I Think More People Should Play Deadly Premonition, Zach

by Rude Cyrus

A game that does far more for less.
Deadly Premonition (or Red Seeds Profile as it's called in Japan) is a survival horror video game for the Xbox 360 and PS3. If you haven't heard of it, that's probably because it's a low-budget title published by the relatively unknown Ignition Entertainment. Selling for a paltry 20 USD, it's natural to assume that the game is just another piece of crap, but you'd be wrong. It's one of the quirkiest, cheesiest, most fascinating games I've played in a while.

The story follows FBI agent Francis York Morgan (just call him York; everybody calls him that) investigating a murder case in the town of Greenvale in the Pacific Northwest. York is a bit unorthodox -- he likes to talk about obscure movie trivia, retells graphic descriptions of cases while eating, and sees secret messages in his coffee. Oh, and he has an alternate personality named Zach that he talks to all the time. The game owes a lot to Twin Peaks, with its odd characters (which includes a rockabilly store owner and a traveling sapling salesman), constant references to food and coffee, and the overall weird tone. The entire game is creepy and insane, which is what made it so fun.

The game is surprisingly open-ended. York can drive anywhere in town (although most of the cars are horrible to drive, with a few exceptions) and talk to almost anyone. You can buy things, attempt racing challenges, and complete sidequests for rewards, like rare items or new weapons. The sidequests are only open during certain chapters at certain times, so you need to complete these missions before a certain point or else they are locked out, which isn't as bad as it sounds since you can load an earlier chapter to complete a sidequest you unlocked in a later chapter. York can smoke cigarettes to pass the time, change his suit, eat, sleep, and do pretty much anything, as long as he's indoors from midnight to 6:00 AM. During that time, York can expect to be attacked by possessed corpses, maniac birds, and giant, flaming Dobermans that fall from the sky.

Greenvale has some problems, the most central of which is the "Raincoat Killer", a local legend said to murder people on rainy days, which forces the population to stay indoors whenever there's a drizzle. This doesn't stop the Raincoat Killer from murdering young women in a ritualistic manner, so York must venture to the crime scenes in order to pick up clues that will reveal what occurred before the murder, all while exploring nightmareish versions of once-familiar locations, kind of like Silent Hill. The combat takes some getting used to as the controls are a bit wonky, but after the first episode I was used to it. The enemies aren't too difficult, although they tend to teleport out of nowhere and are deceptively quick. A new enemy shows up in the art gallery level and WILL make you tear your hair out if you don't have the flamethrower.

The best parts of the game are, surprisingly, the story and the characters. In the beginning, the characters are little more than quirky cut-outs that serve to ramble on about seemingly inconsequential things, but as the game went on, the characters became more rounded and dynamic -- by the end, I was surprised at how much I cared. Speaking of the ending, it's a gigantic mindfuck, so be prepared for that. On top of it all, the soundtrack is pretty damn good as well.

But the thing that really endears me is that it does much more for less. Triple-A games like Heavy Rain or Final Fantasy XIII come along with tons of hype and end up being a poorly written exercise in pretension (the former) or a tired retread of previous entries with a graphical update (the latter). Deadly Premonition, a low budget game released with almost no attention, blows them away. Sadly, it's been getting mixed reviews, which makes me think a lot of game critics are either spoiled or have their priorities mixed up.

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Comments (go to latest)
Alasdair Czyrnyj at 00:17 on 2010-06-18
I HAVE heard about this! One of TheSpoonyOne's many side projects is an LP of this game, due to be completed sometime between now and the day the Earth falls into the sun.


Not the handsomest beast out there, but some of the sound design isn't bad. God, that cartilage noise those ghosts make just freaks me out.
Arthur B at 19:52 on 2011-04-29
Just played through this one. Some thoughts:

- Holy balls, they ripped off Twin Peaks a lot. If David Lynch weren't such a chill dude he could probably sue them and have a decent shot at winning. The way York holds up one of his hands with a finger extended when speaking to Zach sometimes makes me wonder if in earlier renders he wasn't talking into a dictaphone at those points...
- The erratic quality of the graphics - especially the facial expressions - actually helps the atmosphere. It makes all the characters look like flawed, plasticy meat-puppets playing out a ritualistic dance that none of them understand.
- I don't like the way the Zach thing is laid out and made clear by the end of the story. I'd have much preferred it if the relationship between Zach and York had been kept mysterious, not least because that leaves open the fun possibility that "Zach" is just York's name for the player and that he's actually "hearing" the commands you input.
- The free roaming was interesting but I think it could have been implemented better. Often the main plot throws up such urgent situations that you don't really feel free to free-roam, if you see what I mean. Plus the first few side-quests I dabbled in just didn't seem to be very interesting or revelatory so after the first couple I ceased bothering and just ploughed through the main plot.
- Didn't like the treatment of Thomas at all.
Kind of wussy man who likes cooking and runs in a mincing, "girly" manner turns out to be a crazy transvestite who's a danger to himself and others? Ugh.

- I was worried that the military angle would end up eliminating the supernatural aspects, but by the end I got the impression that
the military stuff was actually a red herring, and - in character - might not have actually been connected to the actual military anyway.

- Didn't find the ending to be all that much of a mindfuck, to be honest. Yeah, the imagery was freaky, but pretty much all of the mysteries of the game were laid out for you fairly openly.
- I loved York's conversations with Zach when he's driving around on his own. Especially the geeking out about 80s B-movies and first wave punk rock. Best writing in the game.
- I really wish they'd let you zoom out much further on the map than they allow you to. Especially in the open world freeroaming sequences, the map limits you to an almost uselessly tight zoom.
- The actual survival horror gameplay wasn't particularly inspiring. Especially the stuff with the wall-crawlers that first show up in the art gallery. Actually, as mini-bosses those are miserably bad. If you don't work out the trick to killing them they are mad frustrating. If you do work out the trick, they're boring and a time-waster.
- On balance, probably not one I'm going to keep and replay. Especially because most of the "wow, that's pretty cool" moments were along the lines of "Wow, that's pretty cool because it reminds me of Twin Peaks" and not "Wow, that's pretty cool in its own right".
Arthur B at 09:28 on 2011-04-30
Oh, and one other thing - the events revolving around the Raincoat Killer showing up got unfailingly snnoying, mainly because the game kept resorting to the same three scenarios - mash buttons to avoid dying, mash buttons to run away and avoid dying, or hide in a closet and occasionally hit a button to hold your breath - and repeated those scenarios often enough that they got really, really old.

I mean, in this sort of game the main bad guy showing up should be a cause for you to scream and panic, if you catch yourself groaning and rolling your eyes instead that's a seriously bad sign.
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