Developer: Access Games
Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
# of Players: 1
Rating: M (Mature)
Deadly Premonition just might be a tipping point for certain gamers who don’t quite trust mainstream review sites for any number of reasons. Sure, if you apply the now boring “by today’s standards…” mantra to every aspect of the game, it deserves a low score for failing to have stunning graphics, online multiplayer modes, flawless controls and so forth and so on. On the other hand, if you approach DP as a game experience that’s going to be (outside of yearly sequels and games trying to copy other games) wholly unique… well, hell – welcome to paradise. Granted, it’s a twisted paradise of survival horror, intentional comedy, open world exploration, police car driving and a main character that’s crazy as a herd of cows on a crack binge.
While that $20 price tag might lure you into buying the game because it’s inexpensive, don’t even THINK of picking this up if you’re easily offended by M-rated content (it’s absolutely NOT for kids), expect a standard survival horror game experience or want something you can show off to your pals as some sort of new graphics benchmark on the 360. What’s here is one of the most outrageously offbeat games of any genre I’ve played in years since Illbleed on the Sega Dreamcast. If you’ve never played Illbleed, go poke around on Google and see what I’m talking about. DP is a lot more “normal in some areas, but both games excellently poke fun at the horror genre as well as themselves and become all the more enjoyable for this.
Trying to adequately pigeonhole DP into a safe “genre” category is totally useless and trying to fully describe it in a review is practically impossible without a full-on audio/video presentation. Let’s just say that this is one of those games that HAS to be played to be believed and even then, you’ll be debating its merits over the weak points. But it’s many of these weak points you’ll see other games criticized for that help make DP such an awesomely fun game. Like it or hate it, one thing’s a certainty: for a budget release, there’s certainly a great deal of game you’re going to get should you take the plunge. Just completing the main plot will take well over 20 hours, but should you decide to explore and take on side missions or gain every Achievement, you’ll easily double or triple that time.
The mix of crime drama, open world exploration and survival horror elements is an oddball counterpoint to a more “serious” title such as Heavy Rain on the PS3. The again, if David Cage, Shinji Mikami, Kenji Eno, David Lynch and Shakes the Clown had a love child, you’d probably get what’s on this disc. That’s a lot of daddies, but DP is so hugely inspired by the works of the aforementioned (plus many others) that it just plain works when it should. Which, by the way is much of the time. I’m not sure where every member of Access games has worked before this game, but I’m reminded of an obscure PlayStation import called Mizzurna Falls: Country of the Woods & Repose, an open-world adventure game from Human that starred a young man who found himself wrapped up in a missing persons case complete with a ticking clock, a cast filled with Lynch-inspired characters and oddball situations.
In DP, you play as FBI Agent Francis Morgan out to investigate a particularly hideous murder while dealing with a few personal demons of his own. Standard genre stuff, right? Except here, you’re quite nuts for someone investigating any type of crime. Morgan has an imaginary friend called Zach he chats with (often with others around) and at times, the game feels like a mash-up of lost episodes of Twin Peaks and The X-Files. The added bonus of zombies attempting to eat Morgan’s face off from time to time keeps things more than a bit exciting, especially as these encounters are genuinely, put your ass under the couch frightening.
Imagine an open-world game where you drive or walk around a fairly large town trying to solve a crime while other events mostly play out in real time off-screen. Add the craziness of the lead character, the aforementioned zombies, NPC’s with many lines of dialog (and their own side missions that affect your case) and you only get about half of what’s here. DP is often bizarre beyond belief and that ambitiousness sometimes hurts the game. There are some issues in combat (moving and shooting is a no-go) and driving mechanics (it’s not the fastest cop car on the planet, that’s for sure), plus some grammatical errors that should have been caught before the game shipped.
Nevertheless, once DP sinks its claws into you, it’s a compelling play, that’s for sure. If you’re one of those folks that gets lost in your games once you get going, consider setting up an timer or alarm clock to let you know when it’s time to quit playing and catch a few winks. Time will bleed out all over the place as you spend yet another hour in the crazy, detailed world Access has put together. No, it’s not as well constructed a game as GTA IV, RE5 or some other bigger-budgeted release. However, the less time you spend comparing DP to other releases and the longer you play, the game will definitely grow on you as it progresses.
Visually, at times, the game looks as if it’s only slightly upscaled from a late PS2 or Dreamcast release, but this not quite perfect art style makes it all the more enjoyable in my opinion. Some areas, lighting and visual elements look quite nice, but many gamers who “expect” every game this generation to be as good looking as the best of the bunch will find plenty to pick over. The voice acting is suitably campy and you’ll indeed laugh long and loud at some of the dialog here. On the other hand, the music and sound effects are absolutely fantastic. The scary music fits perfectly when it gets going, but the jazzy stuff and a few other tunes will have you cracking up and/or shaking your head in awe at how well its integrated into the game.
In the end, here’s a fun game that’s definitely much more about substance over style, but a truly outrageous sense of creativity puts it in its own league. The writing is great, but as noted above, better editing/grammar would have made it better overall. On the other hand, the mistakes actually work in favor of the loopy goings on that most will overlook them and keep playing just to see what happens next. Deadly Premonition will absolutely push your buttons if you’re a graphics hound or demand absolute perfection from every game you buy. On the other hand, you’ll spend a wild amount of time either laughing your head off at more off-kilter moments while some of the scarier parts will have you jumping off the couch. Part B-movie, part pure genius and 110% crazy on a game disc. In other words, DP is so “bad”, it’s great and at only twenty bucks, you’ll wish every bigger-budgeted game had half as much gameplay as what’s here.