I’ve just completed the PS3 version of Deadly Premonition. It’s as uniquely addictive as everybody says.
It’s a game I’ve followed ever since this trailer was released. Originally, it was called Rainy Woods, was due for release for PS2/Xbox and was swiftly thrown into the doldrums because of the obvious rips from Twin Peaks. I mean, watch the trailer: midgets, a red room, a sheriff who looks like Michael Ontkean with a dye-job… the thing was hardly subtle. I suppose that’s why the game was almost cancelled four times.
The game finally dragged itself onto the X360 with its current title, and later to the PS3. The set-up is basic: you’re an FBI agent (Mr Francis York Morgan, but call him York, everyone does) who visits a town called Greenvale (presumably in the Pacific Northwest) in order to solve a murder. It’s the sort of game people love or loathe – but as someone who has a big thing for Twin Peaks, I’m in the former camp. It’s amazing, sort of like technological Twin Peaks fanfic, written by a Japanese teenager. Destructoid’s review of the game probably covers most of why I like it, and you should read it even if you’re not a gamer.
Everything in the game shows it was developed for older tech. It looks terrible. Even the remastered version has lots of object pop-in, weird character hair-helmets. The physics in the game is atrocious: objects flutter spasmodically (including hair, on some of the female models), and cars handle like boats. There’s no curves in the game – not natural ones, anyway. Coffee mugs are octagonal. Foley sounds are woeful (there’s two footstep sounds, pretty much, no matter where you walk), the music is lifted from the Badalamenti/Cruise playbook, and is woefully inappropriate. (Check out the jaunty acoustic-and-whistling air that’ll play while you’re at a murder scene.)
And the character models! Oh sweet Jesus, the character models. The behaviour of each character’s body during emotional displays read as if the figures were directed by someone staging a kabuki performance in front of 40,000 people. EVERYTHING IS BIG. AND TERRIBLE.
There’s fingers pointed in the air to educate a listener, dismissive air-backhands with a “pshaw”, and the most cringe-inducing embarrassment gesture I’ve ever seen. Everything is cap-A ACTING, in the best Brian Blessed manner.
The immersion in the game’s Lynchean world is what makes the player forget they’re playing some of the most fundamentally broken software ever made, as well as forgiving the tedious shoot-dem-zombies levels which go on a bit long. There is a story to the game, and you do have to follow it to progress – but there’s also a lot of stuff that you’ll miss if you don’t poke around a bit. Like games such as Shenmue or those in the Yakuza series, there’s a whole world going on outside. Stuff to take care of, like eating and shaving. And a whole bunch of characters to explore, like the flirty octogenarian hotel keeper, or the obese plant guy, or…
Want to forget the case and go fishing for old boots, fish and ammo? You can. Want to play darts all day? Sure. Find bones? OK. Look for medals? Why not? Go sightseeing? You can, and I recommend the view from the look-out near the waterfall. You’re not really forced to do anything, except by the fact side missions are indicated by a the completion of a series of trading cards stored in an album. I spent 40-odd hours on the game over the past month or so, and I’m still far from complete. I mean, this is after I’d driven around the Greenvale version of the Log Lady (here, she carries a pot which mustn’t be allowed to go cold), and killed a bunch of zombies for the local cross between Brian Setzer and Bill and Ted.
Everything in this game is borrowed – from Twin Peaks (the setting and vibe), from Silent Hill (the ‘alternate world’ portion), from games like Yakuza or Shenmue (the open-world, timed-event aspect), b-grade cop movies (the invisible dude York is always talking to), from Angelo Badalementi himself… but it works. This thing is properly broken but that’s its most endearing quality. I shudder to think how this would’ve played on a PS2 – there’s enough going on in the gameworld here to chug down a PS3, and surely that can’t all just be down to shitty coding?
Regardless of its problems, it hooked me from the outset. I wanted to complete all the extra missions, something I normally tire of in something like Assassin’s Creed. You want to hang out in Greenvale because it’s so much like Twin Peaks, even if there’s only about eight stores you can actually visit. The final product lacks finesse, but its devotion to its odd, derivative vision is a credit to the developers – you can see where they’ve reached beyond their team’s technical abilities, and you can see why it’s a bad game, but it’s so strange (particularly in the ending, which is deeply, cruelly dark and stupidly amusing by turns) that you’re dragged along to the end by its enthusiasm. Fans online have embraced it, too – check out this comparison of the game’s music with Badalamenti’s iconic TP score. (Or, if you don’t mind spoilers, this comparison of the game and the Lynch series.)
If you’re even remotely into Twin Peaks or gaming, you owe yourself a turn with this game. It is stupidly fun, much more so than you would ever expect. The developers were right when they released it at a low price – it’s cheap enough for a gamble. It’s on PC now, so there’s no excuses. It’s a cult gaming classic, so spend the cash and visit the world.