It’s not as good as the first one…
There were a lot of horror fans enthusiastic that Deadly Premonition, a game that was a sleeper cult hit in 2010, was getting an unexpected sequel this year. I was one of the biggest cheerleaders for the first game, a slow-burn horror story that starts out weird and gets weirder. It has a unique combination of open world and horror mechanics, and one of the most memorable protagonists in all of modern gaming.
2020 is different from when the first game came out, in 2010. Not just because it’s a different year and we have different expectations from games. (Not just because the world is collapsing all around us! Woo!) It’s different because now I play my hotly anticipated games on Twitch, and you can watch me, in real time, get all enthusiastic and excited about this title, be totally roped in, and then start to gradually get frustrated and lose my faith.
I had high hopes for this title before playing it, because the reviews, much like the reviews for the first game, are very swingy. It has a lot of 2/10s, and a lot of 9/10s. I’ve played it for about 20 hours now. I worry the lower scores are more honest.
To me, a person who would absolutely 10/10 the original, the second one is…
Honestly. The most frustrating part about the second game is that sometimes, it really is just as brilliant as the first one. But it gets weighed down.
The game opens really strong, with a cutscene that takes place in the modern era, followed by some adventure game style mechanics as you explore the Boston home of Francis Zach Morgan. (This is kind of a spoiler for the first game, but, you know, it’s a sequel.)
After this sequence, the game travels back to the past, to explore an old murder case where we once again portray York, the protagonist from the original story. Before this ramps up, there’s an opening film featuring the new theme song, and it’s what you’d call a banger. The music in Deadly Premonition 2 is a mix of old tracks from the first game and new tracks for this one, and they’re all stupendous, catchy little tunes. The sound effect design is of course just as bad as the first game, but that doesn’t bother me…
Lots of small things in this game are bad. But it’s Deadly Premonition Bad, and not different from the first one, thus these things do not detract from my experience. Some examples:
- There’s still samey samey zombie-ghost enemies. Their designs are actually kind of imaginative and interesting, but their AI is dumb, and there’s not a large variety of them.
- Really bad sound effects.
- Trees and foliage are super low-rez and just the same model over and over again in a low-budget low-quality way.
- Frame rate, loading screens. Yeeaaahhhh these things suuuuck but like, whatever, it’s fine. It’s fine!
- Silly, meaningless, fiddly systems.
…Actually I was excited at first about the silly, meaningless, fiddly systems! Not only do you have to manage your hunger and sleep like in the first game, and make sure to shower and shave to avoid being a Stinky Agent, but this game has a separate meter for drunkenness, and, apparently, although I haven’t unlocked this yet somehow (?), one for tanning and sunburn. Hilarious!
Also, some things in this game are actually good, the way things in the first game were good:
- Quirky dialog
- Fun music
- Now York skateboards, instead of driving, which is very funny
- Riveting story…
…When the game gets around to it, anyway.
Some things in this game are improved from the first game in quality of life ways that I appreciate. For example: the map is better now. I stood by the bad map in the first game, but this game improves on it in every way, and this is not a bad thing. The town of Le Carré, where the game takes place, is much more gridded than the first game’s Greenvale. It’s a bit more compact, and it’s hard to get lost. Fast travel unlocks automatically in Deadly Premonition 2, rather than being hidden inside an easily missable sidequest. Finding your destination on the UI is much better. Because you’re on a skateboard most of the time instead of confined to a car, you aren’t limited to road travel, and can take shortcuts. Yeah, the skateboarding thing doesn’t really scream Serious FBI Agent, but it’s funny in that way that’s funny like the first game, and is good.
In most other ways, where the developers tried to improve and expand on the first game, it feels like they went too far with it. A really valid complaint you could have about the first Deadly Premonition, that isn’t related to superficial stuff like tree rendering, is that the pace isn’t very intuitive. The sidequests really are easy to miss on accident, and there are a few quests that you’ll get locked out of quite early if you don’t seek them out. The most effective way to engage with this is to deliberately blow off seemingly helpful story NPCs early on. These NPCs do their best to instill in you a sense of urgency and the importance of timing, but that is false. Something feels off about that, but the answer to that is that the game simply has its own rules that are counter-intuitive, and you have to learn them and try to embody York’s mindset in the world.
Deadly Premonition 2 solved that pacing issue with overcompensation. Not much of anything seems urgent after the first story location, and you are set loose in the open world. But then, major locations in the game aren’t unlocked, nor are systems you will need to do more advanced navigation… and that gap isn’t replaced with anything. This leaves you with nothing to do in the town. All I could really do to continue the game story was run out the clock with sleep and cigarettes… in one case, in Episode 2 of the game, I had to literally wait out five in-game days for the next part of the story to happen.
Running the clock wouldn’t be necessary if there were a lot of interesting sidequests. There really aren’t. The game has a crafting system that allows you to upgrade York’s abilities. His powers, such as they are, seem to be greatly expanded in this version, but in order to unlock these new skills I need a lot of fiddly collectibles like one might find in an MMO. I’m talking 6 Squirrel Tails, 5 Low Quality Plates, and so-on. There’s a job board that divvies out small quests like you might also find in an MMO, and these are mostly tedious and unimaginative. “Kill 3 dogs,” and that sort of thing. (Eat your heart out, The Last of Us 2. It’s dog murder all the way down.)
