Disclaimer: This review is based on a PlayStation 3 review copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut for PlayStation 3 is a mess. It’s a bizarre, endearing, nearly broken, intriguing, ugly, wonderful mess.
FBI Special Agent Francis York Morgan (and his mysterious sidekick Zach), have been called to the town of Greenvale to investigate the tragic murder of a local beauty. An open-world action/survival horror game, everything about Deadly Premonition sounds wonderful on paper. There’s a big world to explore, dozens of characters to interact with, side-missions galore and a dark murder mystery beating at the heart of everything. As you might recall from the game’s original release on the Xbox 360 back in 2010, however, the vehicle through which this content is delivered is damn-near impossible to describe.
Deadly Premonition refuses to be broken down into its individual pieces. Or, if that’s how you look at the game, you’re going to walk away with a very different experience than the one I had. Despite being a Director’s Cut with improved graphics and controls, Deadly Premonition for the PS3 would be considered a “bad” game if it were being judged on the usual criteria of sound, graphics, etc. Even with a new HD spit-shine, the game is pretty hideous. The colors are muddy, the animations are robotic and the scenery has about as much detail as a cardboard diorama. And if these controls are improved from the previous version of the game, I hate to imagine what the Xbox 360 crowd had to wrestle with just a couple of years ago.
But Deadly Premonition is far more than the sum of its parts. The best comparison I’ve been able to come up with is if someone wanted to make a good modern grindhouse film. There are certain aspects of the genre that actually need to come off poorly in order for the concept to work. In other words, certain things need to be “bad” in order for the full package to be “good.”
What Deadly Premonition has going for it are a generally great soundtrack, an engrossing and often complex story, one of the most interesting lead characters to ever grace a video game and lots of wonderful ideas.
But like that modern grindhouse flick I was just talking about, everything about the game is antiquated in a way that somehow fits together perfectly. With those core “good” aspects driving Deadly Premonition onward, all of the “bad” bits and pieces come together in a way that works perfectly despite its many flaws. If all of the extremely rough edges still existed and Deadly Premonition happened to get the third-person shooting perfect, for instance, I don’t think my opinion of the game would have been so favorable. Or if the game looked like a next-gen masterpiece rather than a bargain bin offering from the PS2 era, all of those other awful components would have felt somehow out of place.
The world of Deadly Premonition is so bizarre, and yet so perfectly realized. It wears its greatest influences (Twin Peaks, Silent Hill) proudly on its sleeve and isn’t afraid to color outside of the lines. And I’m talking WAY outside of the lines here. But like an unpolished gem, sometimes it’s the blemishes that make the thing worth looking at.
While investigating the murder of Anna Graham, you’ll need to explore the sleepy town of Greenvale and get to know its cast of characters; an odd-ball assortment torn straight from the Bible of David Lynch. But like the characters that live there, the world of Deadly Premonition and the systems that govern it are far removed from the norm. This is a world where you have to shoot clues out of trees, grab extra ammo out of mailboxes, take a break from hunting a killer to fish off the side of a bridge, maintain an eating/sleeping schedule to keep from dying and drive literally every-damn-where you want to go. You’ll peek into windows, beat ghosts to re-death with a guitar and drive a woman all the way across town just to keep her pot from getting cold. It’s deliciously obscure, yet somehow makes all the sense in the world once you are willing to let Director Hidetaka “Swery” Suehiro and his crew take you for a ride.
Along with the story proper, Deadly Premonition boasts a massive collection of side missions to jump into, all optional and all rewarding in terms of both useful items and additional backstory on the town and its rogues gallery of inhabitants.
I think one of the things I love most about Deadly Premonition is that it defies typical review. No metrics exists for assessing something that’s so perfectly imperfect. It makes the argument that the experience is more important than the individual components and, in this particular case, those components are so uniformly askew that I can’t help but suspect that it was all by design.
Deadly Premonition is certainly a polarizing game. Its divisive nature was well documented when it was first released two years ago and nothing about this Director’s Cut will change that fact. I understand that there’s some new content, but since I never played the original game, I can’t really comment on that aspect. And like I said earlier, the upgraded graphics and controls are negligible. My car will still occasionally drive like it’s rolling on balloons and, despite the low amount and abysmal quality of detail being churned out, the framerate still chugs and pop-in is a constant occurrence.
In the end, Deadly Premonition has become that VHS copy of the terrible, yet amazing movie that gets passed around between friends. It’s a crazy-ass contraption made up of mismatched parts that shouldn’t work but, when you flip the switch, the thing magically roars into life. In a world overflowing with finely-tuned AAA blockbusters, Deadly Premonition dares to be completely and unapologetically different.
It’s impossible to know if someone is going to enjoy Deadly Premonition. I can fully understand arguments on both sides of the spectrum, for and against this utterly insane concoction. But I think it’s safe to say that I, for one, drank the kool-aid and came back for seconds. Seemingly poor game design that would have sent me screaming from most modern offerings only sank the hooks in deeper in the case of Deadly Premonition. I don’t know why that is and, honestly, I don’t want to know, either. None of that stuff matters.
What matters is the fact that I love this unusual gem just the way it is, imperfect blemishes and all.
Developer: ToyBox Inc
Publisher: Rising Star Games