Deadly Premonition: Director’s Cut Review
There is no easy place to begin with a game like this.
This is a game both awful and brilliant. This is a game that’s basically Twin Peaks with added cereal and jam sandwiches. This is a game where the pause menu is a giant elk head with a clock running backwards. This is a game that when announced, the immediate concern from fans was that Marvelous would fix the ‘wrong’ parts of the game. This is a game scored from 2/10 to 10/10 upon its original release. Where do you begin with a game like this?
At the start, obviously.
Deadly Premonition – The Awful, Awful Beginning
You play as Francis York Morgan, an FBI agent who arrives in the small town of Greenvale to investigate a series of murders. As is the case with all murder investigations, you begin by playing through a sub-standard survival horror on a rain-trodded path coloured with dull purples, grey and browns, shooting at…
Hang on, wait. What? Yes, this is exactly how Deadly Premonition opens. There’s no explanation or context for why you’re stuck fixing generators and shooting at zombies-shadows-what-are-they-supposed-to-be creatures that slowly shuffle towards you with a mild air of depression, in what has to be the worst opening 20 minutes for any game we’ve ever played.
We’ve described it as survival horror but it’s neither threatening nor scary. You pootle about firing a peashooter at these shadow things and the only challenge is shuffling back and forth so you have enough room to shoot them, as you listen to them croaking out laughable “I don’t want to diiiiie” lines that sounds like they’ve squeaked out of a Two Worlds voice-over session.
There’s no indication that Deadly Premonition will be any good. You’ll find yourself steeling against the game and hating it. Then suddenly, the rain clears and you meet the first characters and everything picks up.
Deadly Premonition – Why It’s Good
It seems weird to flag up characters as the best part of a game but every character in Deadly Premonition is unique, eccentric and has something slightly amiss about them, that makes you want to learn more. The creepy twins, the bizarre Diane Ames, Mr Stewart who has an aide speak for him (“so says Mr Stewart”), they’re grounded characters with surreal characteristics, and they all have their place in Deadly Premonition’s world.
Francis York Morgan himself is the best example of this. A one-man meme machine, he’s an awkward mess of rambling monologues and social tics. His love of coffee, imaginary friend Zach (later explained in the plot) and odd way of introducing himself to new faces have made him one of the most memorable characters this gen.
Even the game mechanics seem to exist to highlight how odd York is. You have the option of shaving and changing clothes, which seems pointless. Given enough time without doing both, York sprouts manly stubble and has giant flies buzzing around his dirty suit. Not just flies that follow him when he’s trotting around Greenvale but also when he’s driving and even in cutscenes. It’s a completely arbitrary, pointless addition and yet it adds to the overall personality.
Honestly, it’s hard to say how much of York’s appeal is by design and how much of it is by accident. He was going to be a Natalie Portman or Jodie Foster character, then became David Young, then became the Francis York Morgan we know today. For a character to have undergone those many changes and emerge as someone memorable is remarkable and possibly lucky.
But there’s no questioning that he is the heart of Deadly Premonition and does an incredible job of pushing the game’s flaws into the background. For example, driving is terrible. It’s not just that the handling feels like you’ve been shoved into a toy car but that it takes far too long to get anywhere, plus you need to keep an eye on your fuel and damage in a needless bit of micromanagement. Yet driving also gives you the option to talk, where York will ramble on about a film he saw in the 80s, and that makes the drive worthwhile.
It’s weird how these things work out.
Deadly Premonition – The Story
There’s also a strong story backing up the characters. Deadly Premonition might be home to a motley crew of the weird and the wonderful but the story isn’t too far-fetched, remaining in the realm of plausible murder mystery. Although it threatens to take a left turn into the surreal as revelations start but it stays grounded.
The reason the story works is that with each character introduced, you’re also given reasons to suspect them, with a gentle nudge of doubt from York on that character’s sincerity – even if it is something as bizarre as connecting letters he saw in a cup of coffee to a possible suspect.
