Availability/History: The game's availability coincides with its history so that's why I'm explaining it that way. The game was originally released in as Red Seeds Profile for the PS3 and XBox 360 in Japan and then as Deadly Premonition in the US but only on XBox 360, both regions in early 2010. In the US it was released as a budget title, meaning it was sold as of day one for only $20. It was after it gained a strong cult following that a Director's Cut would be released on PS3 in early 2013, no longer as a budget title, but still less expensive coming in at a $40 price tag now. That is the version I am playing. It was later released on Steam for PC in late October.
Review: I believe in a previous post somewhere I did mention how I almost imported this game before the re-release. I wanted it so badly I was almost willing to spend the extra cash. I don't have an XBox 360 so for nearly three years I was left with wanting to play but I wasn't willing to buy a 360 just for this. Well... okay I didn't know about it RIGHT away but it's similar to what happened with Tokyo Jungle. I had no reason to believe I would get an American copy and I'd have to pay out the ass for an import. I put it off and I put it off and boy am I happy I did. Not only was I able to finally get it at a cheaper price but with extra stuff, too! The director's cut is an up-res from the previous version and now supports the Playstation Move... but who the hell cares about that anyway? It also includes additional scenarios, an extended ending, and a new plot element to tell the story a bit differently than before. I never knew the previous version so this will just be what I know from the start. It's not a massive upgrade to the original game but it's still something. There's also a bunch of DLC available but it's all cosmetic and doesn't effect the overall game. Sadly no additional scenes on top of what was included in this new version or anything like that. Bummer. Wait... that's not a bummer. That's a modern game putting everything intended for the core experience on the disc. That's impressive. That the Lord this wasn't an EA game.
I was so happy I could finally play through this without importing it or buying a 360. They could have released it as it was and I would have been happy but let's move on. I have the cult following to thank for this re-release mind you. It's amazing the game survived the way it did. If you read up on the game's history you'll find that this game holds the world record for the most polarizing views on a survival horror game per Guinness. Seriously! It got reviews as low as 2/10 to a perfect 10/10. It even got game of the year awards from some sources as well as best worst game. So right off the bat it's next to impossible to tell someone if it really is any good unless you know their perspective already. To those who know me best would know I would love this game from the start. But telling you if you'll like it is really is hard to say. And now I can tell you're fascinated with this game so let's get to it.
The game opens with a pair of twin boys and an old man walking through tall grass in a forest. The old man watches over them as they race ahead and play. The two boys come up on the dead woman's body hanging from a tree with arms stretched out in a Christ-like pose. The blonde woman has nearly white skin with remnants of tears streaming down her face. Her stomach is torn open and below her torso she is covered by a long read cloth. Then as the old man catches up to the boys who are to everyone's surprise standing there not losing their shit a snake comes out from behind her and slithers up her chest. Basically she looks like this (NSFW). And that's how this game is introduced.
Shortly thereafter you are introduced to your character, an FBI agent, Francis York Morgan. It appears this is part of a series of murders or has some strange connection to some that have been happening across the country. So of course you need to handle it. He's an odd duck of a character, which is stories like this tend to be the best choice. He is constantly talking to himself... or someone named Zach I guess... but really he's all alone. It's like Zach is his imaginary friend, sub-conscious, or is it you? Hard to tell from the start. And it's usually about strange, random, unexpected topics. As a matter of fact the first time he comes on screen he is talking with "Zach" about the cartoon Tom & Jerry. So it lets you know right off the bat that not only is this game gonna be intense with the violence (from the murder victim in scene one) but also that this game is out there in tone. And let me tell you, it gets VERY out there. But I will say this... he's pretty cool in my book cause he gets his premonitions from pouring milk into his coffee.
The only other thing I'll say before I get into the game ITSELF is a comment on the plot. It is very clear this game was inspired by the TV show Twin Peaks. To those who don't know Twin Peaks was a short lived (2 seasons and a movie) show that ran in the early 90s. It was very bizarre, started with the murder of a young girl in a small town where a special investigator is sent in to aid the investigation. Go watch it cause it's a pretty amazing piece of television. Albeit it dates itself just a pinch because it was made nearly 20 years ago and TV has changed a lot since. So if you're familiar with the show and you're gonna play this game all I've got to say is try and get that out of your system as soon as possible. For the first couple hours all I could think about was how much the game felt like it. As the game progresses there will be enough to keep you from thinking about it too much.
Actually this would be fucking awesome!
Once in the game itself it's a bit of an odd one. Right from the start you feel something is a bit off. I wouldn't necessarily say the game looks cheap. I also wouldn't call it lazy. But as I continued to play not only did I spot what inspired the game in theme, but how dated the execution looked and felt.
