Bennu Reflects on "Deadly Premonition: The Director's Cut"
Throughout the month of July, I've been immersed in Japanese game director SWERY's polarising experience; a game initially published in 2010 and then re-released in 2013 as Deadly Premonition: The Director's Cut. Developed by SWERY's studio at the time, Access Games, Deadly Premonition was initially met with a myriad of wildly contrasting opinions from critics and consumers alike. In fact, as far as I'm aware, it still holds the Guinness World Record for 'most critically polarising survival horror game'.
Despite its highly mixed reception, Deadly Premonition is a game that I'm quite familiar with. Having played it in the past, I decided to give it a fresh look through my critique lens. For the most part, I'm glad I did as I was able to see the game in a new light. However, it also forced me into acknowledging some prominent issues that seriously plague the experience.
So, without further ado, let's reflect on Deadly Premonition: The Director's Cut edition.
Deadly Premonition is set in approximately 2006 in the fictional rural town of Greenvale. Francis York Morgan, an FBI agent, is sent to Greenvale to investigate the local murder of a teenage woman named Anna Graham. Upon arriving in town, York meets with the local Sheriff's department and assists them in their investigation.
The game is divided into a total of twenty-six chapters across seven episodes; with episode two further divided into two parts. Additionally, the game also has a prologue episode at the start of the game that follows York's journey to Greenvale and his subsequent arrival. As a whole, the game takes place in 2006; although there are some brief story segments that take place fifty years earlier in 1956.
The only notable differences between the original Deadly Premonition and the Director's Cut edition seem to be a slight improvement on audio and visual issues, along with a redesigned user interface that fits with the more horror aesthetic of the game. Though, to be fair, the Director's Cut edition still suffers from some bad audio issues and even the occasional visual stutter as the game momentarily freezes while exploring areas or watching story demos.
Deadly Premonition introduces a fairly large and diverse cast of characters throughout the town of Greenvale. However, due to the sheer number of characters, I've decided to instead focus on the core cast who are given the most character development throughout the main story. Although certain side story characters such as 'Roaming' Sigourney and Brian the Insomniac would be fun to write about, they're unfortunately utilised more as one-off characters with minimal development and don't contribute a major amount to the central plot.
Francis York Morgan
Francis York Morgan is the highly eccentric and methodical FBI agent who comes to Greenvale to investigate the murder of Anna Graham. York quickly asserts himself as both the leader and comic relief of the investigation as his 'methods' often come across as abrasive and anti-social. Despite this, York's relationship with the rest of the main cast is generally positive; particularly his growing bond with Deputy Sheriff Emily Wyatt.
York is a very competent and professional FBI agent and, over time, we begin to learn more about his tragic past and his friendship with the mysterious entity known as Zach. I can't really reveal any more without venturing into spoiler territory; but let's just say that Francis Morgan is a complicated man and leave it at that.
Emily Wyatt is the Deputy Sheriff of Greenvale and works closely with Sheriff George Woodman and his assistant Thomas MacLaine. Over the course of the game, she develops a strong bond with York as they work together to solve Anna's murder case. Outside of the main story, however, she has her own series of side-quests that involve York gathering cooking ingredients for several meals that she plans on making at home. These side-quests help to flesh out her character a little more and also provide some fun dialogue between both York and Emily as York struggles to compliment Emily on her atrocious cooking.
Despite this, however, Emily is perhaps the most level-minded and balanced character throughout the game. She has a strong sense of justice and is determined to catch the criminal responsible for Anna's death. Out of the rest of the main cast, she's definitely the most 'set' in her ways and doesn't deviate from her own moral compass. She's a strong, confident woman and excellent Deputy Sheriff who always goes out of her way to make sure the people of Greenvale are safe and sound.
George Woodman is the middle-aged Sheriff of Greenvale and originally the man in charge of the Anna Graham investigation before York's arrival. George is very much depicted as a 'by the book' Sheriff - he follows the word of the law to the letter and constantly conflicts with York's eccentric way of investigating. Despite this, he seems to have a passion for justice and also has a caring nature as he takes care of his ailing mother at his home.
