This is a review of Deadly Premonition: the Director’s Cut. This is going to be an unusual review. It’s not really a review. If you want to look at a numerical score, don’t bother scrolling down: it’s a five out of five; it’s a gold star. This is a game I love. The rest of this will be justifying that.
This article is going to have a few spoilers in it. Small ones, minor ones, more like little hints. This is because I’m not preaching to the converted. If you were going to play Deadly Premonition, you already played it on XBox 360.
Otherwise, there are some legitimate reasons to choose not to play it. Maybe horror’s not your thing at all. Maybe you don’t have the hardware, since there’s no PC version.
But maybe you haven’t played the game, but have heard things about how much it sucks. Or maybe you played the game for about an hour, and gave up before giving it much of a chance. If you fall into either of those categories, this article is for you. I’m going to try to convince you to give the game that chance. What you’ve heard about Deadly Premonition is probably wrong.
Most people will tell you that Deadly Premonition is bad. Its reputation is that it’s a game like a B-movie. It’s the game “so bad it’s good.” That was certainly how the game was presented to me my first time trying it, when a colleague bought the game based on the heavily polarized nature of its reviews.
I am a huge fan of things that are “so bad, they’re good.” I’m even a fan of Uwe Boll movies. I started playing Deadly Premonition under the expectation that it would be so bad, that it was good.
Deadly Premonition is not so bad it’s good.
It’s really, really good.
What it also is is unpolished, and that’s easy to mistake for “badness.” It makes a terrible first impression. Many early reviewers on the title may have based full reviews on that first impression. They couldn’t see the forest for that one tree model, repeated over and over again. This is understandable but is the wrong conclusion to draw from the game. This is a problem with the process by which most games are reviewed, and it is a problem with the expectations that we have about games. Deadly Premonition defies expectations. It’s a very different kind of game.
A contrast with Alan Wake, which Steerpike recently praised, is apropos here. I’m sure we’d both admit these are two very different games. But the similarities, especially regarding their underlying inspirations and other media they reference, are just close enough to make the comparison logical. I do find Deadly Premonition flawed but I still find it to be a superior game in every way that mattered. I think Alan Wake is very successful and workmanlike but Deadly Premonition is madly brilliant.
The team behind Alan Wake set out to make an open world horror game. Somewhere in development, it occurred to Remedy that they weren’t going to be able to make an open-world horror game and devote to it the level of polish they felt it deserved. They made the very sane, rational game development decision to scale back, to deliver a tight, polished linear game instead.
The team behind Deadly Premonition set out to make an open world horror game. Somewhere in development, it occurred to Access that they weren’t going to be able to make an open-world horror game and devote to it the level of polish they felt it deserved. SWERY and his team of geniuses then made the mad decision to never mind the polish.
As a game educator I would never give this advice. In writing, they always tell you to be willing to “kill your babies.” If something doesn’t feel cohesive or logical, just cut it out, trim the fat. SWERY would never give this advice. SWERY’s advice would be this: It’s your game, man. It’s your one chance. If it seems cool, just do it.
The result is the kind of game that David Lynch might make if he made games. Twin Peaks comparisons are more obvious in Deadly Premonition than even in Alan Wake, but to its credit, Deadly Premonition doesn’t stand on the street corner and scream “hey, check out what we’re ripping off here” quite the way Alan Wake does. Also to its credit, unlike most Lynch films, Deadly Premonition will actually make a sick kind of sense in the end.
Yeah, you’ve seen the clip, right? “FK in the coffee.” That’s ridiculous.
People, there’s an actual in-story reason there’s FK in the coffee.
In Deadly Premonition, you play as FBI Special Agent Francis York Morgan. He is a crazy man. Wait, let me try again.
In Deadly Premonition, you play as Zach, a voice inside the head of FBI Special Agent Francis York Morgan. Sometimes, as his helpful head-voice, you take direct control of his body. Sometimes he takes control, particularly in conversations with other NPCs, though he occasionally consults you, Zach, for advice. It’s an artistic and unique exploration of the real relationship between a player and that player’s avatar.
Wait, that’s not even what’s happening. You know, let me try it one more time…
Okay: what you need to understand is this. Francis York Morgan — Call me York, that’s what everyone calls me — is quite possibly the most unreliable video game narrator of all time. Unreliable narrators aren’t totally uncommon in horror games; Alan Wake does it, Silent Hill does it. But York is something special. The very game is lying to you, and it will lie to you constantly.
Have you noticed that some people do a double-take when York flashes his badge at them? Some people dismissed this as a weird quirk of the game’s acting, I think. Look again. What do you think that badge says? Does it say what York is saying it says?
Can York be trusted?
Lots of people in Deadly Premonition can’t be trusted. That’s not unique in games, either. The infamous swerve in Bioshock was discovering that the person giving us missions turned out to be our nemesis. System Shock 2 did it. inFamous did it, and basically for no reason. Sorry if I spoiled a bunch of old twists for you, but this twist generally tends to all be the same. What all these games have in common is that, even if you were suspicious of the person leading you around, you had no choice but to do what they said and stick to their schedule until the time of the inevitable reveal.
