The lights are on
I just finished playing Deadly Premonition on the XBox360. I found this little gem while searching for survival horror games that I hadn't already played. If I hadn't been actively searching for lesser known titles, this game would have slipped right under my radar. When I saw the cover, I had remembered glancing over it at GameStop a few times, being intrigued by the art, but having heard almost nothing about it, I figured it wasn't worth my time. Boy was I ever wrong.
Deadly Premonition is quite possibly the most unique game I've ever played. It's part RPG, part third-person-shooter, and part survival horror. However it's the story that drives this game, and it drives it out of the park. I bought this game on a whim when I was sent a 20% off coupon and figured I'd grab a relatively inexpensive game just so the coupon wouldn't go to waste. I'm a sucker for a good story-based game, and this one certainly didn't disappoint.
The game centers around an FBI agent named Francis York Morgan, a dedicated fed with enough quirks to be labeled eccentric. He always introduces himself by his full name, but insists that everyone calls him York, adding, "Everyone calls me that." When he's thinking, he's pats his hand against his chest with one finger outstretched. But the biggest quirk of all is that he has an alter ego named Zach who he talks to during the investigation as if he was standing right next to him. York seems very weird to be an FBI agent, but his quirks make him quite a likable character.
The game begins as York is sent to a small town in the countryside, where a brutal ritualistic murder has taken place. He was sent there because the murder involved red seeds. York has solved other murders of this type all around the country perpetrated by seemingly unrelated and unconnected persons, but the red seeds always showed up at them all. Your job in town is to solve the murder.
Over the course of the game, York collects clues, putting them together using a profiling technique that shows what happened at each place he visits. From time to time, locations transform into creepy supernatural versions of themselves in which York has to defend himself against zombie type beings. You have to figure out how the murder ties in with this, and plenty of other weird happenings in the town. As the game progresses, things get weirder and weirder. It's quite confusing, and clues you collect seems to point to one person, then another, then another, and back to the first, and it just keeps flip flopping until you have no idea whodunnit. I won't give away any of the plot points, but I'll just say that the writers for this game deserve a f***ing medal.
Now onto the actual review part. I'll start off with the characters. They are all top-notch. York is very likable as I've said, with a lot of depth that comes from his unique quirks that are topped off by phenomenal voice acting. The other characters in the game are also voiced well, and how those who live in the town are connected is probed in depth, giving the town a real sense of community and depth itself.
The town however does have its problems from a gameplay perspective. It is quite large for a survival horror map, and even though you get to drive vehicles to get around, it can take a very long time to get places. The map itself is also problematic in that the zoom isn't scaled correctly. If you zoom out all the way, you're still only looking at a couple of blocks of the town. If you want to see where you are in relation to another place, you have to scroll way over to find that place. If you're directionally challenged like I am, this is very frustrating. I might be able to find the place I'm looking for on the map, but then I can't find where my car is to connect the two. Zooming in is pretty much pointless considering how small an area you see zoomed out all the way.
Driving itself though is quite fun. The controls for the car are very fleshed out, probably more than they should be. You've got controls not just for gas, brake, and steering, but also for headlights, windshield wipers, the horn, the siren, and even the blinkers. Most of these you probably won't use on a regular basis. The steering is very sensitive, but it's not too bad once you get used to it. There are other cars on the road during the day, but the streets are so wide that this isn't a problem.
The difficulty is something that surprised me quite a bit. Most survival horror games are notorious for being brutally difficult. So when I started, I chose the Easy difficulty. Easy was actually too easy for me, and I'm not a guy who likes difficulty. I would guess that the Normal difficulty setting would be a good way to play this game.
Combat is another place you'll run into some problems early on in the game. I haven't mentioned this yet, but the control scheme for this game is utterly retarded. As far as we've come with double stick controllers, they chose a layout that resembles RE4 on GameCube, only worse. You pull the right trigger to raise your weapon, left trigger to lock on, A to shoot, and to strafe left and right, you have to use the shoulder buttons. Not intuitive at all. I'd heard the controls were bad before I bought the game, but sheesh. Despite this though, you do get used to it eventually. The only reason I can think of why they would use such a layout is that if it were too easy to use, then there wouldn't be as much tension during combat. You could mow down zombies rather easily.
Speaking of the zombies, that's pretty much all there are in the game. When it comes to enemies, variety is not on the menu. All the enemies you'll face are slow, shambling zombies. Some may have a pipe or a gun, but they're all the same type of enemy, with maybe half a dozen different skins among them. There is one other type, but it's very rare and I don't want to spoil the surprise. I'll just say that its entrance/intro will send shivers down your spine. There are a few boss battles, and several times you have to run for your life via stick waggling and quick-time events. It mixes things up a bit.