The game has a bit more of a format now than the first one: each chapter I’ve played so far has one Otherside level, where York goes into a dream state and fights monsters. A neat surprise here is that York’s gun in these sequences is now a skeletal tree-branch hand that shoots bolts of psychic light from his fingers. York takes this totally in stride when it happens, and makes a comment about David Cronenberg. That’s so cool! But then the Otherside levels are garbage…
Okay, but they’re garbage in the first game. Yeah. In the first game, though, when I was in the forest level, it was a forest. Later, when I went to a big mansion level, it had a different layout, arranged around a hub, in a way that made sense for the structure. Combat is choppy and stiff… but you can run past most of it.
Deadly Premonition 2 has abandoned this for more of a Devil-May-Cry–style murderbox setup. A red wall of thorns frequently appears, and York has to kill everything that spawns in an area to proceed. The first game did this sparingly; this seems to be the second game’s primary trick. Devil May Cry murder boxes are fun because the combat itself is fun. The combat in Deadly Premonition 2 is bad, and… they know it’s bad, right? If the later gun upgrades improve it a lot, they’re so fiddly to unlock that I may never get them. On top of this, the level design is not evocative at all. The first level I go into is kind of a weird barn shack, and the interior feels like a dirt-floor barn shack. That’s okay. The second level I go into is a nice mansion, and the interior feels like… a dirt-floor barn shack. It’s the same level as the first, just way longer. It lacks the imagination and one-off interstitial puzzle solving that won me over in the previous game.
Each level I’ve played so far is by a boss fight that, while not terribly exciting mechanically, is visually arresting. Frustrating, because, again, this is where the game starts to be imaginative and brilliant for a brief glimmer. It is not that I demand consistent execution and polish from this game. It’s more that it’s clear the game is capable of some great moments, so it’s sad that it wastes so much of its runtime on tedious, repetitive padding.
Someone on “How Long to Beat” said this game takes about 20 hours to finish. I have no idea how they got that number. That’s complete bullshit. I’m at about the halfway mark of this, if that. The first game was similarly long, unless you purposely skipped all side content. But in the first game, side content contains a lot of the meat of the story. In this game, side content mostly contains long-winded fetch quests.
The main story route in DP2 also required a long-winded fetch quest. When it was over, York said, “Wow, that was a long boring fetch quest!”
AUGH! That’s some Retro City Rampage shit! Game developers! Having a character say a quest was a bad fetch quest doesn’t somehow make it a good fetch quest! Final Fantasy XIV literally gave me an achievement for doing a quest line like this and called it “Lady of the Fetch.” That didn’t make it good! Augh! Shtaaaaaap iiiiit!!
Deadly Premonition 2 has another problem you may have heard about: a spotty attempt at portraying diversity. Again, I had my hopes up at first. In the opening scenes, Zach is shown smoking a joint. This felt very grown-up. Before this, I’ve never seen cannabis mentioned in a game before so bluntly (pun, intended). Later, in the open world story, we meet Melvin, a black police officer in the town. I liked him immediately. He talks about how being black in the South, in a city mostly run by a rich white patriarchal family, has caused him some problems, and this felt pretty realistic and human. There are a lot of black characters in the game, and some of them are weirdos, but people in the game in general are weirdos, and a lot of the white people come out much worse. There’s some uncomfortable stuff with a voodoo priest that definitely feels awkward.
Then the game adds a transgender woman, and this is just not done well. I actually liked the design of the character a great deal when she was first introduced, and I wanted to hope. But I knew going in that there had been a lot of complaints from early reviewers here. The problem with the trans character is not merely that a few lines of dialog regarding her are insensitive. (As of yesterday, some of this was adjusted in a recent content patch, and I can forgive characters in a story, especially one set fifteen years ago, for making errors here.) The problem is more that her role in the story sequence is used in an uncomfortable, exploitive, grindhousey kind of way. There’s room for stories like that, but it feels outdated and cruel to see it in this game at this time by this developer, who has done better. A sensitivity reader brought in early enough wouldn’t so much have to correct a few stray pronouns, as take a big red marker and write “maybe just don’t” over a huge section of the plot. It’s a bigger issue than can be fixed with a patch.
York has a new sidekick in this game. Her name is Patti, and she’s a sassy southern kid. She’s delightful. In the first game, York sometimes goes on weird long rants about movies. In this game, half the time he starts to do this, Patti calls him a huge nerd. Patty likes watching CSI, and doesn’t understand this 80s-film stuff that York is on about.
Yet here, there is also a small thing that bugs me. In the first game, there’s a totally optional cutscene where York, in all his social awkwardness, casually discusses a serial killer over dinner at the diner, putting everyone else off their food. It’s possibly one of my favorite cutscenes ever, in all of gaming. Swery, who did all the writing here, must have heard this feedback a lot, because York casually discusses gruesome serial killer cases, like… all the time, now, in DP2. They Flanderized it.
Deadly Premonition was a game I started not wanting to like, but over 10 hours, warmed up on. Deadly Premonition 2… had me and lost me. This is such a long “impressions” article that it could pass for a full review. I just want to make it clear that I haven’t finished it yet, even if I’ve probably gotten as far into it as most people who wrote full reviews. Somewhere inside this game is a solid, well-written horror game with some weird open world stuff. It’s maybe half the runtime of the game I’m playing now. I want to play that game, maybe even finish it, but the one I’m playing now isn’t quite what I’d hoped.
Email the author of this post at aj@Tap-Repeatedly.com.
Screenshots here are my own.
I almost just posted the loading screen over and over, which would give you a pretty strong impression of the game.