Deadly Premonition is…well, a lot of things. It’s an open-world third-person murder mystery game in which an FBI agent is trying to solve a murder in a small town somewhere vaguely in the northern states? It’s also the game that put creative director Swery 65 on the map as an innovative and creative force in the game development scene. However, most pressingly to me, it’s somehow simultaneously really good and really bad.
Let me clarify. In short, here’s a list of things that I think are really good in Deadly Premonition:
- The story is gripping, interesting, and is far from typical video game fare
- The characters are interesting in how bizarre so many of them are, and I was constantly dying to learn more about the people and the town of Greenvale
- The game sets up really interesting antagonists, that manage to remain mysterious and ambiguous
- The worldbuilding and the extent that the game goes to establish a sense of this world being real (characters have Skyrim-style schedules, and things like changing your clothes and shaving are given gameplay significance)
- The game actually has a really solid mastery of tone. Even when it experiences a whiplash-inducing shift from morbid to comedic or nonchalant, that still feels fitting to the characters and the game
And here are some things I think are really bad:
- Combat is very unsatisfying. Single enemies pose 0 threat, as they can just be stunlocked to death. More than, say, two enemies is meanwhile ball-bustingly difficult, as the enemies high movement speed and the cumbersome aiming controls makes it hard to manage the whole group. Combine this with the fact that there is only one enemy type until the fifth dungeon, and I ended up dreading combat
- The dungeons are big enough to take a while to clear (probably about an hour a dungeon), but contain very few interesting things within them to make that size feel justified
- Some of the sidequests are so minimal as to be laughable. One sidequest literally required me to walk four steps and press a button, and I completed it
- On the whole, the town of Greenvale is stretched across this giant map, but it’s stretched very thin. Getting from anywhere to anywhere else tends to be a long drive, which would be fine for setting mood if it weren’t for the fact that the cars are slow and drive like garbage
And yet, despite this disparity between elements, I stayed up until 4 AM last night binging the game until I beat it. I’ve been shamelessly shouting on social media for my friends to buy it (a request made simpler during the Steam Summer Sale). I’ve been thinking about it endlessly since, enough that I’m now writing this post.
What Deadly Premonition represents to me is the endearing power of going for something. This is a game that’s designed by people who clearly had a goal in mind, and dreamed up this impossible combination of Silent Hill and Twin Peaks into this bizarre and beautiful murder mystery game. The things that are bad in the game all have a common theme, which is that the team just seemed to dream too big for their budget and timeframe. It’s pretty easy to imagine a Deadly Premonition with all of the rough edges finely filed down to a neat and tidy perfection, and that game could have been a genuine classic.
But, that’s not the game we got. Deadly Premonition is full of jank, but you know what? I think there’s a lesson there. I think if you have an idea for a game that your passionate about, that’s unique and interesting and really something close to you, I think Deadly Premonition is an argument that maybe, you shouldn’t wait for the prime moment where your time, money, and skills will allow you to make precisely the game of your dreams. Maybe you should just go for it, and know that your passion will shine through any other imperfections and make an interesting game that people will love.
Also, go buy Deadly Premonition.