Deadly Premonition: Origins Review- Campy, Melodramatic, Bewildering, Incredible
Developed by Access Games
Published by Toybox Games and Aksys Games
Available on Nintendo Switch
Deadly Premonition is a truly wonderful and bizarre experience. On a surface level, it appears to be just one of any number of Xbox 360 era horror flops. Graphically outdated, stylistically boring, ran like shit. It looks like a rip off of Condemned: Criminal Origins, itself a rip off of F.E.A.R. Why is it, then, that Deadly Premonition has surpassed its contemporaries and become such a cult classic? The common consensus is that Deadly Premonition is one of those games that is so bad it swings around and becomes good. I disagree. There is far too much brilliance going on to compare it to something like Goat Simulator or Ride to Hell: Retribution. Yes, the gameplay is not great and there is an awful lot of driving. But I don’t judge Deadly Premonition in lacking great gameplay any more than I judge Tetris for not having a compelling story. Deadly Premonition is a primarily cinematic game, and with that in mind, it is nothing short of genius.
The premise of Deadly Premonition is one you may already know. A woman has been murdered in a small Washington town. Frances York Morgan, an FBI agent, suddenly arrives and begins working on the investigation with the help of local authorities. He reveals that he’s been following this killer for some time. During the course of the investigation, we’re introduced to this strange town and all its melodramatic and zany citizens. But the investigation is not exactly straightforward, as both the killer and the main character have a connection with a sort of supernatural presence in the town of Greenvale.He’s weird and uncanny. And lives for coffee.
If this seems familiar, that’s because it’s the premise of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, almost to a tee. Deadly Premonition is without a doubt one of the greatest homages to Twin Peaks, maybe ever. Deadly Premonition does more than simply copy Twin Peaks, it takes what works and creates an entirely new work of art with a new style. In Deadly Premonition, the killer doesn’t just kill, he turns the bodies into grand works of art, similar to the Hannibal TV show. Unlike Twin Peaks, the paranormal elements are not at all brief glances into the other side, but long sections of gameplay where York must fight off sometimes dozens of otherworldly beings. The similarities are enough to make a Twin Peaks fan recognize the inspiration, and it’s differences are enough to make it an entirely new and organic experience.
Deadly Premonition is more than just collecting various bits of evidence. The characters are what give it life. Let’s start with the protagonist, York. York is introduced to us simultaneously driving in the rain, lighting a cigarette, checking evidence on a laptop, and having a phone conversation about the codependent relationship between Tom and Jerry. He’s a chain smoker, lighting up in hospitals and hotboxing police cars with nic smoke while driving people around. Not only does he have a passion for coffee (another Twin Peaks similarity), but he sometimes receives messages in his coffee. We see him witness the cream spell “F.K.”, and he comments that a few days earlier his coffee spelled out a long ass sentence. And he’s constantly talking to the mysterious Zach (a non-present entity that, for the purpose of the narrative, is basically you the player) in the same manner that Dale Cooper talks to Diane.
It’s worth mentioning that other cinematic gaming masterpieces are uncanny and stilted as well. Metal Gear Solid, much like Deadly Premonition, had weird dialogue between caricaturish people even before it was translated from Japanese to English. On top of that, and I will get a lot of hate for this, but unless you plan to spend the entire game sneaking, Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater has really awkward and uncomfortable controls. But we don’t measure the greatness of MGS on its weakest aspects, and to do the so for Deadly Premonition is unfair at best.
On the topic of Metal Gear Solid, it should be noted that the dialogue is often stilted and uncanny on purpose. Snake Eater has ridiculously long radio sequences where Snake talks with Medic (or Zero?) about old kaiju movies. Snake is incredibly uncomfortable talking with women. Ocelot fucking meows. There isn’t any deep symbolic meaning to this. Hideo Kojima just has a really good sense of humor. So too does Hitedaki Suehiro, director and writer, have that same willingness to make his art piece silly. The dialogue, the strange music, and the awkward facial expressions and gestures the characters make are not problems, but the reason Deadly Premonition is so fantastic.