Over the course of the game, it's revealed that George has a complicated history with his mother. As a boy, he was constantly abused by his mother who whipped him with tree branches and even stood on his face with a stiletto heel, piercing his left cheek and leaving a horrible scar. Despite their differences, George and York begin to develop a mutual professional respect for each other later into the story as they deal with more challenging situations out of their control. Without giving anything away, George is a very flawed character holding onto some serious mental scars. On the one hand, I feel sorry for him; but on the other hand, I feel his story arc concludes in a somewhat fitting fashion.
Thomas MacLaine is Sheriff Woodman's personal assistant at the Greenvale Sheriff's Department. Tasked with cooking the lunch meals at the station along with organising files and helping with paperwork, Thomas is very much the supporting character throughout the investigation. He comes across as mild-mannered and meek for most of the story and seems to get along with pretty much everybody he meets. Thomas also helps out his sister Carol at her bar, the Galaxy of Terror, most nights as a bartender and cook.
Despite his seemingly innocuous behaviour and appearance, Thomas is holding onto some serious pent-up aggression and pain. His close bond with George Woodman and his sister Carol seem to keep him in check but it becomes evident later in the story that he has some potential mental health issues that he needs to sort out. Without saying much more, Thomas is a complex and tragic character who has a fairly interesting story arc for much of the game. He cares very deeply for a select few people in his life and will do anything to help them, even to a fault.
Carol MacLaine is Thomas' sister and the owner of the Galaxy of Terror bar. Although she's introduced a bit later into the story, Carol plays a central role in the events of the main story and constantly comes across as brash and evasive to York. It seems evident early on that she's hiding something; although what it could be remains a mystery for most of the story. She's a confident, spunky young woman and financially independent from her brother.
Anna Graham is the murder victim and catalyst that kicks off the game's narrative. A fresh-faced eighteen year old, Anna had dreams of moving to the city with her best friend Becky before her tragic demise. Having lived at home with her mother Sallie, Anna is revealed to have been involved in some typical teenage rebellion prior to her death. Despite this, she does seem to come across as a good-natured woman who was perhaps a bit naive in hindsight. In fact, the local twins Isaach and Isaiah Ingram refer to Anna as a 'goddess of the forest'.
Becky Ames is Anna's best friend and works at the local grocery store, the Milk Barn, part-time prior to Anna's death. Upon York's arrival in town, Becky becomes a practical recluse and doesn't leave her home for the entirety of her story arc. Despite her shut-in lifestyle over the course of the game, Becky is a key character as she helps move the story along during some of the early-to-mid chapters and takes part in some side-quests as well. It's fairly evident that Becky is suffering after the death of her best friend; although what her true motivations are remain a mystery until deep into the story.
Diane Ames is Becky's older sister and the owner of the Muses Gallery in Greenvale. Unlike her sister Becky, Diane is a very confident and social woman who seems to have a bit of a free spirit when it comes to her interactions with men. It's revealed through the story that she has a friends-with-benefits arrangement with sapling salesman Forrest Kaysen and a platonic friendship with local diner cook Nick Cormack. I'm not sure if her and Becky get along as there's no direct interaction or mention between the two; but it is understood that Diane is considerably older than her teenage sister.
Forrest Kaysen is a jolly and rotund sapling salesman who frequently makes trips to Greenvale prior to the start of the investigation. Although he wasn't in town during the time of Anna's murder, York quickly takes a disliking to him upon their first meeting. Believing him to be the 'F.K.' that his coffee warned him about, York initially keeps Kaysen at arm's length before being forced into trusting him as the case takes a number of dramatic and unexpected turns.
Despite his jolly nature, Forrest Kaysen does appear to have a more mysterious side to him as he always seems to be in the right place at the right time. His presence in the story becomes more important much later into the game and his story arc plays a significant role throughout the story as a whole.
The Raincoat Killer
The Raincoat Killer is a mysterious entity that wears a red raincoat and carries a large woodsman's axe. Throughout the game's Otherworld sequences, York is periodically stalked by the Raincoat Killer who attempts to kill him repeatedly. Despite this, however, York always manages to find a way out of the impending situation which puts both of them at odds for most of the game. The Raincoat Killer is only met in the Otherworld segments for the most part; but there's certainly more to the entity than meets the eye. The true identity of the Raincoat Killer remains unknown for most of the game and makes up a fair chunk of the narrative's mystery elements.
