Deadly Premonition


Written by Chris Price
08 Monday 08th November 2010
Hands up who likes Twin Peaks? All of you? Excellent! Why? Because you’re all intelligent artistic people with taste and an eye for subtlety and not bunch of feckless jock numptys. I’d love to go on about why Twin Peaks is one the greatest shows ever to grace television. I could – I’ve done a thesis on this stuff.
Luckily Twin Peaks’ escaped the besmirchment of a video game translation. 99% of TV-based videogames that were pumped out in 90s were about as much fun as drowning in sewage. But two decades later Access Games by way of UK publisher Rising Star Gamesdeliver us Deadly Premonition – the closest we should probably ever come to a Twin Peaks video game. Incredibly, to a certain degree the game translates the awkward, malevolent and isolated atmosphere of Lynch and Frost’s surreal noir/50’s throwback who-dun-it in a way that no branded product ever could; by stubborn single-mindedness. And it’s being hailed as a cult release in its own right.
Protagonist, antagonist and general anti-hero is FBI special agent Francis York Morgan (”call me York. Everyone does”), investigating a ritualistic murder of a local girl in the woodland town of Greenvale, US (“I have a personal interest in the murder of young women” – just one of many fantastic lines). York is an obnoxious, slightly wonky urbanite who spends the majority of his time insulting the locals, shrugging off zombie battles and having regular asides with ‘Zack’ – York’s variant of Agent Coopers Dictaphone, a kind of internal monologue which narrates the story’s development for the players benefit.  Within minutes, your eating pickles, shooting blind zombies that groan like a Walkman running out of batteries, and exclaiming how you’ve “never been attack so directly before”.
Greenvale is a sleepy sandbox town, where appointments are made and governed by a real-time clock. Sleeping and eating bolster your energy and shift time, leaving a leisurely pace at which to play. Driving between locations is awkward at best, and self-harm inducing at worst. Each location offers investigation, sub-quests or mini games (fishing, darts, races). Most stops give you the chance to meet the townsfolk, who in true Lynchian fashion all harbour a hidden past. From the genuinely creepy disabled gasmask wearing landowner, vocalised by his British aide (“so says Mr. Stewart”) to the downright filthy gas pump attendant, who will cram so much sexual innuendo into your exchanges, you’ll feel as if you’ve strayed into some farcical Carry On scene.
Combat is over the shoulder guided aim and fire – a kind of inbred simpleton cousin of Resident Evil 4. Holding your breath lets you evade assailants, but hold for too long and your exertion will inhibit quick escape. Odd skirmishes between a cagoule sporting axe murderer who only ventures out when its raining vary between quick time button pokes, to truly bizarre super low frame-rate split-screen chase and hide sections.
The investigation proceeds via Profiles. Collecting pieces of evidence in a location string together a horrorshow of Polaroid pictures of what once occurred, delivering the games real chills – grainy images, sound tracked by anguish and evisceration – and a fresh and unnerving storyline tool, relying on the ‘less-is-more’ method of terror.
Deadly Premonition is a real videogame relic. The PS2-era graphics, stop-start room exploration ala Resident Evil 1, confusing camera angles and untextured 3D ala Alone in the Dark 1, and a soundtrack featuring so much electro-jazz and lift-funk on par with an the finest early 80s John Woo epics. And the atrocious lip-synching is just the icing on a structurally unsound cake. The game elements too show a patchwork of ambitious ideas, plucked from the three years Deadly Premonition has resided in development limbo.
But it’s blinkered obsession with itself and it’s own agenda (often to it’s own detriment) is surprisingly compelling. Like cult titles before (Michigan Report from Hell and Earth Defence Force) Producer Hidetaka "SWERY" Suehiro has created a game that exists within its own little bubble, bristling with detail and all wrapped in a genuinely unsettling story, drip-fed to the player like any good page-turner. It’s scrappy mix of action and survival horror, sandbox exploration and puzzle solving all taken in context of the world of Greenvale, it conspires to deliver a constantly surprising, unnerving experience, with a very individual charm.
During these times of brand homogeneity and its an eye opener that a game like this can actually make it to retail, let alone across the Atlantic. Whether you choose to enter that bubble, is up to you. It’s not immediate, and certainly not to everyone’s taste. But with a retail price around £15, it’s certainly worth picking up to decide – love or hate it, you certainly won’t forget your stay in Greenvale.
Deadly Premonition is out NOW on Xbox 360 only.

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