After a great deal of uncertainty, it fell to the reliably understated Rising Star Games to bring Deadly Premonition to UK gamers. Arriving in time for Halloween, one would suspect that Deadly Premonition could be as throwaway as any number of low-rent movie productions, but to dismiss Access Games’ most high profile production in such away would be a disservice to both the team and director, Hidetaka Suehiro.
Set in the small town of Greenvale, the player takes on the role of FBI Agent Francis York Morgan sent to investigate a very gruesome murder. Upon arrival in the town, a freak car accident sees the player fighting through woods to reach the outskirts, encountering strange zombie-like enemies and our antagonist, the Raincoat Killer. Though it may seem like a fairly well trodden path, the plotline is further convoluted by a cast of eccentric characters and the displacement of a protagonist who regularly breaks the fourth wall to converse with the player as his split-personality, Zach.
Given its relative absurdity, Deadly Premonition has regularly been compared to the works of David Lynch, most notably Twin Peaks. However, while the setting and population may feature all the hallmarks of the intriguingly bizarre TV series, the lighting, camera angles and pacing more closely reflect Lost Highway, a perhaps even more unique piece of cinematography that, until now, has been without equal in the interactive medium. For all the Hollywood productions the videogames industry has been the recipient of in recent years, Deadly Premonition is most certainly the low budget exploration piece – videogames as a medium for message, rather than simple entertainment.
The game plays as a more direct evolution of the original Resident Evil or Silent Hill template than Resident Evil 5 was ever intended to do so, with the restrictive combat, stuttered movement and inventory system playing as big a part in the proceedings as the eccentric cast and backwater town. An episodic structure akin to that featured in Alone in the Dark (and later Alan Wake) – complete with a recap of the previous chapter – divides the storyline into neat portions, but the player’s decision to pursue the main plot is typically their own, with a huge number of distractions available throughout Greenvale.
The free-roaming aspect of the game allows the player to entertain themselves within the structured and surprisingly well-delivered side missions. Taking place on specific days and only uncovered by talking to otherwise unimportant townsfolk, the side missions provide pleasant idle distraction in addition to building a personality for the game. Furthermore, a number of mini-games are available through the town greatly increasing the longevity of each chapter for those who are easily distracted.
Deadly Premonition is undeniably sub-par in terms of visual quality, but has a definite character all of its own. With production values that fall far lower than the average current-generation title, those simply looking for the next survival horror investment have a dozen superior options available. To suggest that Deadly Premonition as it stands could’ve been presented on more primitive systems is over stating the fact somewhat, but it’s true that the essence of the game could’ve been delivered on less capable hardware only suffering from a visual downgrade. Indeed, to many the town of Greenvale in its set-up will ring a similar bell to No More Heroes’ Santa Destroy. Deadly Premonition does feature fantastic voice acting however, bringing the obscurity of the characters to life. The soundtrack is phenomenal too; odd sound effects during conversation frequently aid the construction of character profiles and a delightfully absurd and often intentionally overbearing score only further pushes Deadly Premonition from the routine delivery of horror titles.
It’s often been said that there’s a fine line between genius and insanity, and Deadly Premonition treads that line with wanton abandon. Just as Lynch’s cinematic works are devised for those who appreciate the strengths of the medium, so to is Suehiro’s design aimed directly at gamers who understand what videogames are truly becoming capable of. For gamers who wish to explore the greater reaches of what the medium is capable of, Deadly Premonition is essential. In a nutshell, there are very few more imaginative acts you’ll see this year.