BEST WORST GAME
Few games in this console generation have split the reactions of critics as much as Deadly Premonition. A budget release previously only available on Xbox 360 (outside of Japan), this divisive survival-horror game managed to make its way onto numerous best-of and worst-of lists 2010. Even IGN couldn’t agree on it internally; our UK team praised it for being “a uniquely unforgettable experience,” while our US team described it as being “awful in nearly every way”. I tend to agree with the former, and am pleased that this PlayStation 3-only Director’s Cut rights a few of the wrongs that turned some people off of that experience – most notably the clunky controls and camera issues – but sad that it adds a disappointingly slight amount of new story content.
That unforgettable experience remains a difficult thing to sum up. Deadly Premonition is an episodic whodunit murder mystery set in a small town inhabited by a populace of off-kilter characters, with the player cast as the FBI agent at the head of the investigation. But in practice, it’s far weirder than that. Imagine if you took the complete script from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks television series, translated it into Japanese, then translated it back into English, then had a drunk friend read it to you from the passenger seat of your car while they clumsily flicked between obscure jazz radio stations that intermittently fluctuated in volume.
It’s funny. It’s disturbing. It’s insane. Often all at the same time. But most importantly, it’s memorable. Exploring the open-world town of Greenvale and interacting with the larger-than-life locals you get the clear impression that this is a game that was unleashed from the mind of one man (director Hidetaka “SWERY” Suehiro) and exists more or less as he intended it, rather than being focus-tested into banality like so many big-budget blockbusters.
Playing the original version is like pushing a wheelbarrow full of pug dogs – ugly and challenging to maneouvre, but overflowing with personality. And well, it’s still pretty ugly. Although this Director’s Cut has been upscaled to 720p, it’s still one of a few current-generation games with textures so poor that even the in-game signs need subtitles. The upscaling has also had a negative impact on the frame rate, which seems to get bogged down a bit more than it did in the original. Indeed the graphics would barely pass muster in a late-generation PS2 game, but to be fair its low-budget looks have the effect of better serving its schlocky, B-movie sensibilities.
The good news is that it’s now far easier to control, both in terms of the new manual camera setup (no more getting turned around in stairwells) and the more logically laid out shooting system for the combat sections. York no longer handles like a treadless tank, and targeting the groaning, backwards-walking Shadow enemies now feels more in line with what you’d expect from a third-person shooter in 2013. It’s not as slick as it could be, but it’s certainly far more functional this time around.
Admittedly there have been a couple of optional extras tacked onto the PS3 version, namely support for both stereoscopic 3D and PS Move controls. However, neither feature should be viewed as a genuine selling point – the 3D only serves to magnify the jagged edges of the visuals, and the motion controls work fine on foot but are effectively game-breaking while driving, and therefore can’t be considered a viable alternative.
Frustration has also been minimized due to the complete removal of the difficulty options – you now have no choice but to play on what feels like easy mode. That may seem like a copout by the development team, but it makes sense – Deadly Premonition is not a game you play to challenge your reflexes; its strengths lie with its story, its characters, and its bizarre mish-mash of campy silliness and moments of genuinely confronting horror. The fact that it’s now easier to blast your way through the monster-infested otherworld sections and get back to the absorbing plot can only really be seen as a positive.
Again, though, the problem with calling this re-release a “Director’s Cut” is that the phrase implies there’s a substantial amount of content not found in the original release, and sadly that’s not the case here. While there are about a half a dozen new cutscenes that bookend each of the episodes – as well as an extended ending that hints at a possible sequel – there aren’t any new playable missions. There’s not enough here to justify playing again if what you’re after is more of that terrifically bizarre story.
If you’re going to measure Deadly Premonition using traditional gaming yardsticks like graphical fidelity, gameplay challenge, and overall polish, then this Director’s Cut still comes up short of modern standards even with the fixes. Yet despite any obvious technical shortcomings, it succeeds on the strength of its story, its characters, and its countless WTF moments. It doesn’t feature enough new content to interest existing fans, but if you want to find out which side of the love-it-or-hate-it divide you’re on, now’s the perfect time to play one of the most memorable and utterly insane survival-horror games ever made in its most accessible form.