Quick -- if you had $20 to spend on something gaming related right now, what's your best purchase? If you answered Deadly Premonition for the Xbox 360, you'd be absolutely right. Unless you're obsessive about having next gen graphics or can't deal with a few minor quirks, Deadly Premonition is an outstanding game that for most of us, came completely out of nowhere.
I Didn't See This Coming
What is Deadly Premonition? I didn't even know myself until a few weeks ago when I was going over a list of upcoming game releases. I saw this game that promised over twenty hours of gameplay, with a persistent world and dozens of side quests. The screenshots made it look a bit dated, but, not being someone who gets hung up on graphics (I'm really into retro gaming), suffice it say I was intrigued. I was even more compelled when I saw the price point -- $20. It just seemed like way too good of a game to be priced at $20.
The game starts off just a little slow and you might even get discouraged by graphics. Visually, at least when you're not in a dark environment, this game really does look like something from last gen. But hey, gameplay and fun factor are paramount to presentation quality, always. The opening cutscene sets the stage -- two young twin boys and their grandfather are walking along in a forest in the remote town of Greenvale. They stumble upon a gruesome scene which has a woman bound, naked, to a tree with thorns. The murder catches the attention of the FBI for reasons you don't initially know, and won't know for some time, for that matter. Enter Special Agent Francis York Morgan, aka York, who you get to control. York is a very interesting character. At first glance, he seems like any typical FBI agent -- young male, suit and tie, all business -- but you very quickly get to know that his character is far more interesting and complex than that.
And that's one of the many things I came to love about Deadly Premonition. The story and its characters are really well done. There are over 30 NPCs to encounter and a very large open world to explore. The characters are interesting and their interactions are intriguing, and often complimented with some humor. Which is just another surprising aspect to Deadly Premonition -- the way it humors itself, almost making fun of itself. What I found odd about that is that the game has created a believable and dark atmosphere, but instead of going with that full force, like Condemned or Silent Hill, it takes a step back and keeps a sense of humor. It's not a constant sense of humor, but its a persistent one, if you get my meaning. In other words, much of the game -- especially the combat and the profiling scenes -- are serious, as you would expect. But, in between, during conversations with NPCs for example, or when you're just in the car by yourself, there's some very smirk-worthy material. Be it the goofy smile of York or the dialogue. How can dialogue be humorous or even existent when you're by yourself? Well, that's just one of York's interesting traits; one that I will avoid spoiling for you.
So what's the pace of this game like anyway? Well, generally speaking, this is a third person survival horror adventure game, but with twists. The biggest draw to the game is its story and characters, but there is a lot of survival horror style combat and even some quick time events. Much of the game though is about exploring areas and finding clues. You'll solve a few basic puzzles, but generally your goal is to figure out who the murderer in this town is. You'll do this by talking to NPCs and investigating a variety of locations around the town. There's actually a lot of driving too, and you must keep an eye on the time of day as well. Certain game events can only occur at certain times of day, so if you're early they won't happen yet and if you're late, well -- I actually haven't been late yet, so it's generally not a problem unless you go wandering about for too long. Fortunately, you're never pixel hunting or wandering around aimlessly. You'll always have a good idea or know exactly where to go thanks to visual cues that are helpful without being overbearing.
These 'peaceful' areas of gameplay are balanced very well with action sequences that have York battling off these zombie-like creatures with golf clubs, pipes, bars, knives, and guns. You'll always have your trust 9mm sidearm with infinite ammo, but you'll eventually find weapons like shotguns and semi-auto carbines.
Players can choose between the difficulty settings at the outset of the game, choosing to either have a harder time with combat or just playing for the story. I actually took the game's offer to play on Easy when it described it as the mode to play if you were more interested in the story than actual combat. Normally, like most gamers, I always play on Normal or even above Normal, but I'm really happy I chose Easy for Deadly Premonition. Not necessarily because it would have been too hard on Normal or Hard, but because I didn't want to get stumbled up in the combat sequences.
Combat is generally well done. Using an over the shoulder aiming system for guns, York can either lock on for body shots or you can freely control his aim with the left analog stick to go for head shots, which kill enemies faster and yield more reward. Most enemies will come at you with their hands or a melee weapon, some will have ranged weapons, and then there's the murderer himself who you will have to contend with every so often -- and he's pretty damn scary. The weapons all have a rating for their length, strength, and durability, and your melee weapons will wear down pretty quickly. Weapons and items can be stored either on your person or sent to your Toolbox.
The Toolbox and Suitcase are two important gameplay elements in Deadly Premonition. The Toolbox is a box that is often found next to save spots. Save spots are telephones, and you can only maintain one save game for your game. Toolboxes can hold several weapons, ammo, and many items. Items include food, cigarettes, coffee, medkits -- that kind of stuff. York not only has a health meter you have to tend to, but you also need to keep an eye on your hunger and fatigue meters. There are lots of places around the game world that you can sleep, be it for three, six, nine, or twelve hours, but you'll wake up hungry if you do. Come to think of it though, I've yet to let my fatigue or hunger get too low, so I'm actually not sure what happens if that happens. The Suitcase, on the other hand, is where you can find alternate clothing for York to put on. This is primarily to entertain the player by offering them different clothes to wear.
Deadly Premonition also includes a money system and collectibles. You'll earn money for headshots and by finding these rotating commendation metals in the game world. I thought they seemed out of place, but, in a way it fits the off beat nature of the game in some respects. Money is used in a variety of ways like buying items, fueling up your car, evening bribing suspects. Heck, to save your game (which requires a phone call), it costs a $1, which is amusing. Collectibles include trading cards, each of which has to do with someone or something in Greenvale. And, in addition to the main campaign, there are fifty or so side missions. These range from simple locate and retrieve quests to paying Jack "the Raging Bull" a $1000 for some information.
Access Games just got so much right with Deadly Premonition it's honestly hard to find a hell of a lot to bicker about. If you look past the graphics, and you should, you're in for a tremendous treat here. It's the kind of game that gets you hooked fast, and keeps you playing for hours on end. I love its pacing and the freedom you're given, but at the same time you're never lost or unsure of where to go next. York is the most interesting character I've experienced in a game in some time, and I kept playing and playing to find out more about him and the NPCs. That's definitely the sign of a good game, and that's exactly what you have with Deadly Premonition -- a very good game.