Deadly Premonition

You'll never see it coming

Every part of Deadly Premonition is terrible. Deadly Premonitionis excellent. None of this makes a lick of sense. egnarts yrev ,yrev si noitinomerP yldaeD.

Deadly is either art, or the crowning achievement of some unutterable bastard of a marketing salesman who has convinced us all that the Emperor is fully clothed. To be honest, I am still not entirely sure, but will try and convince you it's the former. ?I lliw rO

As far as the playing mechanics go, Deadly is actually pretty easy to describe. It's an open-world survival horror game, with your time spent as protagonist Detective York split between GTA-lite exploration and latter-day Resident Evil style 3rd person pistols and pipe-wrenches. There's a ritualistic murder in Small Town America to solve, an ark of flamboyantly eccentric characters to investigate, and a horde of poorly animated ghouls to shoot. ehtaf ruoy fo ecaf eht dah meht fo enO

From the very start this title fundamentally challenges what you consider to be 'good' in a game. We've all spent years now harping on how the graphics in a game are completely secondary to the story to the characterisation, to the playability, so on. Deadly steps up and resets the graphics back to circa 1996 and waits to see if you have the strength of your convictions. Mechanically, the game looks like it might have been able to run on an original PlayStation, and the world is neither as large nor as finely detailed as Vice City. Rolling fields and small patches of grass will share the same single texture, causing the slightest pan of the camera to send juddering interference patterns stuttering across your screen, highlighting jagged pixels and poorly constructed models.uoy neve ton ,rof delledom uoy otohp taht srebmemer eno oN

Judged purely on its looks, Deadly is flat out terrible. It entered the market as a budget title, but there are better looking games on the iphone by now. The character animations are repetitive, disturbing, and seem to follow a school of physical acting that would shame a Brazilian soap-opera dame. The soundtrack repeats far too often, features seem to have been shoe-horned in defiance of logic let along good design, the control system is your enemy, and even the in-game map fails basic functionality. ydaerla peels uoy erehw wonk yeht ,pam on wollof sdrib ehT.

I'm going to stop doing the backwards writing thing now, because hopefully I've illustrated a point. No matter how annoying a feature or mechanic is, you'll probably read, watch or play it if you're curious enough about what it's actually saying, and if its batshit insane enough to be intriguing. If you can stick with Deadly Premonition, past its shonky graphics, tedious combat, and hideous control scheme, and start watching and listening to the characters, a terrible suspicion starts to dawn. Is it all meant to be like this?

At this point you're either going to decide it is not, and rightfully demand your twenty bucks back, or you will decide it is, and realise you are six hour hours into one of the most interesting and intellectually challenging computer games ever made. Hand on heart; I could not swear either course is right. They might be both wrong.

Right from the start, your Agent York is clearly insane. He spends as much time talking to his invisible friend Zach as he does any of the other characters. This he does openly and without a shred of embarrassment, and pre-empts anyone asking by offhandedly saying "Don't ask me about Zach. It's a private matter." This apparently washes with the townsfolk, who all then accept it as no less odd than whatever their personal madness is. First off this seems like an amusing but goofy character flaw. Then it becomes clear that the player is in fact Zach and the 4th wall is getting a perforation. Then this theory goes out the window as Zach seems to start answering. Then it gets properly strange.

What seemed at first like repetitive character animations, especially of York, start to take on a sort of ritualistic quality, gestures performed with autistic dependency. Why is the Deputy so flamboyantly camp? Why is the little old lady pantomiming the role quite so hard, is it a ruse? Are any of these people real? With obvious cranial scars and luminous personality disorder, York is the least reliable narrator since Verbal Kent.

The game is self-referential and self-aware to the point of log-jamming your mind with its references. Informing the entire game is clearly Twin Peaks, and half of the locations, character and props have been directly copied, but just in the first hour York had brought up (to himself, or Zach) Tremors, Kevin Bacon, Remo, Cabaret, Ferris Bulers Day Off, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, Jaws, Back to the Future, Olivia Newton John, Joel Schumacher, John Landis, Deadly Spawn, American Werewolf in London, and many, many more. These conversation first seem like a little idle audio filler when driving through the countryside, but why the '80's movies theme? Is it because all these movies directly influence the game? Early on, whilst you are still balking at the visuals, York quietly brings up the topic of visual quality in VHS vs. DVD. Do you really need all the visual quality and special features if the movie sucks? Is there not more love in those old low-resolution tapes? I still have no idea if York just let me into the big secret behind the games stylistic decisions, or I just got Jedi mind-tricked like a weak minded fool. These are not the graphics you are looking for.

