Monday, 22 November 2010

Deadly Premonition - 360

There's a good chance most gamers haven't heard of Deadly Premonition. It was quietly and unassumingly released a few weeks ago, slipping under the radar as 360 owners busied themselves with Fable III.

Now, following the release of Kinect and Call of Duty: Black Ops, there's every chance this bizarre and quite brilliant game could disappear beneath the waves without so much as a ripple.

But miss out on Deadly Premonition, and you'll be denying yourself the chance to experience one of this year's most refreshing and engaging titles.

Taking elements from games such as Silent Hill, Resident Evil and Shenmue, creator Swery 65 has also added a Twin Peaks-style backdrop and laced the experience with cheesy dialogue, incidental humour and a smorgasbord of interesting characters.

While the influences are clear for all to see, it's safe to say there is nothing quite like Deadly Premonition.

Protagonist Agent Francis York Morgan - just call him York, everyone else does - heads out to the rural town of Greenvale to investigate the brutal murder of a young diner waitress. But what awaits him is anything but your average homicide case.

The game begins with an uninspiring section which could have been lifted from any number of survival horror games. York sneaks about a rain-soaked maze, flicking switches on electricity generators and shooting backwards-bending, shuffling zombies.

But once dawn breaks and the town of Greenvale comes into view, things take a dramatic and completely unexpected turn.

Rather than a mere run-of-the-mill fright fest, Deadly Premonition blossoms into a delicious and overblown parody complete with hammy dialogue, pop culture references and a wonderful, off-beat sense of humour.

Star of the show is York, who is far from being a straight-laced FBI goon. He has an obsession with 80s movies and the murder of young females, has a split personality called Zach and takes daily advice from cups of coffee.

But to appreciate Deadly Premonition, you'll have to dig through the game's archaic array of gamplay issues. Chief among these are the game's driving sections and crude visuals.

Cars corner like buses, while trying to stay on the road is no easy task due to the slippery handling. The graphics are a mixed bag, too, with muddy textures and ropey backgrounds hard to ignore. At times it looks like a 10-year-old PlayStation 2 era game, but there are some lovely touches and places of beauty in and around Greenvale - the fishing spot near Velvet Falls is lovely, while some building interiors are well detailed.

However, despite these shortcomings, Deadly Premonition retains a charm which is absent from most big-budget titles. For a start, it's without doubt the most amusing game I've ever played - and it has nothing to do with the "so bad, it's good" mantra.

The game revels in its obscurity and takes great delight at not taking itself too seriously, with the title's music being a case in point.

Even when addressing a serious plot point or somber set piece, Deadly Premonition injects light-hearted jazz or an infuriatingly catchy whistling tune to drown out the dialogue. It never fails to raise a smile and simply adds another layer of weirdness to this fascinating game.

When York isn't zooming around town in madcap checkpoint races, picking up collectable trading cards, playing darts, drinking cocktails, chain smoking, peeking through windows and raiding mailboxes for ammo, the game meanders into dark and depressing dungeon-style crawls.

These grimy episodes are fairly pedestrian, although they do contain nuggets of evidence which are vital in piecing the story elements together.

It's also a genuinely unsettling experience when faced with the game's cover star - the red-hooded Raincoat Killer. He kicks open creaking doors with gusto and leaps at York when he least expects it. These showdowns lead to Quick Time button prompts and furious stick waggling to escape the crazed killer's clutches. Not the most refined system in the world, but it does lead to tense and frantic moments of panic.

While most games would simply fall apart due to the basic gameplay and shoddy visuals, Deadly Premonition's environment, atmosphere, cracking story and off-kilter cast of characters keep things ticking along.

Greenvale's residents are a ramshackle bunch of misfits, each one adding to the general weirdness of the town; the creepy twins who appear as angels in York's dreams, Thomas, the sensitive cooking cop who works part time in a bar called Galaxy of Terror, finger-snapping rocker Keith who helps run the general store and unhinged loon Sigourney, The Pot Lady - it's a delightful mix of weird and wonderful personalities.

As if the gripping main quest wasn't enough, 50 optional sidequests are peppered throughout the game, each one rewarding the player with unique items. These vignettes also give the player an insight into the town's residents, fleshing out their background stories and adding another layer to an already richly rewarding game.

And the madness doesn't stop there. To add to the game's strange flavour, York has to change his clothes - and get them cleaned - and shave at regular intervals. He also has to stave off hunger by chomping down pickles and crackers and grab naps to keep him focused on solving the complex case.

Despite its clumsy gameplay, archaic touches and lack of polish, there's something truly remarkable about Deadly Premonition. It's a touching, melancholic, humorous, gripping and at times disturbing yarn that succeeds in trumping games such as Alan Wake at almost every turn.

It's not for everyone, that's for sure, but those who are willing to embrace its quirks and rough edges are in for a very special experience that will live long in the memory. Hats off to Rising Star for releasing the game in the UK.

The best £20 you'll spend all year - so says Mr Stewart...

Deadly Premonition is only available on Xbox 360 in the UK. A PlayStation 3 version was released in Japan under the title Red Seeds Profile.

1 comment:

KOE said...

Good article, I'm happy! BTW, it wouldn't hurt to mention that there's an english dub korean/HK version of Red Seeds Profile avaiable for the PS3 ;)