Before I start with the actual review, I should say that yes, I know that Deadly Premonition's Director's Cut came out way back in April... but the game's coming out on Steam, and Halloween is right around the corner, so why not? 'Tis the season to check out upgraded versions of games you might have missed, I guess.
Deadly Premonition (originally Red Seeds Profile in Japan) was released in 2010 for PC, PS3, and 360, but we only got the 360 version here in the States at initial launch. Critics slammed the game, but it soon found a loyal fanbase who saw what it truly offered--not stunning graphics or visceral gameplay, but a quirky, compelling, and downright creepy mystery, investigating the brutal murder of a young girl in the tiny town of Greenvale, Washington. Players soon find out (naturally) that Greenvale is less "quaint Pacific Northwest logging town" and more "nightmarish killing ground."
The Director's Cut adds new story content and an extended ending, while tightening up the (in)famously wonky controls (including PS Move support), upgraded HD graphics and stereoscopic 3D, and a much-needed (depending on who you talk to) mini-map for easier navigation. To be honest, that's really all this game "needed" in terms of an upgrade--Deadly Premonition never felt like it was designed to be a AAA bestseller for the broadest possible audience, but rather as a cult classic put together with love and attention to unusual details.
Deadly Premonition follows FBI Special Agent Francis York Morgan (just call him York, that's what everyone calls him) as he investigates the murder of Anna Graham, a local young woman whose body was put on almost religious display in the nearby forest. York (who oftens talks to himself... or does he?) must deal with local law enforcement that are resentful of his presence, and the constant shifts that bring him to a dark, deadly mirror of our world filled with shambling monstrosities and eerie sounds in the distance. The game handles these changes admirably--the real world of Greenvale and its oddball residents contrast well with the honest-to-God freaky imagery in what's known as the Red World.
Gamers used to modern survival-horror or action-adventure games will be in for a shock, as the game pretty much throws you into playing without much explanation--it's all very weird, and more reminiscent of survival-horror classics like Alone in the Dark or the original Resident Evil. Search everywhere for keys or clues, then use that information to further open up the world and continue exploring. Every now and then you'll run into an enemy (or several... or a lot), and the new third-person shooter-styled controls let you make short work of them. The game's most challenging segments come from the crimson-clad Raincoat Killer, a force of nature who you'll have to run or hide from whenever he shows up.
Really, as you go through the game it's made pretty clear that combat isn't the point--exploration, soaking in the story and world, and just making yourself at home in Greenvale are what Deadly Premonition is all about. Agent York gets hungry, and he needs to sleep, so both of these are represented by in-game meters and food pickups, although I have no idea how someone could take a nap in the middle of a demon-infested hospital. Agent York is also encouraged to shave, change out his suits, and keep them clean, which affects his relationships with other characters and the way townspeople react to him. Investigations are pretty simple--walk around a crime scene, look for highlighted objects, and pick them up. Sometimes you'll need to flex a little brain power to find ways to get to clues, but overall the puzzles and challenges never feel too taxing. It's all in the details, whether you "Look with Interest" at your morning coffee for ominous letters or go off-roading in a police car.
If I could compare it to anything, Deadly Premonition is this generation's Shenmue. While it doesn't get anywhere near the graphical benchmark of Yu Suzuki's saga, it's a very polarizing game that is much more than it appears to be, and is truly deserving of its cult fandom and their accolades. Want to take a break from the investigation and get to know the town? Sure! There are also plenty of sidequests that can only be taken up at certain times of day, so you're encouraged to check different places at different times to see everything that Greenvale has to offer.
I wasn't looking forward to talking about this, but it does need to be said: Deadly Premonition is ugly as hell. As a budget title to begin with, it wasn't a very pretty game, and the sound mix is all over the place, with dialogue sometimes being drowned out by the oftentimes inappropriate (or is it?) soundtrack. The voice acting feels equally overacted and underacted, and people expecting a more standard gaming experience definitely won't get what they're looking for with the game's afterthought combat and terrible driving. Menus take a second to load, on-screen prompts don't immediately respond to your inputs, and the framerate can slow to a crawl in the most unexpected places, like examining a can of pickles.
But as someone who can look past its technical flaws, I think Deadly Premonition is one of the most truly underrated games available today. This is one of the best examples of the complete package outshining the sum of its parts, and a developer's commitment to make us feel like a part of a strange new world. Deadly Premonition: The Director's Cut is still ugly, it's sometimes difficult to play (although much less so than the original), but it's worth all that. The attention to detail, the depth of the playable world, the sheer, unabashed weirdness of it all is a refreshing break from every other game that's trying to be a summer blockbuster.
+ Great atmosphere and attention to detail balances the quirky town and terrifying "other world" nicely
+ Cosmetic and gameplay improvements to the original make this version more appealing to newcomers
+ It's nice to see a horror game go for a pulpy cult feel instead of, well... whatever Resident Evil is now
+/- Combat and driving controls are still kind of clunky, but it feels intentional and part of the game's charm
- Investigation can be frustrating sometimes--you can't progress until the characters figure out what you've already deduced
- Graphics, sound, and controls are all subpar, and the soundtrack can sometimes feel very out of place
Some screenshots courtesy of Welcome to Greenvale, the best Deadly Premonition fansite on the internet. So says Mr. Stewart.