Deadly Premonition: Director's Cut - Review
The original release of Deadly Premonition back in 2010 holds the world record for being one of the most critically divisive games, ranging from a 10/10 at Destructoid, to a woeful 2/10 over at IGN. In a medium that frequently sees the latest titles being plastered with unanimous perfect scores, or being relegated to the bargain bin, this kind of critical response is something of a shock.
Released in Japan under the title Reds Seeds Profile, it first emerged as a PS3 exclusive, before being brought to American and European shores solely for the Xbox 360. For those who never owned Microsoft's console, this director's cut edition offers western PS3 owners a chance to catch up on what they've missed, while also providing some (much needed) tweaks to the game.
On a purely technical level, Deadly Premonition, was, and still is, a horrific mess. The frame rate drops inexplicably into the single digits at numerous points, as the engine struggles to cope with the most perfunctory tasks, such as picking up a can of pickles. Added to this is a game world filled to the brim with poor textures and stiffly animated characters, who grin like maniacs whenever the game attempts to pull their polygons into the semblance of a smile.
The original release was also notorious for its hilariously inept sound design. Dialogue between characters would be drowned out by the soundtrack. What's more the tracks themselves were terribly placed, usually creating a completely inappropriate tone, such as a happy jazz track being played during an autopsy. Some tracks do seem to have been switched around in this version and more importantly the mixing issue has been solved by simply boosting the audio of the spoken dialogue and sound effects. However, this has given some sections of the game's dialogue a strange echo effect, like the characters are talking with tin cans on their heads.
This leads us on to the gameplay, which is an odd fusion of GTA-style open world sandbox, where you explore a strange American town ripped straight out of David Lynch's Twin Peaks, alongside Resident Evil 4 shooting mechanics. The games shooting sections feel tacked on...because they were. Game director Swery didn't want them included but folded after pressure from the producer. As a result, the game regularly has you run through a bland series of corridors, shooting at a bunch of zombies performing limbo as they shuffle towards you. The aiming is still very imprecise but fortunately enemies have been softened up in this version, making the combat somewhat less of a chore.
It's a pity it was added because the other aspect of the game is genius. Being able to freely walk around town while all of its inhabitants go about their lives is incredibly immersive. All of the main characters and supporting cast have their own schedules, adding to the sense that you're operating within a bigger world. The games numerous sidequests give you an excuse to go and nosey in on various folks, and reveal more information about the game's characters. It's a rare game where the side content doesn't give you any tangible reward, or anything that sheds light on the main plot, but manages to not feel like filler as you find out juicy secrets about these strange character's lives.
Added to this is the game's main plot, perhaps its biggest draw. Without spoiling anything it's a murder mystery heavily influenced, as I mentioned previously, by Lynch's Twin Peaks. The characters are all memorable and FBI Agent Francis York Morgan is quite possibly the most bizarre main character in a video game. The tone jumps between horrific and disturbing, to farcical, several times during a single cut scene. What's surprising, given all of the game's shortcomings, is how good the English voice acting and script are when everything else is a mess. It's not so much that the story itself is particularly well written (although it is a cut above other games) but that it gets so strange that you have to keep ploughing on just to see how it's all go to end. It's well paced too, setting itself up almost like a box set of a TV show, as the game is spread over six episodes, reminiscent of Atari's Alone in the Dark reboot and Alan Wake.
The changes in this director's cut are relatively minor. Perhaps the biggest change is the upscale to proper HD, something which the 360 original lacked. Make no mistake, the game still looks like an early PS2 game much of the time, but the upscale has made the game slightly less ugly. The games additional cutscenes, which are all new pre-rendered footage, make the game's plot slightly less confusing for those starting out, and a new ending hints at a likely sequel.
For those who've already played Deadly Premonition, this latest edition isn't going to radically change the experience. While the improvements, and slight alterations, are welcome, the game is still horrendously designed which only adds to its strange charm. As an experiment in game design, Deadly Premonition does attempt some new things, and if the combat sections had just been completely cut the game would have been much better for it. Its biggest mistake is stretching too many ideas on too small a budget. Much likes Kojima's Metal Gear Solid series, it revels in its anachronistic gameplay and isn't afraid to break gaming conventions, not to mention the fourth wall, in the process. You certainly won't have played anything quite like this, and with this the definitive version, you have no excuse not to have given it a try.
Deadly Premonition: Director's Cut was released, in the UK, on April 26th for the PS3.
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