First off, this being the updated version I only wonder how the original must have felt in reference to the things I'll mention. And of course I wouldn't expect all the problems from the first time around to be fixed with this one update. I realize with the game already being fully constructed there are some things that can't be fixed unless they started again from the ground up.
The biggest giveaway is in the visuals. While at first glance the game doesn't look terrible, a lot of what happens when in motion is what gives it away. You can see fairly ahead of you so the draw distance isn't bad. But when you see enemies coming toward you and they're far away their actions are very choppy. It's like they aren't fully rendered until they get much closer to you. Because of this you may not even realize an enemy is coming up to you until it is too late and they start to attack you. Also since your enemies appear to be leftover ghosts from The Grudge they have that slow to fast to slow movement thing going. One second they're ten feet away, but a giant leap in speed brings them up in your face in no time. If you don't know what I'm talking about just youtube the climax from The Ring when Samara crawls out of the TV (watching that clip reminds me how long it's been since I've watch that Ring).
As the story continues you run into a very wild bunch of characters kinda like that TV show I mentioned earlier. With these interactions you'll of course notice the mixed levels of voice acting. That's pretty par for the course anyway since voice acting has never been the strong suit in video games. What really caught my attention were the character designs. Again not terrible. And they're not off in the uncanny sense. They just reminded me of something. To me a lot of the characters outside of the main three (you and your cop buddies Emily and George) that this bizarre look like they were high res versions of pre-rendered characters from games of the mid-90s. To explain further cause that made them sound REALLY bad, there's a female character that has a hair style similar to Anna from the Tekken series. Go back and watch some of the pre-rendered videos that feature her from the first two games. Notice how her hair never really moves? Imagine that in a higher res, modern game while in gameplay, not a cut-scene. It looks a little off especially since the Tekken games first came out in the 90s while this game came out just a few years ago. Another good example of this would be Laura from D2 on the Dreamcast (except her hair moves a little bit more, but still not realistically). It's like they're trying to create models of real people but don't have the skills to do so to modern standards within the game. Like they got an outdated copy of video game development software. On the plus side the female lead Emily has an uncanny resemblance to Naomi Watts. That was nice to see!
I really like Naomi Watts...
Another poor visual that is simply unacceptable is some of the environmental design. So many pieces look flat and uninteresting. Unusable doors look like wallpaper and tree branches look like sticks with paper cutouts of branches hanging off. I'm not saying it has to be on the Crysis level of design but they could have at least tried a little harder to make the game look a little better. It's easy to get pulled out of the immersion when so much of the environment looks so poor and bland. Not to mention the amount of clipping and glitches that happen within that said environment. One prime example is when York uses his coffee to help him with his premotions on the case. He sits and stares as the coffee with the milk swirling around. A pre-set image that doesn't change except for the fact it spins. It is hard to believe how bad it looks when launch titles for the PS3 that had better visuals than this. I mean this looks like visuals that would have been considered cheap on the Dreamcast.
I was gonna comment on the controls but from what I've read I really shouldn't. Apparently the original version had terrible tank-like controls with a very unfriendly camera that does not lend itself to third person games. This time it has the proper third person game controls, that still work pretty sluggishly, but at least sound better than the original. Almost makes me want to play the original version just to see what it was like.
Really the game as a whole, with the exception of some of the high res visuals and open ended areas, feels like something that belongs on the Dreamcast. Specifically it made me think of Illbleed and Shenmue. Illbleed was a crazy horror game and I feel like the developers took ideas from it. The sound effects, some of the stylistic choices, even the ways the different "levels" are laid out feel similar. It could just be a coincidence but that's what it made me think of. Some of the resemblances being very uncanny. At least it is easier to fight back in this game than Illbleed. For how much I love Illbleed it had a terrible fighting system. But I have a completely separate argument for why horror games should have bad controls. It's a Catch-22 type argument.
For the Shenmue comparison it is the open world. Shenmue was very cramped while this is technically more open, but bear with me. In Shenmue there was an open world where you would have to walk to ride the bus everywhere and it was partially to make the experience more immersive as a whole. I could easily see that being the case here, and you then have the option of talking with suspects separately instead of when the story tells you to. That and buy new weapons when needed or health packs, do side missions, etc. However also like Shenmue most of the open world is next to useless to you. More so in this case. With this being a small north-western town you can expect to see a lot of nature. A lot of trees with a few fields here and there. It makes it interesting with exploring when you find an old abandoned train station or other things like that. But really it is easy to get lost in this small town especially when certain key spots are so far from each other. Sometimes down long, winding paths. And if your car runs out of gas and you don't have any flares for someone to pick you up you're gonna spend a lot of time walking to the nearest area you can find a car.