The strange dialogue in Deadly Premonition is absolutely intentional. And because it frequently does not take itself seriously, it catches you by surprise how harrowing some of the story can be. Intentional or not, Deadly Premonition relies on the funny and uncanny visuals and dialogue, because it springboards the scenes of genuinely unsettling content into another level of emotion. This is absolutely a spoiler, but a great example is this scene of a character’s death. The emotional fluctuation from confusion to fear to disgust to bewilderment and then to sorrow gives me goosebumps. And on top of that, immediately after this intense scene, a dalmation comes in along with some funky jazz, and the mission is to follow him around.
The gameplay of Deadly Premonition: Origins is, thank the lord, significantly better than the original. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s that good. Half of the game is spent in the overworld—that is, the town of Greenvale—where York and the gang are handling the investigation. This involves a lot of roaming around the open world town. And when I say open world, I mean 90% open and 10% world. The overworld is mostly open space, and that means a significant amount of time is spent driving around. Although the Switch version makes the driving experience significantly more smooth, the cars are extremely finicky and awkward, and most importantly, slow. It’s something you’ll get used to. I might assume they were going for some Wind Waker-esque idea where the travel is supposed to be relaxing because it is often very peaceful driving along the highways. Occasionally York will have a conversation with Zack, or whomever else is in the car with you. But driving is still often a drag. If it’s any consolation, the framerate is way better (far from perfect, but better) than the original game.
The other half of Deadly Premonition is spent in the Other World. This is where York goes off by himself and basically enters the Black Lodge for an extended period. Signified by mysterious ethereal vines covering the doors, York must fight his way through some kind of ghostly entities that look like the corpses of nameless townies. Except they like to walk backwards with their backs arched like 270° and try to stuff their forearms down your throat if you get too close.
There are a few melee weapons and firearms you can use in Deadly Premonition. Guns use Resident Evil 4 style tank controls. You start out with a 9mm with infinite magazines, and next find a submachine gun with a whopping 180 round mag. Unlike RE4, ammo is never ever ever ever going to be a problem. The gunplay would be extremely bad if it weren’t for the auto aim button. Just face their general direction and you can use the button to swing the crosshair to center mass. Surprisingly enough, it’s not all too overpowered. The enemies are not too challenging at first, but eventually they pick up the pace, wielding guns and melee weapons of their own. What obliterates the challenge is the melee weapons. A steel pipe is so ridiculously overpowered that if it didn’t break after a few swings, York would be running through the Black Lodge sending dozens of ghoulies flying like Lü Bu in Dynasty Warriors. The point is, the combat is actually not bad at all.
Deadly Premonition: Origins is the new and improved version of the original 2010 title. By new and improved, I mean there are a lot of small fixes. I recall playing it on the 360, and it was a significantly rougher experience. The Switch version seems to be the most stable version yet. All ran smoothly. I encountered no game breaking bugs, no crashes, and the audio glitches I heard about seem to have been patched out months ago. For some reason, they decided not to go with the story elements of the director’s cut, excluding a small amount of extra cutscenes (which frankly do not add much). But the gameplay fixes and removal of the ridiculous green filter from the original game are thankfully still kept in.
Deadly Premonition is one of the few games I would consider a work of art, and Deadly Premonition: Origins is the best functioning version of the game so far. It’s enigmatic and requires you to play it while looking through a different lens then you would most other games. Obviously there are those who may not like it. The slow pacing or driving scenes may not be able to hold their attention, and that’s fine. Deadly Premonition is not a conventional horror gaming experience. As far as video games go, it is something entirely of its own. Deadly Premonition may have bad graphics, out of place music, uncanny dialogue, outrageous narrative choices, and bewildering characters, yet by some weird alchemy, these become its strengths. If you’re a fan of David Lynch, this game is 10000% for you.
Unfortunate gameplay and outdated graphics are inconsequential in the face of this masterpiece. Now playable on the go.
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