Developer: Access Games
Publisher: Ignition(NA), Rising Star(EU)
Released: Feb 2010(NA), Oct 2010(EU)
Genre: Adventure / Horror
Formats: 360 (tested), PS3 (remake)
Deadly Premonition © Access Games
Review copy courtesy of Rising Star Games
Niche European publisher Rising Star Games has certainly released some intriguing titles; with last year alone seeing some great titles: Muramasa, Little King’s Story, No More Heroes 2 (all for the Wii), and the PSP’s Half-Minute Hero being standout examples. Deadly Premonition though is a strange entity, a small-budget retail release, free roam, survival horror adventure for the 360 and PS3. Considering it lower price point, should you consider this horror game?
FBI agent Francois “Please call me York” Morgan comes to the small rural town of Greenvale in the light of a bizarre murder there; he is in pursuit of the Red Seed murderer, and apparently has been for some time. This sets the scene for an episodic tale of intrigue and mystery with a large cast of strange characters to be suspicious over. The story is the best part of the entire game, even if it has a tendency to use archetypes of the genre: the grizzled, resentful but trustworthy sheriff; the eccentric self-secluded rich guy who speaks riddles through an assistant; the sexy but otherwise vacant girl who serves you at the gas station; to name a few. The majority of them are well voiced, and have at least something interesting to say to you.
York is the most interesting of all, fitting given that you’ll spend a great deal of time with him; the game describes him as having a surreal outlook and states how he constantly talks to his alternative personality, Zach. This helps in adding to the confusion of whether the “other”, the phantom enemies York faces throughout the game are real or just figments of his own imagination. Likewise his constant chatter with his friend Zach, essentially the player in all intends and purposes, generally over his favourite movies which quickly set him of into related similes over the actors and directors make the FBI agent feel as if he is not the most reliable of narrators.
Nevertheless the story of Deadly Premonition is by far the greatest part of the game, well written and with commendable voice acting and different enough from what others are trying to do in the industry at present; it’s just a shame that actually trying to play the good attached is not quite as fun.
Aping the tank controls of other horror games, in particular the Resident Evil series is fine and dandy on paper, but the result here is a game that feels like a poor-man’s version of the pre-4 controls, slow and sluggish, making architecture that should be rights be simple to navigate painfully slow rather than the relatively fast paced style that the genre has become.
You have the option to shoot the otherworldly horrors with a choice of weapons, using the tried old method of aiming for the head to hasted their demise, shooting is helped by a auto-aim function, with the player moving the ridicule to the appropriate part of the body, namely the head. In reality though, it’s simple enough to just ignore and run pass the majority of encounters without any fear of reprisal. Even when you have nowhere to hide the enemy AI is slow and moronic, however, the game will prevent you from getting too far away from your foes by literally making them teleport several feet at a time; this is accompanied by a pixilation effect that is supposedly meant to imply some kind of sinister speed, but comes across as laughably inept.
You can hold your breath, were upon the phantoms will completely lose trace on your position completely, even if you were standing next to them; this tactic allows you to get far enough to run away, where upon you can turn round while they shamble up to you while you pump their body full of lead. With the majority of enemies putting up little or next to no resistance, the majority of deaths will come from the poorly implemented quick-time events that spout up from time to time.
Driving is also awkward, at least in the standard cockpit view, where the vehicle’s turning circle is atrocious, yet the car handles much better when viewed with the chase cams. Trying to find where the gas station is before your fuel runs dry, or anywhere specific for that matter, is a chore due to the clumsy map.
The maps the game uses might as well not exist; the map screen is unable to be zoomed out to any degree, let alone a usable one, whilst the mini-map has no marks for locations until you are right on top of them, leaving you having to constantly keep checking the map to get your bearings. You cannot set waypoints to follow, and while a marker does appear showing you the location you’re suppose to be visiting, it doesn’t give you an actual route to follow, it just show you which direction it is in. It’s the equivalent of asking someone how to get somewhere and them pointing in a compass direction and saying “It’s that way”.
The few puzzles you’ll come across are mere road blocks, mostly of the find item variety, which will have quite handily orange glowing spots for you. There are also numerous side missions to accept, though none are vital for the completion of the main quest, though following two specific ones will attain you useful items that’ll make the journey less of a bore.
It has to be said that Deadly Premonition does not sport a good graphics engine by any stretch of the imagination and outside of the fact that it runs in HD, you could mistake it for an end-of-its-live game for the original Xbox. Textures are extremely grainy, polygons are low in number, with trees and the like consist mainly of simple flat shapes with leaf textures, the dials on the car dashboard are just for show, enemies have limited designs, the list goes on. By it own the lack of fidelity wouldn’t be so bad if it meant the game ran smoothly, but the framerate jitters every so often and pop-up and texture pop-in are prevalent whilst outside. On the other foot the characters, while also lacking detail, at least animate decently and with personality.
York’s repetitious way of introducing himself when he meets everyone for the first time grates on the nerves, but otherwise he’s an interesting, well written and well voiced character; which is good, because you’re going to be with him and hear him talk to “Zach” a whole lot. Likewise the constant cries of “I don’t Want to Die” from fallen foes, becomes old from the second enemy onwards,
The game’s use of surround is woeful, Sound direction issues cause noises to shift from one speaker to another, mostly in regards to where the character speaking is on the screen at the given moment (there’s a reason why for the majority of films sent the dialogue through the centre speaker the majority of the time). Weapon fire makes your arsenal seem underpowered and sound effects in general are underwhelming.
When the sound isn’t playing musical chairs it has a few other issues, the least of which is when the dialogue becomes difficult to hear due to the game playing music loudly over the top of conversations. The music is just as strange of sinister classical horror and light-hearted – at least by comparison – jazz numbers.
Far too ambitious in scope for its obviously limited budget, Deadly Premonition ends up spreading itself far too thin, making a game that hinges on its admittedly cool story and intriguing main character to carry the player. However the terrible controls, nonexistent puzzles, sloppy action and a host of other issues, Deadly Premonition quickly becomes a chore to actually set out to play.
If you can put up with these problems then you’ll find something worthwhile in the story and characters to pull you through the negatives, however that doesn’t change that there have been plenty of games more worthy of such a status, many of which can now be brought for roughly the same price range (like those mentioned in the first paragraph).
Originally published on 5th December 2010