As you might have heard by now, a lot of people picked up on the fact that Deadly Premonition is a lot like Twin Peaks. Whether you call it a tribute, rip-off, parody, homage or whatever, there’s no denying there are obvious similarities but it also works as a reference to explain how bizarre and utterly beguiling the world of Deadly Premontion is.
Deadly Premonition – Good Versus Bad
One comment you’ll often hear said about Deadly Premonition is that “it’s so bad, it’s good.”
This isn’t true. You wouldn’t play a game say ‘hey, the controls are so broken that they work!’ or ‘the graphics are so awful, they’re great!’ because that’s obviously nonsense. What people usually mean when they say ‘so bad, it’s good’ is that there are a lot of obvious flaws but the hidden strengths overcome them, because they appeal to you more than the flaws put you off.
And there are a lot of obvious flaws here. The opening 20 minutes are dreadful. Whenever Deadly Premonition switches to its survival horror gameplay, you’ll feel your spirit sag to sock level. The pacing can drag, particularly when you have to drive across Greenvale to get to the next prompt that pushes the story along.
On the flipside, there are a lot of strengths too. The characters are all brilliant, supported by well-written dialogue and eccentric traits, that makes you want to learn more about their backstory and how they fit into the bigger picture. The story is also smart and plays out like a classic whodunit tale, as all the characters you meet are possible suspects, with plenty of red herrings to keep you guessing. Then there’s Francis York Morgan himself, the one-man show who could keep Deadly Premonition entertaining without any outside help.
Then there’s Greenvale itself. Although not stuffed with distractions like a Saints Row or a Grand Theft Auto, there’s plenty to do here that fits in with the unique, eccentric vibe of the game it’s playing host to – you can go fishing, find guitars as melee weapons, find hidden character cards, play trivia quizzes, play darts and so on.
Deadly Premonition – Director’s Cut
If you’re here because you’ve already played Deadly Premonition and want to know if the Director’s Cut holds up, the best news is actually nothing to do with the new additions.
What surprised us most when revisiting Deadly Premonition is how well the story holds up. Like any murder mystery, revisiting the story when you already know the outcome puts the narrative in a new light, as you can spot hints and clues as to the eventual outcome.
In terms of what’s actually been changed for Director’s Cut, the camera tweak is probably the most significant. The camera for the original release was a hyperactive boost, which would WHOOSH overshoot what you wanted to look at and then WHOOSH you overcompensated trying to look and WHOOSH fine let’s not look at it.
No such problems here, as the camera is much calmer, allowing you to actually look at the environments without the inherent twitchiness of the predecessor and also making combat slightly smoother.
The addition of Trophies strengthens the rewards for exploring Greenvale as most of them come for completing side-quests and the graphical overhaul makes Deadly Premonition look nicer, although it’s still a fairly hideous creature. Mercifully, the survival horror sections are also much easier this time round, making it less of a slog.
So for Deadly Premonition veterans, Director’s Cut is definitely worth playing through again but mostly off the back of the story being strong enough that it warrants revisiting and the camera making it more enjoyable to pootle about Greenvale, absorbing the details in the environment. In all honesty, the other additions and tweaks here are negligible.
Deadly Premonition – Worth Getting?
The one thing that’s been really hard to convey with this review is why Deadly Premonition works. More so than other games, it’s a really personal thing – it relies on you connecting with the story and the characters because the gameplay swings from passable to bad with alarming regularity.
But if you do connect with the story, the characters and the odd atmosphere of Deadly Premonition, it’s easily one of the most enjoyable and memorable games you’ll play this gen. Rarely does a game this focused on story come with the same feel-good factor or personality that Deadly Premonition does. It’ll stay with you long after the end credits roll.
And for that, we say give it a chance. Director’s Cut makes it easier to deal with the bad side of Deadly Premonition (awful survival horror sections, dodgy gameplay) and get to the good side (brilliant story and characters), and thus if you didn’t give it a try the first time round, now is as good a time as any.
Just try and play it for more than 20 minutes if you do.
Version Tested: PS3