As mentioned earlier, Deadly Premonition is believed to be set in the year 2006. It's never expressly stated what year the game takes place in but there is a segment of the game set 'fifty years earlier' which is clearly revealed to be set in 1956. So, I can only go based on that assumption.
Deadly Premonition focuses primarily on the Anna Graham murder investigation, with Francis York Morgan soon assuming command of the case upon discovering its link to a series of cases he's been tracking across the country. What initially starts as a singular murder investigation gradually begins to spiral out of control as all hell breaks loose in Greenvale; with deep secrets and sinister motives boiling to the surface. I'm aware of how vague this all sounds but the story of Deadly Premonition is easily its greatest asset. It's not a perfect story, mind you; it's certainly filled with some odd narrative choices and, in typical Japanese game fashion, quickly escalates from somewhat realistic to cuckoo bananas territory.
With that being said, however, I did greatly enjoy the story as a whole. The murder investigation felt somewhat natural for the most part as the procedure and chain of events in the early game felt reasonable and methodical. The Otherworld segments introduce an element of horror into the narrative and help change up the pace of the investigation. I'm not a big fan of horror but the horror in Deadly Premonition is a bit more relaxed and generic. In fact, the developers even use some stock horror sound effects that show the game's budgetary limitations while also lessening the feeling of terror in some scenes. For the most part, I was grateful for that; although true hardcore horror fans may find this greatly disappointing.
Unfortunately, Deadly Premonition suffers from frequent audio issues that either make the background music stutter or cause the character's voices to sound either too loud or too soft. The game also has some occasional visual issues where the screen will momentarily freeze for about half a second from time to time that really grates with both exploration, combat and the game's story demos. Particularly when major important story events are happening on screen.
While these audio and visual issues do hamper the experience quite a bit, I thankfully never experienced a game crash during my forty-hour play-through of the game. So, I have to give Access Games credit where credit is due. There are a number of flaws here but the game's strong narrative and solid presentation shines through.
Role-Playing Elements & Daily Life
In regards to the game-play, Deadly Premonition is a bit of a mixed bag. The town of Greenvale does feel like a true rural American town with its named non-player characters actually having individual daily routines. There's a day and night cycle with a varying weather system in place as well. Throughout the story, York has the opportunity to meet just about every named character in the game at some point or another; and this can be further expanded upon by doing these character's subsequent side-quests. Some characters have more side-quests than others, ranging from simple item retrieval to escort driving missions and even a couple of combat-related 'dungeons' of sorts.
Additionally, Deadly Premonition implements some role-playing elements into the game through the use and continual management of York's hunger and sleep bars. York will periodically get hungry and failure to feed him will see his health bar eventually drain if he's starving. Meanwhile, York's sleep gauge will see his combat ability begin to falter if he's exhausted. Thankfully, both of these bars can be remedied by occasionally consuming some purchasable food and drink from the Milk Barn or at a local bar or restaurant. York's vehicle also needs occasional maintenance with its own petrol and repair bars. Petrol can be purchased from the Heaven & Hell Petrol Station in the middle of town along with any repairs that need doing. Thankfully, the repair gauge can be managed a lot easier since driving carefully will usually minimise the risk of damage to the vehicle York is driving.
Side Activities & Collectibles
Deadly Premonition also has a couple of side-activities for York to partake in during his stay in Greenvale. Purchasing a rod and bait from the Great Deer Yard Hotel or the Milk Barn will allow York to do some fishing in one of several spots across Greenvale's rivers and lakes. Completionists will need to learn how to master the art of fishing as there are several collectible trading cards hidden in fishing spots around Greenvale. Additionally, the select few races around Greenvale also reward players with a trading card for completing them within the allotted time.
In regards to the trading cards, they act as the main 'collectible' of the game, with a total of sixty-four of them available for collection throughout the game. However, upon completing the game, players can access the Special menu and complete a series of specific tasks to unlock a special sixty-fifth card featuring the director of the game, SWERY. It's a nice little Easter egg that I feel was worth mentioning for the true completionists out there. Showing the trading card collection to Wesley at the Panda Bear gun store also allows players to receive new suits and weapons as a reward.