While I don't find graphics to be all that important, I do know some people do, so I will address them. Considering that the game is on the XBox360, the graphics are rather disappointing. The models are done quite well. Smooth with no angles, but the resolution looks to be "dumbed down" to work on the hardware, similar to how RE4 looks on the GameCube. You can tell that the models were created at a higher level, but the resolution was scaled back due to restraints. My guess is that the town is all rendered at once instead of using dynamic loading like Skyrim does, so they had to save space somewhere. This wouldn't explain the same graphics indoors, but it's just a hypothesis.
Sound is one place in which this game shines. There are only about half a dozen music tracks you'll hear on a regular basis that set the mood of the scene, but they are phenomenal. Each one really captures the essence of what's happening and makes you feel it deep down. There's even one song towards the end of the game that I think would fit right in with the Forza 2 soundtrack.
In addition to the main quest of finding the murderer, there are also plenty of other things to do in town. Side quests can be found here and there, and there are a few mini-games such as races, darts, and fishing. The game also mixes things up by adding a few things you have to keep track of. You have a hunger meter and a sleep meter. They gradually go down throughout the day, but very slowly. If your hunger meter gets too low, eat some food. If your sleep meter gets too low, find a bed or drink some coffee to replenish it. Your appearance will also affect how people react to your presence. You have 3 suits you can wear. If one gets too dirty, change clothes and send that suit to the cleaners. Your facial hair will also grow at a rather realistic rate, so you gotta shave every now and then too.
One thing I must praise this game for is its lack of censorship. It's not completely lacking. For instance there are a few places where nudity would've been appropriate, but they covered the offending parts. However this is a Mature game, and when it comes to blood and brutality, no punches were pulled. I love horror and the macabre, but some scenes in this game even had me wincing from the sheer disturbing nature of what transpired. Like I've said about the concept of Slender Man, "This is horror done right."
Now I know what you're thinking. I gave this game an 8.5, but I've said almost nothing but negative things about it. Well here's the reason for that. For me a game's value comes from the emotional impact it makes on the player, and how much enjoyment and/or happiness it brings them. For me a good well written story, along with interesting characters, mystery, intrigue, and creepiness make for something special. I would compare this game to Brutal Legend. Brutal Legend had sub-par characters, boring combat, RTS boss battles that were not well implemented, and dialog that was hit or miss. However, it had the most badass music of any game in history, and a world inspired by that music. The world and music were so epically awesome that they pulled the rest of the game forward with it into greatness. Deadly Premonition is comparable to this in that the story and atmosphere the developers created was so amazing that during gameplay you almost forget about the bad stuff. You get pulled into that world and almost feel like you're there. If you've ever played some of the greats like Myst, Bioshock, KotOR, Septerra Core, or any Zelda game, you know what I'm talking about.
One last bit of praise I will give the game is for its references to other respected survival horror franchises from which it takes inspiration. The first is a hallway inside a mansion. There are large windows on one wall, and as you approach them, they shatter inwards unexpectedly. If you've ever played Resident Evil, you know what this references, and why when it happens, you know the correct response is to panic and possibly s*** your pants.
The second reference may or may not be an intentional one. Towards the end of the game, the story and action centers around a clock tower. There is a survival horror franchise that isn't as well known as others called Clock Tower. It may just be a coincidence, but I immediately thought of the series when I saw the tower, even though I haven't played any of them yet.
Throughout the game, and even at the end, I kept asking myself, "What the f*** is going on?" The story is so complex, so strange and bizarre, and so creepy that you have to wonder about every little detail and what it might mean. I love games that keep you thinking up to the very end. Not only do they keep you thinking, they throw in curveball after curveball, and there are several plot twists I never saw coming that blew me away. Even at the end, I'm still not completely sure I know what happened, not completely. Deadly Premonition was a pleasure to play. It will take you into a world that simply oozes with darkness and confusion, but a part of you will never want to leave.
Creepy Note: One little experience I'd like to add, even though it's not part of the review. When I finished Chapter 13, my stats were that I had $11313 in cash. I'd died 3 times. I had been in town for 13 days. And I had killed 313 enemies. These values are not fixed. You can kill as many or as few enemies as you want, save or spend money as you please, and can pass time like you want. The fact that all these 13s appeared at the same while I was playing quite possibly the creepiest game I've ever played kinda freaked me out at the time.
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