Saturday, January 24, 2015

Impressions #22: Deadly Premonition: Director's Cut

I play games of all manner of strips. Platformers, shooters, RPGs, and many other genres. As a result, I have acquired many unique tastes. No game represents “unique tastes” any more than Deadly Premonition. Developed by Access Games, this title was, and is, the brain-child of Hidetaka Suehiro, more commonly known as SWERY. It embodies a style and tone all its own, distinct from almost every other game I have ever played. Though it still has flaws which cannot be overlooked, it is truly a gem of a game.

Taking place in the fictional town of Greenvale, Washington, Deadly Premonition follows the adventures of FBI Special Agent Francis York Morgan. He has put himself on the case of the murder of an 18-year-old waitress named Anna Graham. The reason is that it possesses an alarming amount of similarities to an unusual string of killings he has been investigating across the continental United States. Through many trials and tribulations, York must gather clues from various crime scenes to solve the mystery behind these deaths.
Like in Persona 4, I found the murder mystery hook worked extremely well for me. I love analyzing all of characters and clues to see if I can piece the puzzle together myself. This game has plenty of that. If the player pays careful attention to the story, characters, and clues, it is entirely possible to deduce the culprit early on. In that sense, the writing is extremely fair. The game does not cheat by holding back key elements of specific scenes until the last minute. Despite that, I did not completely figure everything out until the big reveal. I was personally quite impressed by the game's writing.

Another aspect to the game I give it credit for is its cast. Though I have never watched the show, I have it on good authority that the cast of characters was heavily inspired by Twin Peaks. Every character in the game has their own unique quirks and traits. In their own way, every one of them is memorable. At the same time, and I am still unsure if this is intentional or not, they all have something “off” about them. Either in the way they speak, their personality, or in their animations, the entire cast each have some way to invoke the feeling of the Uncanny Valley. As a result, while the town is memorable, and players will begin to slowly feel more and more at home as they play the game, there is an inescapable “creepy” feeling. During my playthrough, I found it oddly compelling.
This is especially true of York himself, who might be the most quirky. After all, the player does not even truly play as York. Rather, they assume the role of Zach, the personality inside York's head that gives him advice and helps to guide him in his cases. This persona helps by giving York someone to explain his thought process to, and a way to elicit response and interaction from the player. In a very real sense, Zach is a player cipher. Having said that, he has a history and background with York, that also gets explored through the course of the game. It is a very interesting tactic to bring players into the world, one I think could be applied to other games.

In terms of play, Deadly Premonition is very much like a life-simulator in many respects. As time marches on, Agent York grows more hungry and sleepy. The player is tasked with making sure that he eats and sleeps at regular intervals, to avoid exhaustion or starvation. Furthermore, story events only take place at specific times. For example, a character who needs to be interrogated will only appear at their location from 10:00 to 17:00 (the game uses military time for arbitrary reasons, just go with it). If the player does not arrive at the specified destination in time, they will have to try again the next day. Should they get there early, they will have to come back within the mandated timeframe. On the surface, it appears that this is to grant the player free time to explore the area. However, since I did not really have an interest in side content, I had my character pass the time in the menu. None of this is difficult, and food is pretty cheap, so it mostly serves as a way to become more invested into the town of Greenvale. To the game's credit, this endeavor is largely successful.
The other aspect of gameplay seems wholly unnecessary. That is, whenever York enters a new crime scene in order to gather evidence, he is accosted by what appear seem like zombies. These scenarios are never difficult, as most of them will die in a few (easy to make) headshots. Furthermore, although these segments are easy, the controls feel very clunky. York cannot even move and attack at the same time unless he uses a melee weapon. Should the player take the melee route, they should know that weapons degrade as they are used. Fortunately, defeated zombies have chances to drop melee weapons and ammo for ranged weapons, and the default pistol has infinite ammo. It appears to try to invoke many common horror tropes. At the same time, the player never seems to feel like they are in any actual danger. Since these areas also seem to take place in some alternate world, York does not even get hungry or tired in these sections. They just seem very tacked on.
At the same time, they do offer one good element as well. As York collects the clues in an area, he will continually profile the events of the crime. Initially, the profile will be very fuzzy. However, for each clue, portions of the profile begin to fill in. Once all of the clues are gathered, York will then have a complete picture of what happened, which will further the investigation and reveal new leads to progress the story. These scenes help the player to better understand York's deductive method, by observing the wheels turning in his mind. Though I do like this, this same level of immersion could be achieved better by removing the unnecessary combat.

Ultimately, Deadly Premonition is not a game for everyone. It has some minor flaws, but they are not what makes the game so difficult to recommend. What does make it difficult is the fact that it is so unique that it has the potential to off-put people looking for a more traditional experience. That said, some people, like those who appreciate Telltale's brand of storytelling, will feel right at home with Deadly Premonition. Others who enjoy a good murder-mystery inspired by Twin Peaks will also enjoy their time. So give it a try, but be warned that it may not necessarily be to your liking.

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