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Deadly Premonition

Deadly Premonition
12:20, 15th Jul 2013
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Finally arriving on these shores eight months after its US release, Deadly Premonition comes with some serious baggage. It’s had some of the most divisive reviews you’ll see for a game, clearly suffers from last-generation looks, and even among its supporters has a reputation for being seriously weird. So what’s the deal – good or bad?

The truth in these cases is usually somewhere in between. But Deadly Premonition is no ordinary game, confounding expectation by being both brilliant and awful, often at the same time. It’s a sizeable adventure that will take most players around thirty hours to complete but costs just £24.99. It’s a survival horror that’s also an open-world game. By turns it resembles Shenmue, Resident Evil, Siren, GTA, Alan Wake and Yakuza – yet it’s really not like any of them. Deadly Premonition is very much its own game. You’ll have to take our word for it when we say that’s a good thing.

You play as Agent Francis York Morgan, an FBI investigator arriving in the town of Greenvale to solve a mysterious murder. He has a fondness for Eighties cinema and constantly converses with someone named Zach, holding his finger to his ear as if receiving orders from HQ. Yet there’s no earpiece. Is Zach an alter ego, a figment of his imagination or something else? It’s just one of several riddles that drive this enigmatic character, and you’ll be fascinated to see just how he develops over the course of the game.

York’s investigation blends more mundane detective work with elements of the supernatural. Several locations have to be visited for the parts of the puzzle to be pieced together. The objective is to recreate the crime by locating evidence, with clues and objects hidden in the various locations. It’s here where things start getting weird, with zombie-like enemies appearing, bending over backwards and thrusting their arms down York’s throat if they get close enough. It would be disturbing if it didn’t look so comical, and the repetitive voice samples used for their supposedly troubling cries are funny rather than chilling. The scare factor is upped with the appearance of a trenchcoat-clad axeman who sporadically turns up to chase York in sequences that are at once inventive and awkward, using a blend of traditional controls, quick-time events and multiple camera angles. It’s disorientating but different, and the sheer strangeness of these sections – not to mention all the weird and wonderful goings-on elsewhere – makes them a little unnerving.

Away from the crime scenes there’s plenty to see and do. Greenvale is a big place, and you’ll need a car to get around, especially if you want to make the deadlines for each key event. York can go fishing, play darts or simply chat to the townsfolk. Some offer their personal observations on the increasingly strange happenings, while others are searching for certain items – return them and you’ll be richly rewarded in some way. As everyone in Greenvale has their own routine, certain tasks can only be completed on specific days, though you can return to an earlier chapter at any point.

There are some light RPG elements to the character progression, while a bizarre touch sees the player take care of York’s personal hygiene. Fail to shower or change suits regularly enough and flies will start to buzz around. York’s beard grows in real-time, so you’ll start to notice a five-o’-clock shadow appear around his face later in the day. And if you need to kill time, you can simply smoke a cigarette to while away the hours.

The story is fascinatingly strange, with some genuinely surprising twists, while the dialogue is equally odd and just as memorable. It’s hugely quotable, too – “F.K. in the coffee”, “so says Mr. Stewart”, and “call me York” may not mean anything to you now, but you’ll soon be tempted to throw them into everyday conversation. Controls and graphics feel archaic at times, but rarely is Deadly Premonition anything but enjoyable.

Not everyone will take to its eccentricities, but look past the last-gen visuals and you’ll see a rough diamond of a game, packed full of ideas and ambition, and realised with a genuine affection for Greenvale and its inhabitants. On this form, its mildly barmy creator SWERY could well be one to watch. In the meantime, you owe it to yourself to at least try Deadly Premonition. You may like it. You may hate it. But one thing’s for certain: you will never, ever forget it.
VERDICT
It’s rare that a game comes along that’s so stuffed with new ideas, and while Deadly Premonition doesn’t have the budget to quite do them all justice, it’s well worth the (reduced) price of admission. It certainly owes no small debt to David Lynch, and it’s vaguely reminiscent of a number of games, but ends up feeling like an entirely unique experience. That’s partly thanks to an unshakeable belief in its own ideas and a conviction that its bizarre story is worth telling. It takes the time to get to know its characters and its world, and as such is all the more effective and charming for it. Besides, it’s hard not to warm to a game that takes time out to discuss the merits of trashy Eighties films.
7/10
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