Deadly Premonition has been met with mixed reception from different critics, ever since its North America release in early 2010. Hopefully after reading this review, you will be able to make up your own mind.
The first 10 minutes of the game will most likely determine whether you will chuck this game into the pile-of-games-I-will-never-touch-again, or be so enchanted by it that you’d skip a meal or two just to see how the story plays out. I will explain why.
You play as Francis York Morgan, an FBI agent with an imaginary friend called Zach, who is given the responsibility of investigating the murder of a young blonde in a tiny fictitious Northwestern US town called Greenville. You start the game in a red room with a pair of child twins sitting in chairs that are too big for them and speaking in riddles. There is no clue as to what you have to do. It’s not a good first impression. I was stuck in there for 10 minutes before I finally figured it out. Once you are out of the room, you are thrown into a cutscene, which ends up in you being on the receiving end of a car accident. As you try to find your way out of the woods where your crashed car has ended up in, you start encountering zombies that walk while bending backwards, like those found in Japanese horror movies. This is also where you are introduced to the game’s fighting control scheme. Now for those who are used to playing games like Resident Evil, such a scheme is nothing new. You cannot move while you are shooting and the aiming is extremely wonky. At this point, some players would give up playing further – and I can understand; however if you persevere and finish the prologue, the game will transition into an open world map and this is when all the bizarre fun starts.
You get to meet a slew of interesting game characters from the serious, old-fashioned local sheriff who chafes under your command to a convenience store owner who thinks he’s a rockstar. Every character has their own share of the story’s background. You can get to know them even better by peeping through the windows of their homes and watching as their daily activities unfold, as well as completing the game’s 50 side missions. By the end of the game, you will have a more profound understanding of each character’s role in the game and relate to them on a more personal level. This, the development of each in-game character, is what I believe one of the game’s strongest points.
Unlike some story-driven games, most of the side missions in this game relate closely to the main event as it unfolds. They are like side plots in a movie; they let you see how the story affects different characters that you otherwise don’t see if you just rush through the main story. These missions are also varied and you never feel at any point that they are repetitive. They are not always available at any given time either. The availablity of certain missions are constrained by location, time of the day, main plot advancement, completion of pre-requisites and even the weather! For example, one mission requires you to go to the mission giver’s home after her work to help her with her cooking. This can only be done when it’s raining as she only cooks then. Now, you are not given most of these clues prior to the mission. The only way to even be aware of this is to observe her routines. Having said that, you can instantly view each character’s location from your map, and when a side mission becomes available, a notepad will appear above the head of the character’s avatar on the map, so use this to your advantage.
The game adds another layer of realism by introducing hunger and sleepiness on top of your health bar. In other words, you have to eat and sleep in the game. You’d die otherwise. Fortunately food items and beds are plentiful in this game. One way of obtaining food is through fishing. Yes, you can buy a fishing rod and lure, and just travel to one of the many fishing spots in town to catch anything from ammo to rare food items.
As with other games created by a Japanese company, certain characters sometimes exhibit subtle hints of Japanese mannerism. For example, Lilly Ingram, the co-owner of the Milk Barn, loves clasping her hands together and putting them on her tummy when serving you — a typical display of humility by Japanese sales clerks; Thomas McLaine, one of the sheriff’s deputies, would sometimes spontaneously start running around flailing his arms sideways, much like a typical Japanese girl would.
The music scores in this game are great, and are most of the time appropriate to the situation that you are currently in. There is, however, the occasional awkwardness during the transitioning between two different music moods. For example, as you carefully trudge your way down a sepulchral zombie-filled corridor, a dark and somber theme starts playing; but as soon as you find your way out, the music suddenly changes to a cheeky, lighthearted tune. The transition feels a tad too abrupt and just adds to the wackiness of the game.
What this game fails on is the quality of its graphics. For a game released in 2010, its graphics remind me of games made from 10 years ago. The artwork and most object models can look very pixelated as if the game’s graphic designers had never heard of anti-aliasing before.
There is nothing much I can say about the achievements in this game. There are only 12 in total, 8 of which are gained as you progress through the game, three game completion achievements with non-stackable difficulties and one collection achievement. The fact that you have to go through the game three time for the three completion achievements is extremely dry and boring. The collection achievement is slightly more interesting as you collect them through a variety of means, including completing side missions, not the type that requires you to just go to a certain place to fetch each card.