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Deadly Premonition 360 Review

12/11/2010 Thinking Story Gamer Review
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Deadly Premonition 360

Deadly Premonition




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Deadly Premonition 360 is a demented hybrid of survival horror, open world play and story-driven mystery. While very rough around the edges, this eccentric treat has a batty charm that transcends technical limitations.

Perhaps because they're still a relatively young medium, videogames are still very much assessed on their technical merits. A wittily scripted and filmed movie or TV show can rise above poor production values and even dodgy acting. A band with energy and a good song can get away with missing notes and fuzzy recordings.

Games, however, need to pursue the state of the art, or at least proficiently exploit their host technology. A game that has sticky controls, fiddly interfaces, long periods of nothing much happening and a host of graphics and sound issues won't get away with it due to the flare of the creators vision, right?

Well, Deadly Premonition does. It has numerous technical and design issues: the graphics are patchy at best, ugly and dated at worst; there are about half a dozen music tracks and they constantly repeat, are used wildly out of appropriate context and drown out some of the dialogue in cut scenes; the controls are dated and clunky; the open world has vast stretches of not very much, which you're required to drive across for minutes at a time.

But Deadly Premonition is also highly enjoyable, engaging and compelling due to its eccentric and sharply defined story, world and characters.

There's a huge chunk of Twin Peaks in Deadly Premonition's story of a young girl murdered in a small American logging town, and the eccentric FBI agent sent to investigate, and David Lynch's influence permeates the cast of local oddballs and the sinister, unclear imagery of the dream sequences.

York is a truly original protagonist for a game.

Lead character Francis York Morgan ("Just call me York, everyone else does") echoes Twin Peaks' Dale Cooper with his disconcerting eccentricities, but he's also more traumatised and edgy than Cooper was, fitting the disturbed-profiler archetype established by Thomas Harris in the novel Red Dragon.

In spite of these influences, York is a truly original protagonist for a game, chatting constantly to his invisible companion Zach, obsessed with pop culture minutiae from the 1980s, and generally rubbing the small town folk of Greenvale up the wrong way with his lack of social skills. He's a great character, charming in his charmlessness, and sympathetic in both his desire for justice and his quaint enthusiasms.

Game play is all over the place. York's main objectives are to interview suspects and search for clues, but to do this he has to drive around the vast open world of Greenvale, which has a day/night cycle and weather system. There are also side quests, and RPG-type stats to monitor: not only will the cars at York's disposal run low on gas and become damaged, but he also needs to sleep, eat, change clothes and shave.

Digging up clues allows York to build a 'profile', although really this is more of a psychic process than a psychological one, an insight into the crime revealed through a flurry of images.

There's also a third level of game play, survival horror sections where York is trapped alone in buildings with hideous J-horror ghosts, slash-mouthed zombie-things that let out a low moan when they die. These sections are adequately playable, very much like Silent Hill in tone but with crude action closer to cheap Hill-a-likes like The X-Files: Resist Or Serve.

At times during these survival horror segments the Raincoat Killer himself will make an appearance, and York will have to evade him with button-mashing QTEs and the odd Forbidden Siren-type section where York needs to hide.

There's genuine character to the dialogue, a real sense of quirky humour that makes most game-dialogue seem like generic Hollywood blah.

Quite why York can blast and smack his way through so many monstrous undead fiends, but be reduced to fleeing in the face of one murderer with an axe, is never quite clear, but then there's a lot about Deadly Premonition's action sequences that is unclear: while York uses real resources and gains real clues during them, they don't seem to effect anyone else. Are they a 'real' journey to another plain of existence, or just a representation of York's psyche?

Out in the real world of Greenvale, things make a bit more sense, but not much. The world map is big, very big, but it's also very empty, with impassable low grass verges and other constraining obstacles. Your car can drive through some wooden fences, but others are entirely car-proof.

It's an open world, technically, and all the eating/sleeping/shaving options create a certain GTA-lite sense of busywork, but it's not very easy to explore, and apart from being able to observe some suspects through windows there's not that much to do or find.

Investigation also involves some basic logic puzzles, and a lot of dialogue: all fairly straightforward adventure game stuff.

As I said earlier, the technical side is also not great: muddy textures abound, sound is poorly mixed, the cars drive like bricks and on-foot York has the floaty, clunky movement of an early Resident Evil character.

So, a lot of underwhelming elements, but together they make something that transcends those parts. There's genuine character to the dialogue, a real sense of quirky humour that makes most game-dialogue seem like generic Hollywood blah. The story is intriguing and full of baffling, possibly meaningless symbolism.

There's a strange freedom and sense of space to this odd, rambling world.

While individual game elements may be a bit rough, there's a strange freedom and sense of space to this odd, rambling world. The different game play sequences also switch frequently enough to give the game a sense of pace and variety. Deadly Premonition may be infuriating in places, but even when driving for miles or grinding another action sequence it's rarely boring, and there's always a twist around the corner.

Deadly Premonition will not, to say the least, be for everyone. But if you're looking for something beyond the mainstream, a genuinely unique vision in gaming, then quite simply you need to buy it.

Written by Mark Clapham

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Mark Clapham writes the Story Gamer column.

"I love a good story. Games tell many different stories: the stories told through cut scenes and dialogue, but also the stories that emerge through gameplay, the stories players make for themselves."

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