We feel it necessary to start this review with a disclaimer: this writer is a fan of the original Deadly Premonition.
This sort of thing shouldn’t always have to be declared, but given that the first game is notoriously one of the most divisive titles of all time, to the extent that it’s literally got a Guinness World Record for ‘Most Critically Polarising Survival Horror Game’ (easily the most arbitrary award ever), it feels like we should make it clear.
After all, this follow-up sequel has more than its fair share of issues to discuss, and it’s important to understand that these aren’t being addressed out of general dislike for the franchise: we absolutely understand – and embrace – the ‘so bad, it’s good’ qualities of the original.
Deadly Premonition 2 is both a sequel and a prequel to the first game. It involves a modern-day story revolving around two FBI agents who are investigating a case long thought to be closed, and their hope that Agent Morgan – now an emaciated, hostile shadow of his former self – can be relied on to help them solve it.
Of greater interest to fans of the original, however, will be the prequel element of the game, which takes up the lion’s share of the adventure. Set in 2005 (a few years before the first game’s events), it once again puts players in control of the Agent Morgan they know and love – or York, as he still insists on everyone calling him – as he tries to get to the bottom of a bizarre ritualistic murder in a small (fictional) New Orleans town called Le Carré.
It’s these 2005 sections that are by far the most entertaining, mainly because York is the same bizarre character he was in the first Deadly Premonition. As before, the conversations he has with the townsfolk he encounters – as well as the ones he has internally with his alter-ego Zach – are the driving force behind the game’s endearingly offbeat vibe.
York’s dialogue is a complete mess in the best possible way: one minute he’s gushing in great detail about his fascination with the Deep South and its customs, the next he’s going off on lengthy speeches about the filmography of Forrest Whitaker. He has the attention span of a goldfish, the enthusiasm of an eight-year-old and the encyclopedic knowledge of IMDb.
Much like the original, this will either delight or infuriate you depending on your tastes. Cutscenes last significantly longer than they would in other games because what would otherwise be a fairly simple plot point is usually bookended with lengthy, inane discussions about modern attitudes towards religion or the difference between Cajun and Creole food.
Some players will see these moments as a bizarre treat: part of the appeal of the original game was creator Swery’s obtuse dialogue and his complete unwillingness to stick to convention, and that itch is well and truly scratched once again here. Others, however, will constantly find themselves desperately urging the game to get on with it, a request that almost always goes unanswered.
One area that will have all in agreement, however, is the game’s performance. To be frank, this is one of the most shambolic final products we’ve seen in modern gaming with regards to stability. In particular, the open-world sections – where players explore the streets of Le Carré either on foot or on a skateboard – are shockingly executed.
“Part of the appeal of the original game was creator Swery’s obtuse dialogue and his complete unwillingness to stick to convention, and that itch is well and truly scratched once again here.”
We aren’t just talking frame rate dips here, although the frame rate is indeed woeful: at times the game can outright lock up for half a second, completely throwing your concentration off. Pedestrians and other objects appear out of thin air from mere metres away, and bugs and glitches are all-too common: we made one pedestrian slide away into the distance by bumping into them, then half an hour later we walked to a river, tried to skim a stone and it fell through the bottom of the game world.
It would be almost forgivable – not quite, but almost – if Le Carré was a looker, but it isn’t. It’s such a drab, featureless town with unimpressive buildings, huge open plains of grass and small caravans dotted around.
These aren’t the only issues. Parts of the game (such as the ‘information’ section where old tutorials are kept) state that the Settings menu lets you invert the camera controls and adjust brightness. In reality, none of these options actually exist, meaning anyone who plays with an inverted right stick (including this writer) will struggle to adapt. The fact that they’re mentioned elsewhere suggests that they were just forgotten, and may be patched in later.
The loading times are also astronomical: leave a building and return to the open world section again and you’ll spend so long looking at a loading screen with a picture of a tree on it that you’ll eventually start trying to convince yourself it was an acorn when you started. Given the lack of detail in the open world area, it’s frustrating that it takes so long to load.
The truly bizarre thing, though – and bear in mind we’re talking about a game where all the staff at your hotel are actually seemingly one man with a split personality – is that something about Deadly Premonition 2 keeps compels you to play on in spite of its thoroughly unacceptable performance.
This is a buggy, janky, often broken mess with poor audio quality (when you dialogue is this lengthy compression becomes more necessary), some frustratingly confusing side-quests – just how DO you check the hotel’s water valve to fix your shower? – and such a general lack of quality that were it a PS2 era game some elements would still have faced criticism even back then. And yet… we kept playing.
We kept going to the restaurant to use its bowling lane for a spot of 10-pin. We kept heading for the lake to try to better our stone-skipping score (and even kept going when the game froze briefly during a good run and threw off our timing). We regularly took to the fields to have fist-fights with squirrels, missing them by about six feet but watching them keel over anyway.
“This is a buggy, janky, often broken mess with poor audio quality, some frustratingly confusing side-quests and such a general lack of quality… and yet, we kept playing.”
Most importantly of all, we kept playing because we wanted to see what would happen next, and we wanted to see what York and the town’s residents would say next. Like the original, this is a game that lives or dies by its eccentricity, and those who ‘click’ with it won’t be able to put it down despite it seemingly doing everything in its power to make you want to.
Some will doubtless claim that the performance issues are part of the series’ charm, but they really aren’t: nobody loves a game for its frame rate issues. This is very much the video game equivalent of a B-movie, but people enjoy B-movies for their cheesy acting, low-budget special effects and hokey plots: they wouldn’t give one a pass if the sound was garbled or the picture was choppy.
The reality is that, for better or worse, there still aren’t many games out there like the original Deadly Premonition, and this sequel absolutely is one of them. For all its faults – and there are enough to fill a phone book – it still delivers that uniquely eccentric vibe the first game did, and as a result fans will still take some satisfaction from what’s on offer here.
It’s just immensely frustrating that as much as Swery is praised for his clear disinterest in conforming to what’s considered conventional, he’s seemingly disinterested in conforming to what’s considered functional too.