I'm all for innovation and immersion. Anything to pull me into the story more. But the gasoline thing is a huge pain. Your car's gas runs out so fast you'd think it was getting only a mile a gallon. Along with this gimmick you also need to make sure you eat, sleep, and even change clothes in order to maintain in this game. But none of them run out as fast as the gas. Even in the action sequences I never had to truly worry about having enough ammo, melee weapons, or health packs. But when it came to gas it was like it was going out of style. And the main problem I have with it is that there's only one gas station. So if you need to go to the other end of town, way out in the boondocks you better make sure your tank is full or else you may not make it there and back. It's a huge hindrance that caused me more frustration than actual mainline story missions.
Yet despite some of these unique ideas, whether they're pulled off well or not, their execution still feels dated. The open world, the design, the use of these "new" ideas, they all fall fairly flat for the most part. Like I said before this game feels like it belongs on another console. That or it feels like a launch title for a new console. It found out this new system has all these neat features, but since the developers weren't familiar with the new system they did the best they could which falls a bit short. A little like the Gundam game that came out on PS3 at launch. Looked like it would be awesome. But it was a steaming pile of poo poo. But unlike that Gundam game, Deadly Premonition is far from poo poo. It is a damn good game!
Agent Francis York Morgan and Swery agree.
Yes. Despite the many paragraphs of bashing this game it is still a brilliant game. Super under-rated and easy to see why it has a cult following. The big deciding factor in that is, you guessed it, the story. It works the same as a game or movie that mechanically works but has a shit story. In this case it has shit mechanics but a killer story. Personally I'm not huge into mysteries. I like to only get into them little by little instead of watching entire franchises based around them like Law and Order. This way it can stay rich and exciting for me. And not only is this a well constructed mystery, but it's unique and out there. It's one of those bizarre stories where there's a ton of bizarre, out of this world elements mixed in. Some may look at it and think it's just weird for the sake of being weird. But much like the work of David Lynch I can tell it is there for a reason. Whether it is an innovative way of telling the story or it is a visual representation into York's mind. I don't care, it's so great!
The out there stuff starts pretty much right away. In-between chapters you find yourself visiting a room that appears to exist in another dimension, York's mind, or even the after life. This is where he speaks to the angel representations of the two young boys that found the dead body at the beginning of our story. They'll give you cryptic clues and other bizarre anecdotes. This is also a spot where you can save the game or take care of other item organizing tasks. And that's before you even wind up meeting your co-cops on the case.
Once you're in the town you find yourself making friends and non-friends quickly. There's Emily and George who pretty much hate your guts and your methods right from the start. The owner of the hotel who is a friendly old lady. The gas station workers, one who wants to hump you and the other wants to punch you. A rocker who works at the local convenient store, a weapons salesman, the dining staff, and the list goes on. It's all very Lynchian if you've ever seen the source material... umm... I mean surprisingly similar TV show. But much like that show it is very easy to get caught up in everything despite being very left of center. I can't see a lot of people getting immersed into this game as much as I was, and those that do will need to take time for it to grow on them. Because this is definitely an acquired taste.
The way the game decides to tell the story is also very unique. It's much more than just questioning suspects and putting together the clues. What I liked was the profiling. What happens is in certain sections of the game you'll start out with York taking a large drag on his cigarette wherein he'll try and piece together what happened in the location he's investigating. Since you don't have the clues yet it comes across as a distorted image and sound slideshow. Then as you collect clues you can re-watch it and see what is now clear and where things need to be filled in. Granted you have basically no control over the results as how you find the clues are very linear. But the way it presents itself and allows you to re-watch the slideshow without it being complete adds to the immersion level of the game. It's like reading a book or watching a movie. You're trying to piece it all together without ever actually having control of what will or could happen or the way it happens.
Basically the story has enough variety and excitement to it not just in the actual plot but in the way it presents itself that you always want to see what's coming next. Even if things can drag a little at first before it gets REALLY interesting. And as with many games/movies I get really into... I want to comment on specific details of the story. Basically ruining the ending. So if you don't want to be spoiled then follow the caution signs accordingly.
I can't believe it either, York. Major spoilers ahead.
END OF GAME SPOILERS START NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
While building up to the climax of the story you learn a few things.
1. There are bizarre legends and folklore in the town. Including a huge genocide back in the 1950s by someone called The Raincoat Killer.