People in Deadly Premonition will tell you to do things. For maximum enjoyment — and, basically a requirement if you’d like to see all of the game — you should just blow off anyone you don’t care about, as much as you like and for as long as possible. Yes, you’ll have to listen to them eventually, but you’re on your schedule rather than theirs. The game will give you the impression that the story missions happen on a deadline. All it’s really telling you is you have a window of time during any given day to do that mission. If York is late to an appointment — any appointment — he can pick up that appointment tomorrow. Or in a week. There’s no rush. Go fishing.
The game clock in Deadly Premonition runs on a one-to-one basis with real time. You can advance it in a hurry by sleeping, or by smoking a cigarette. (The E3 trailer for Metal Gear Solid 5 seemed to depict a sneakily similar system. I’d say Deadly Premonition and MGS also have some of the same DNA.) Playing Deadly Premonition properly involves doing these things a lot, and exploring outside the boundaries you’re given. You can still enjoy the game even if you’re just bouncing from point A to point B, but you will miss a lot of it. Sidequests can be very rewarding. In particular, sidequests will give you access to the game’s strongest weapons, which will make the combat in the game a breeze.
You’ll probably want that because the combat otherwise sucks. The combat in the game is one place where Deadly Premonition lives up to its reputation. It’s bad, tacked-on combat, stuck on the game only because publishers were convinced a horror game without some action would never sell.
The Director’s Cut version isn’t that different from the original game. But one major change is the disappearance of difficulty levels. This is a good change. The presence of multiple difficulty levels in the original Deadly Premonition may have lead some people to believe that there was a point to having multiple difficulty levels. There was not: if you happen to own the original XBox version, play the game on Easy. The primary difference is how many shots enemies in the game absorb. They do not need to absorb any more shots than they already do on Easy mode. Play on easy and don’t feel ashamed. This will solve a lot of reviewers’ biggest problem with the original game.
Another thing that’s infamously bad in Deadly Premonition is the game map. The map is in fact really bad. It’s slightly altered in the Director’s Cut but it is not substantially better or more useful. The map is bad on purpose. A bad map forces you to navigate the town of Greenvale the way you would a real world town, instead of the way you would a video game town. You find yourself mumbling phrases like “okay, then take a right at January Way…” like you would if you were navigating in the real world, because you have no choice but to do that with the bad map. Eventually, if you drive around enough, you’ll just memorize the important landmarks in the town.
If that’s a problem, there’s a device that will essentially let you teleport around, if you can find it. That’s going to take some sidequesting, of course.
Early on in the story, George Woodman specifically says to York, “This case doesn’t really involve you, so don’t bother learning your way around the town.”
In most games you’d take whatever advice an NPC gave you, even if you knew that NPC ultimately wasn’t to be trusted. Right?
Man, screw George Woodman.
Learn the town. Learn everyone in it and talk to them as often as possible. Drive around town and listen to York ramble about old movies: that alone is worth the price of admission.
There’s a Director’s Cut change I do not like, in that the PS3’s disc system adds some noticeable lag to some cut-scenes. This gives the dialogue an occasionally stop-and-go quality that I’m not a fan of. The Director’s Cut has enhanced graphics, but that doesn’t necessarily push it up to the graphical quality of most games on the system (nor should it have to). There are also a few additional story sequences, but I don’t feel like they add a lot that the original was lacking. If you have the original version of the game, but haven’t finished it, don’t run out and buy The Director’s Cut. But The Director’s Cut is great if either A) you haven’t experienced the game before, or, B) like me, you’re in love with the game and just want more more more. In either case I’d recommend this version.
Like many games I have liked, this one was just weird enough that the standard review process doesn’t do it justice. It’s actually fascinating to me how much the standard opinion of this game has morphed. As I was wrapping up this review I took a look at some older ones, comparing the way the original was written about to the way reviewers discuss the Director’s Cut. Even if the Metacritic scores are roughly the same for both versions, even negative reviews are written in a way that shows respect for the remake. Low scoring reviews are no longer deriding the game for “sucking” but angry that The Director’s Cut version doesn’t live up to the original. That’s a heck of a sea change to me.
Deadly Premonition is not a game to be rushed through. Deadly Premonition is a game to be savored. The audio balance is really bad, the graphics are sub-par last-gen, the combat balance is awful, and the acting is just a little weird at times (the result of a Japanese director directing English Language audio). This won’t be the first time I say this about a game and this won’t be the last: it’s all worth it for the story.
Do you have a strong stomach and an appetite for insanity? These are requirements and I wouldn’t take the plunge without them. The game is weird, and it is gruesome. But if you qualify, play this crazy, crazy game at once. On Easy, or in the low-difficulty Director’s Cut version, whichever applies.
Developer: Access Games | Publishers: Ingition Entertainment, Rising Star Games | Released:Feb 2010 (Original) ,Apr 2013 (Director’s Cut)
Available on: XBox 360 (Original), Playstation 3 (Director’s Cut) | Time Played: 50 hours (across both versions)
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