The game starts out with its protagonist, FBI agent Francis York Morgan (just call him York, everyone calls him that) driving in the rain while having a cellphone conversation about the ethical and psychological implications of Tom and Jerry's relationship. Yes, *that* Tom & Jerry. This is certainly not an ordinary start to a survival horror game, but Deadly Premonition is no ordinary game, as you will see.
York is on his way to the sleepy town of Greenvale, where a most unusual murder has taken place. Just when he reaches the outskirts of town, a weird phantom with glowing eyes appears in front of York's car, causing him to swerve, lose control of the vehicle, and crash in the woods. Surely not an auspicious start to an official FBI investigation. Anyway, York continues on foot, but unfortunately for him and his invisible friend Zach, the way is blocked by creepy red vines and zombie ghosts who look a little like Heath Ledger's character in The Dark Knight. These enemies look a kinda goofy, but they're also quite creepy and represent more of a supernatural menace than, say, the zombies and BOWs in Resident Evil.
At this point you may notice that the controls are pretty clunky. The game is presented in the third person perspective using the left stick to turn, advance, and retreat, and the bumpers to very slowly sidestep. Holding the left trigger readies your weapon and A fires. You can't attack while moving, and the control setup is slow and takes a little getting used to. A smoother control setup would have been nice, but this system works well enough for Deadly Premonition's brand of gameplay.
York soon gets free of the woods and the bizarre "other world" and meets up with Greenvale's law, a grumpy sheriff with a handlebar moustache, as well as the beautiful Emily. Deadly Premonition is chock full of weird and quirky characters, like deputy sheriff and girly man extraordinaire Thomas, whose hobbies include baking biscuits and knowing way too much about squirrels, Polly, who owns the local hotel and has very strange conversational habits, Kaysen, the goofy fat man with a green thumb, a dog, and too much time on his hands, Harry, a rich old guy who constantly wears a gas mask and speaks (exclusively through his assistant) in rhymes, creepy twins Isaac and Isaiah, and last but not least, York's constant companion Zach. Who is Zach, anyway? York's hand? The Player? God? Everything is revealed in the course of the investigation.
These weird characters inject quite a bit of humor in what is otherwise a very morbid and intense story, and do a great job of balancing out the severe mood. Just driving around Greenvale in between missions is entertaining enough, as York is given quite a few opportunities to converse with Zach. And what do an elite FBI special investigator and his invisible friend discuss? Why, B-movies and punk rock, of course, although some of the conversations pick up a more serious tone later in the game.
Like any good FBI agent, York searches for clues, questions witnesses, and uses his patented method of criminal profiling to deduce what really happened at the scene of the crime. The player guides York from one destination to another in a sandbox style of gameplay. There's also time in between leads to explore Greenvale, talk to the townsfolk, and indulge in sidequests. I didn't spend much time with the sidequests personally, as I found the main story WAY too compelling to bother with anything else.
In fact, the story and writing are Deadly Premonition's best features, and fans of mystery stories and psychological horror will be very pleased with the story's twists and turns. The mystery revolves around the death of a young woman who was killed under strange circumstances with no clear motive. The death is somehow connected to these red seeds that have been found at the scene of other murders in different states. Despite its naive and innocent exterior, Greenvale is filled with dark secrets and bizarre occurrences, and the player is kept guessing as to the true nature of the killings right up until the big reveal.
The player is also kept guessing as to the nature of reality in Greenvale. The "other world" segments are set in a surival horror format, and York has to use a variety of guns and melee weapons (guns are more useful) to defend himself from the supernatural while searching for clues at various locations in the game. It's never quite clear til late in the game whether York is insane and imagining all of the supernatural occurrences or whether something truly evil and unworldly is lurking beneath the surface of it all, but either way these sequences manage to be quite unnerving.
Deadly Premonition doesn't have the most advanced graphics, but aside from that small quibble the presentation is perfect. Ignition managed to find a great cast of voice actors. The voices fit the characters so nicely that one can easily forget the fact that Deadly Premonition originated in Japan. The quality voice acting certainly helps the player get into the world games world and to get a feel for the inhabitants of Greenvale. It's just one of many small things that help make Deadly Premonition a superb experience.
Deadly Premonition has a few minor flaws, like less than spectacular graphics and some funky controls, but these little complaints are nothing compared to the game's accomplishments in terms of story, characters, and overall gameplay experience. It's an absolute must play for horror fans and anyone who appreciates quality games.
Grindhouse Game #5: Technically backwards (graphics almost look like they came from a generation ago), overlong, with an unpolished and repetitive combat system. But still, this horror/fantasy/adventure/RPG/murder mystery title will probably stick in your mind for long to come thanks to its eccentric setting and its elaborate storytelling. Few action games go the same lengths this game does at character and plot development, presenting a multitude of small town characters each with their bountiful … more