
Get out there and support this game. Even if you don’t think you’ll like it–rent it, borrow from a friend, read and share my review here, or the ones at Gamespot, or IGN, or GameFAQs, I don’t care. Research it on Google. Watch and share videos of it on YouTube. Like it on Facebook, +1 it on Google+, I don’t care where or how. Buy it second-hand if it’s that damned important that you save $5 on the price. Just show the game developers of the world that we as gamers are not afraid to take chances on the unfamiliar.
If you want your games to be games, and not “barely-interactive movies” then this is where your money needs to be going. SquareEnix and EA Sports will all survive without your day-one contribution to their coffers. You picked up the controller for the first time to play something fun, something new, something exciting. When was the last time you actually felt that feeling instead of, “here we go again”?
For me, it was with Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut on April 30th. And damn did it feel good. Why don’t you join me in Greenvale? The coffee’s awesome.
Edit: Since this review was published, Deadly Premonition – The Director’s Cut has received a total of one dozen new DLC releases in the US, and while we haven’t gotten around to checking them all out, we can say there’s plenty of goodies available on the cheap (generally the $2-3 range) to customize your DP experience. These include a slew of new outfits for York and Emily, including the pre-order bonus ones from Amazon and GameStop if you missed them (The Espresso Suit is very nice for those long overnight missions as it triples your resistances to hunger and fatigue, and the High Roller Suit triples the cash you earn for everything, easing the burden on your wallet), a new skin for York’s car, several new vehicles, and the Greenvale Real Estate pack, which lets you acquire your own home sweet home in town.