2. That genocide was also the results of the town (with the exception of RCK apparently) being hypnotized to be ruthless killers, killing each other.
3. There's a legend of a New Raincoat Killer and is believed to be the one who killed Anna, the girl found in the tree at the start.
4. Common clues have been red seeds, the victim has a torn out tongue, and a reversed peace symbol.
5. Once things really get rolling with the climax your main suspect is the most timid man on the police force. Thomas.
The beginning of the end starts with you, York, being kidnapped and tied up in an undisclosed location. At this point it is understood that Thomas appears to be the killer. While playing as Emily you find yourself at the clock tower above the theatre. There you fight and kill Thomas and York is rescued. However a new twist comes up that Thomas isn't the killer, and that it was George, the policeman you've been working with.
Before tracking down George, Emily is attacked by a victim of the serial murders just before their death. In this process Emily is badly hurt. York leaves her with Kaysen, a jolly plant salesman whose dog has been helping in the case with his keen scent, and tells him to take Emily to the hospital. York in the meantime tracks down George who confesses to the murders outright. His motives are for power and immortality which are obtained by following the ritual killings George, the "New Raincoat Killer" has been doing.
It appears to have worked because George was a beefy guy to begin with. Now he looks like a black metal fan whose into S&M and has a steroid problem. You fight him until he transforms into a creature even more powerful. Now he's a Dragonball Z character with his intensely glowing white hair, massive arms, and his ten foot tall stance. He is eventually defeated by his own axe, followed with being electrocuted. He dies right there in front of you burned to death. This is when York faints.
York wakes up a day later in the hospital only to find out Emily was never brought to the hospital. After some quick investigating you head to the theatre where Kaysen took Emily, who is now knocked out with her shirt open, suggesting gross happenings.
This is where the shit really hits the fan. Bear with me more than ever.
York has since fallen in love with Emily. He does what he can to save her but there's one major issue. Emily has a root sticking out of her stomach. Turns out the plants Kaysen sells are harvested by using live humans as fertilizer. It sucks the life out of them, literally. Emily begs for York to end her misery but he can't find the strength to do it. This is when flashbacks kick in. York flashes back to himself as a child to realize the same thing happened to his own mother. The image he re-experiences is his father pointing a gun at his mother much like this situation he's in now. But his father fails to end her misery and her life is given to the plant instead. Kaysen who is present, and somehow the same age, is pleased to see this as York's father shoots himself in the head.
This is also when we find out Zach IS York's split personality. York goes so far as transforming into Zach (York with white hair and a more sheepish personality) right before their eyes as he comes back to the present. Since York, now Zach, is unable to end Emily's misery she takes care of it herself. She pulls the root from her stomach killing her pretty much instantly. This saddens Zach (of course) and angers Kaysen because the root never got it's nourishment. This is when Kaysen transforms from the 350 pound man he already was into a fucking giant rubber beach ball of a man.
You fight him but he survives to transform into yet another creature. Still looking like himself but more so as a giant amphibian-like shape (I seriously tried looking for a pic but couldn't find one). You run from him to what looks like a completely different dimension on top of the clock tower. Kaysen re-emerges as a giant version of himself where you fight him to the death. In the end you kill him as he reveals himself as really being an alien-like creature. Never actually stated but he kept making comments like "You humans" and so forth. So I figured it was either an alien or a demon from hell. Leaning more toward alien.
Case is closed, you make your peace by saying goodbye to Emily, and there you go.
So.... pretty fucked up way to climax a mystery. Especially when so much of it (minus the Silent Hill/The Grudge style action sequences) felt based in reality. There was a lot of suggestion that it may have been a part of what's going on in York's head rather than what was REALLY happening. But in the end it turns out those creatures were very real and all the supernatural stuff was really there. In an even more fucked up way than you can imagine. Did I enjoy the ending? Holy crap it was exciting! I was not expecting something like that. And when you go that far out you may as well go the whole nine yards, which it did big time. I did like how the creator went out of the way to make his own thing instead of sticking with a more realistic style. Yet it could have been so good with more of a psychological perspective.
Yes the split personality thing was real. Zach held York inside, eventually becoming him in the real world as a coping mechanism to witnessing his mother's murder and father's suicide. How he became Zach again at the climax of the story worked so well. Even with his hair turning white works. It's a split personality transition that would have caused his body so much shock and stress it literally caused his hair to lose all color. Then having the fucked up shit be all in his head, like the rubber ball Kaysen for exaple. But since it was all credited as being very real I felt it hurt the story a little bit.
