on 20 September 2013
I picked this game up relatively late, and was aware of some mixed reviews of it, but I was interested by the promise of a good story, and I am pleased with what I found.
That's not to say there aren't problems with Deadly Premonition, but the overall result is good. It's a full blown, open world exploration and survival horror game, quite similar to Silent Hill, but MUCH more similar to the TV series "Twin Peaks" in it's story, humour and presentation. The plot features an eccentric FBI agent who arrives in the odd little town of Greenvale to try and solve a murder mystery. The town is not hostile, but it is very closed up and a lot of the inhabitants are very strange. Nobody goes outside when it rains, everyone has secrets, and worst of all, it seems like the murderer is still on the loose!
So gameplay feels like this. Agent York (that's you) arrives in Greenvale, drives around town, and meets up with various suspects, or drives to locations as advised by the local law enforcement or his hunches, and makes investigations. Now, one of the biggest factors in Deadly Premonition is time. Nearly all of the while, there is a visible clock on screen telling you what time of day it it. Time (in the game) actually passes while you play, and the gimmick is that things happen in the story based on this. So if you go to a bar to check out a suspect, but leave it until too late, the person is not there because they have gone home. Day changes into night and vice versa. Some places have set opening times. Some events do or don't happen when it is raining - which seemed to be random but I am not sure about that - and some hidden quests remain hidden if you don't go somewhere or see someone at the right time of day or weather conditions. So you can see, there is a HUGE element of this game that relates to time.
Amazingly, this does not become a dreadful chore or a lead weight that you have to put up with. I actually found that I enjoyed the parts of the game when I had a free day or afternoon in the town (is that sad?), because I need to go off somewhere I had passed earlier that seemed interesting, and have a proper look around, or I wanted to play darts or do a quick street race. I guess in most games you can spend as long as you want doing whatever you want, but here it seemed almost refreshing to have to check the clock and say - uh-oh, it's time I stopped this now, as I am expected at the sherriff's office for lunch. The first time this hit me properly was on the first day when I was given a 5pm time limit to get to the sherriffs office to examine some evidence. I arrived at 4.50pm and thought, no problem. I've done as I was told, but I'd only been in the office for a few minutes and then the clock hit 5pm while I was mid conversation - and the other game characters said: "Sorry we are all going home now, if you had got here earlier we would have had enough time do do this properly". And I had to stop what I was doing and come back the next day! That told me! So I enjoyed that aspect. And if time is going too slow you can make it pass by taking naps or smoking.
Now all this police business is only part of the game play. The game changes tack when you arrive at a crime scene or suspicious location and start to explore. For no apparent reason, the game suddenly pitches you into the "Otherworld", and the location you are in changes from ordinary to twisted, dark versions, inhabited by monsters and puzzles that need solving. Now this really is Silent Hill cloned. But luckily I loved Silent Hill, so it was ok by me. The enemies are weird zombie like people, who utter very strange slowed-down dialogue as they attack you. These parts of the game are not that difficult, in fact nearly all of the combat is extremely EASY. Plus it's almost impossible for you to miss anything that would enable you to solve a puzzle as everythng is clearly signposted, but they are still fun. Once the main puzzle of the "otherworld level" is solved, things change back to normal again.
The nightmare stages and the town exploration are both easy, so it's important that the game keeps you hooked by other means , and this is where the story comes in. The case you are investigating is actually quite horrible, and it's no spoiler to say that the murder you arrive to investigate is very unpleasant, and there is worse to come. The plot thickens and there are surprises in store, so the story definitely drives the game. The graphics, on the other hand do not. Deadly Premonition looks like a PS2 game. Although character models are good (Emily looks really lovely), the town and the environments looks ghastly. It's hard to pinpoint why exactly, but everything seems to be spread out way too thinly, in a similar way that the Dreamcast horror game "Illbleed" was - chances are not too many people will know what I am talking about there!). I guess this is to allow you to drive around easily (everything is about driving cars in this game), and explore very large and time-consuming rooms, spaces and corridors. It's the same inside and out. The town looks really...FLAT. Everything is about 200 meters from every other thing. But that's the game...you get used to it. Another thing that reminded me of "Illbleed" was that there is a lot of surreal and outrageous gore on show here, and some of the set pieces and boss fights are truly outlandish (you'll only see what I mean here if you reach the very end of the game). It all gets very trippy in the last couple of chapters!
Eventually, when things come to a close, you will have hopefully worked out what it all meant, but there are plenty of very cryptic elements that take an awful lot of brainpower to understand. This is more like Silent Hill, which left you with a host of unanswered questions. In some ways , if you play the game of Deadly Premonition very very thoroughly and uncover every side quest, I think you might stand a chance, but I missed a few (I tried my best!), and therefore I was a little confused at the end. But now it's over, I feel glad I visited Greenvale. if you accept the game world and the game logic, there is plenty here to keep you busy for a good few weeks, and as well as all the sightseeing and monster killing, there is also an intriguing and bizarre case to solve.