Controls & Quick-Time Events
Although Deadly Premonition has some solid role-playing elements, the controls can be a little janky at times. Driving vehicles is initially a bit finicky as the vehicles feel way too stiff; although this can be reduced significantly later on when the option to upgrade the police cars or purchase new vehicles from Lysander's Junkyard come into play. It's still something worth noting, however.
The game's quick-time events and shooting mechanics are also a bit finicky in some aspects. There's a particular spot early on in the game where the player has to input a sequence of quick-time button prompts in succession when facing the Raincoat Killer. This particular spot, in the Moyer's Lumber mill, occasionally needs almost superhuman reflexes in order to get the timing right for one or two of the quick-time events. Failure to press even one of these prompts can result in York getting killed in the process. While it's more of a nitpick than anything else, I do feel it's something worth noting for the average gamer.
Shooting & Melee Combat
The shooting mechanics, thankfully, aren't quite as bad as the quick-time events. The game is fairly lenient on players by allowing them to automatically lock on to enemies using the appropriate button prompt (R2 on the PlayStation 3) with aiming and firing allocated to the left and right trigger buttons respectively (L1 and R1 on the PlayStation 3). Some parts of the game, however, leave a lot to be desired in regards to the shooting. Certain boss characters, introduced much later into the game, require specific aiming to complete their respective fights which can be frustrating as manually aiming can be a bit difficult to do with how fast York's aim moves when adjusting the respective button. Not to mention that some bosses regenerate health if you take too long. That being said, it's still workable and nowhere near as bad as some of the quick-time events.
On the plus side, the melee combat mechanics are actually pretty good. So long as players pick a weapon that has a relatively fast movement and handling speed, it's fairly easy to fight through groups of undead. In the early game, I found myself relying on the unbreakable Wrench I got from completing Quint's side-quest until I started gaining access to the unlimited ammunition weapons further on into the game. Deadly Premonition rewards players who go the extra mile and complete side-quests with certain characters by allowing them to obtain unique weapons and items. It's a nice way of enticing people to take a break from the investigation and learn more about the people that make up Greenvale.
In regards to the music, Deadly Premonition has a pretty solid soundtrack. While I enjoyed a fair few of the songs on the OST, my favourites include The Woods and the Goddess and After the Rain. Some people may have been hoping I'd put Life is Beautiful on here (aka the Whistle theme) but the song is used far too much in the early parts of the game and quickly wears out its welcome. So, sorry if you came here looking for my thoughts on it.
The Woods and the Goddess acts as the main menu theme of Deadly Premonition. It's a great song that captures the rural countryside feel of the game along with an element of ethereal bliss and mystery with the male vocals on the song. It's both relaxing and a little haunting in some aspects; a perfect reflection of the game's narrative and tone. I do feel that this song should deserve more praise than Life is Beautiful as it manages to summarize the feel of Deadly Premonition without sacrificing any important plot details.
In typical fashion, the next song I selected is After the Rain. Those of you who know me know that I love quiet, introspective pieces and this song captures that perfectly. Normally played during sad scenes in the game, After the Rain is the perfect song to listen to if one is having a bad night or even if it is raining outside and something is weighing heavily on one's mind. It's a gentle, soothing and contemplative piano piece that deserves some praise.
Overall, my recent revisit of Deadly Premonition: The Director's Cut was a mostly good experience. Despite the frequent audio and occasional visual issues, the game manages to do a good job at drawing in players with its rural America vibe and feel. The town of Greenvale feels alive for the most part with non-player characters acting on an individualised schedule with a day and night cycle and a semi-dynamic weather system.
The myriad of main and supporting characters in Deadly Premonition all feel unique and identifiable with their own personalities and quirks. While some of the Otherworld's undead designs are a bit generic, I did enjoy most of the designs of the people and places of Greenvale. The Raincoat Killer is an intimidating and appealing antagonistic force throughout the game and I felt that there were enough clues to make the reveal somewhat satisfying.
I'm honestly torn about what to score the game. On the one hand, it's a genuinely beautiful and memorable experience which is a bit of a rarity in games these days. On the other hand, I just can't let go of the audio and visual issues that plague this game. It really frustrates me that the development team couldn't have had a few more months to polish up the game. If they had, it might have been just enough to push the game into a more mainstream appeal. That being said, the game's status as a cult classic is somewhat fitting.
Farewell, Greenvale. It's been one heck of a journey.
Rating: 7 / 10
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