“The game might not cover its mistakes, but it certainly makes up for them in charm.”
Games To Play Before You Die is meant to chronicle the pinnacles of the video gaming medium, from the top-selling behemoths to the strongest indie gems that never got their due. With this set up, you might assume that that meant all games highlighted are good, or fun to play. But just like a balanced meal, a balanced gamer has to eat their vegetables. Some pinnacles of gaming haven’t held up so well, like the awkward camera in Super Mario 64, the platforming in Sonic Adventure for the Dreamcast, or really anything about Shenmue.
Today’s game, 2010’s Deadly Premonition, isn’t really a gaming vegetable, though – it’s the game equivalent of squirting every kind of soda at the Burger King into one cup and drinking it on a dare. Is it good? Is it bad? It’s tough to say, but the ambition and vision on display cannot be ignored.
Deadly Premonition follows special agent Francis York Morgan as he investigates a murder in the seemingly peaceful town of Greenvale, Washington. His investigation reveals a deep conspiracy and vast, supernatural forces of evil that are creeping into our world, all while meeting a colorful cast of goofy, memorable locals. If this sounds an awful lot like David Lynch’s cult hit TV series Twin Peaks, then congratulations, you’ve seen at least a second of Twin Peaks before, because Deadly Premonition wants, more than anything, to let you know it has seen Twin Peaks. Still, the sincerity with which this story is told and the delightful eccentricity of everyone in Greenvale make it hard to write Deadly Premonition off as a copycat.
While the story and performances of the game are off-kilter in the best way, putting your hands on the controller and playing it is a little bit of a different story. Whenever Agent York Morgan has to shoot away some spooky specters, you’ll have to toggle between aiming and firing, and walking away. While DP’s combat is, on the surface, similar to the Resident Evil series, with a focus on positioning and managing your ammo in the face of shambling enemy hordes, Morgan’s top speed isn’t going to threaten Leon Kennedy anytime soon.
Driving is also distinctly arduous. Whenever you get into Agent Morgan’s car, be careful not to drive in first-person if you’re at all prone to motion sickness – this is the first game I ever played that made me feel motion sick, so it’s memorable for that reason alone.
Despite the rickety controls and bleary gray-smeared visuals, why should you put Deadly Premonition on your bucket list? Simply put, none of these shortcomings undo the quirks and charm Greenvale has to offer. The game’s sandbox is teeming with life, with every NPC abiding by a daily schedule, meaning you never know where anyone might be or what they might be up to. Side missions and side activities – like the one that crucially unlocks fast travel – are left entirely up to your exploration of the town.
As wobbly as the combat might be, every eerie combat encounter is dripping in atmosphere and menace. The enigmatic Raincoat Killer, the main baddie who occasionally chases you in grueling QTEs, has a memorable character design and a real palpable sense of menace.
Deadly Premonition has the dubious honor of holding the Guinness world record for “most critically divisive survival-horror video game,” which, while a bit too specific, does go to show how much those who love the game truly love it, and how much its detractors despise it. The game might not cover its mistakes, but it certainly makes up for them in charm.
No matter what, you won’t walk away from Deadly Premonition without an opinion, and sometimes that’s all you need. So if you haven’t yet, give Deadly Premonition a spin. You may not finish it, and we can’t blame you, but it’s certainly a one-of-a-kind game and a unique flavor for those who can appreciate it.
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