The combat remains essentially tedious, mainly operating as filler between developing plot elements. However, after snapping in and out of a grungy, infested Otherworld apparently next door to Silent Hill, York doesn't seem to find the experience strange at all. He will meet up with Sheriff Manly McGruff and Deputy Blondie Perkins without so much as mentioning the ghoulish hell-dimension that was in the stationary cupboard. Did any of it actually happen?

Now, of course, we are in danger of pointing at the galleries fire extinguisher and declaring it instillation genius. The trouble is that it's just about impossible to tell what is art, what is an effect, or what might just be awful. Even the in-game map is not your friend, but is it meant to be like that? With a maximum elevation equivalent to only a few dozen feet overhead, you can never make out where the hell you are in relation to the landscape as a whole. You can pan around, but easily lose your own position. There's no GPS feature, or even a decent legend. But to look at it, you have to go through a menu screen that's an office standing in a open forest raining red leaves, featuring a still living moose-head on the wall. I am blinded by strangeness.

Cut-sequences are abundant. The soul of the game, if it is indeed a genius and not a fraud, entirely resides in the strangely animated interactions of the Greenvale residents. One particular notable sequence early on is between York and the deaf proprietor of what is clearly the etch-a-sketch version of the Headlands Hotel. Easily over ten minutes long if all the conversation options are followed, the preposterously twee music randomly swells to nearly drown out all the dialogue, but is that a reflection of her hard-hearing and Yorks growing disinterest? The sequence is concluded by revealing that yet another of York's disorders includes the belief that his morning coffee predicts the future, a compulsion partially borrowed from Twin Peaks' Special Agent Dale Cooper.

So is it art, or is it a game? Just as you formulate some sort of opinion one way or the other Deadly notices you finding some semblance of equilibrium and shoves you down the stairs again. There are conspicuously hoary old game elements that are included for no other reason than yet another wink at the player. Glowing collectible cards bob in remote places across the map, to be collected for no discernable purpose beyond a slight discount at a poorly stocked shop. Minigames can be played in the town's bar to while away the night, or fishing rods and bait can be purchased for a Shenmue -style lucky dip, but tell us Lord, why? Rewards in cash and points will pop up constantly - for showering, for changing suits, for having coffee, for turning on the TV, for looking out of a window onto a view of nothing at all. Whilst around you a grisly murder investigation plays out, in Yorks little world a five dollar bonus pops up for checking the weather.

The sheer, mind blowing absurdity of Deadly Premonition never gives you a chance to find a balance, or predict what is going to happen next. Standing over the autopsy of a victim cut open from groin to gizzard with her tongue pulled off, York will jauntily ask the pathologist 'if he's a passionate man?' The music will jump-cut from oddly synthesized moody wierdshit to jaunty porno jazz, and then snap back when a third character disapproves. Seconds apart you will be shown comforting coin-op era game mechanics, only to be followed by a deeply unsettling CSI-flash of the rape and torture of a hooker in an abandoned steel mill. Deadly Premonition plays with the gamer's expectations in a way that hasn't been done since Metal Gear, as entirely new mechanics are introduced late in the game, and are dropped just as suddenly. Camera perspectives shift, and without foreshadowing a picture-in-picture of an unstoppable murderer will appear on your screen, making for a subsequent pant-ruining minute as you hide under a table and watch the killer hunting for you.

I've got a history of saying 'it's better to do something well than to do something new'. In this instance, I am completely wrong. Deadly Premonition is unlike anything that's been made before. Its budget price point means that you're getting a better than $1 per hour playing value. Whether the Emperor is nude or not is entirely up to you, but this is unquestionably a game that will be talked about. Anyone who considers themselves an aficionado should consider it essential.

E3 Trailer