Another thing I didn't like was how York/Zach was connected to the events on a personal level the whole time. I wish it could have been a similar event, but not done in by the same person. When I saw that Kaysen was doing the exact same thing to Emily as he did to York/Zach's mother, I was disappointed. I felt it would have been far deeper an experience if there was the random chance element thrown in. Makes it more exciting that it could have happened to anyone but it happened to him. Something similar could have happened, but instead it was the exact same thing.
After everything I listed that happens at the climax you are treated to an epilogue. It gives you a chance to do some last minute stuff in town like side missions, which I did for the heck of it. I can go back and replay chapters to complete more of them (which I will because I want the platinum trophy), but some I was right at the end of so I figured I'd just go ahead and finish.
In the epilogue video after you do this it shows York/Zach leaving town. Then Zach is shown as an old man talking with his granddaughter (as he had been throughout the story technically). Once finished talking to her the video cuts to York (young with his dark hair and everything) with Emily sitting at the bar of the A&G diner. Anna is their waitress and the rest of the innocent victims are there, too. Becky, Carol, Diane, even Thomas (Technically innocent). Zach shows up still as an old man suggesting that he died in the REAL world and transported here. It was hammered into our head that Emily became the goddess of the forest but I can't tell if that's what the story was actually saying or if it was Zach's fondness for her that made him say that. Well this cutscene sorta suggests that, anyway.
The game end ends with York speaking with you about another case of bizarre occurrences down in New Orleans and that you and he should check it out. Teasing at a sequel, which has been rumored. How it would play out is hard to say since this game is sorta tightly knit with a conclusive ending. Unless it takes place in this other world that York, Emily, and all these other dead souls are living.
END OF GAME SPOILERS END NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The game overall is just such an amazing experience. Despite the major design flaws I rambled on about earlier. Despite the issues I had with parts of the ending in the last section you did or didn't read. I totally get the polarizing reviews. I know where I stand with it. I loved this game and want to share it with the world. The story is awesome even if it is reminiscent of Twin Peaks. You will quickly forget because you're so into what makes THIS story unique. I also love it even though the tone shift is so jarring I needed a seat belt. Seriously, sometimes it would go from tense thriller, to terrifying horror, to cop drama, to goofy comedy all in the matter of a few minutes. For the most part it's not like that, but there are times. At least the music that plays during those parts are all amazing! The main theme done on the acoustic guitar is balls to the wall great! The Andy Griffith style whistling tune is charming. And the horror tunes are scary. It all works out so well.
Not only does this game excite me, it also scares me. Seriously, this is the first time in a long time a game has actually terrified me. Part of it is unintentional, but others are definitely intentional. Something about how some of the characters move, act, even look feels so off that I find them freaky. Kinda in the same way people may find early CGI scary. Something is very off about it all. But then there are some of the scenes and character designs from the final sections of the game. The tone, the visuals, the way it all plays out, it's all pretty terrifying. I'm sure a part of it had to do with the fact that I was playing the last couple hours of the game in the middle of the night with most of the lights out... all alone. Still it stuck with me. I'm just glad I did it that way so I could get the right experience.
Probably one of the most unique and scary experiences is later in the game when (not really spoiling anything major in terms of story) you play as the Raincoat Killer himself in the streets during a flashback. You're hacking and slashing innocent citizens of the town to a sweet, soft voice singing Amazing Grace softly under the screams. Really unsettling.
The hard part about selling this game is most of the elements. I want you to go and play this RIGHT NOW! Give it a chance. No it's not "play for 20 hours for it to get good" like Final Fantasy XIII. It will take a few hours of play to get it rolling. But if you give it a chance you just may like it. Can't guarantee because it is such an acquired taste. But I would say it is likely you'll like it.
One hard part of the sale is the version you'll play because that will change with price and how the mechanics play. If you're an XBox 360 owner you can always get the first version released. It is currently for sale on Amazon for under $20 used. However you won't get the full experience with the extended ending and updated in-game mechanics like controls. If you're a PS3 owner you could get the director's cut like I played with all the extra stuff. But you're looking at dropping minimum $30 or more used (how I found it for $20 was a once in a great while thing!) for a physical copy. It should still be available on PSN for digital download but I believe for around the same price. Depends on when you check. Otherwise there's always Steam. Personally I'm a fan of owning a physical copy and prefer console for most games. But like I said you could always do Steam. At the time of writing this it is $12.50 during their winter sale, originally $25. Regardless any of this is a pretty reasonable price for what could be one of the best and most unique experiences you'll experience in recent gaming years. Not like I'm telling you to pay $60-$100 for a super rare import that is so niche that almost no one knows about or seems to like the game. It's worth a shot.
With that I will leave you with this.