Tuesday, March 2, 2010

X360 Look - Deadly Premonition

A few posts ago I mentioned that Deadly Premonition is amazing and that I'm in love with it. Now I'm here trying to figure out why I'm writing this piece. All of my cards have been played and there's little I can say about the game that would come off as unbiased or even legitimate. Reviews are directed by opinions that much is certain but I've always tried to provide an objective viewpoint. By exclaiming my love of this game I've basically written the ending of this look. I could have just slapped a 10 or something on here and saved myself the trouble.

The catch with this game however is that an objective viewpoint simply won't work. This game is flawed, while it is certainly not broken, unplayable, or even bad the flaws are notable and they're perfectly capable of dissuading someone from playing this game. While some may consider this a strength I consider any game that relies on the storyline and characters to draw the player in and keep them playing as a bad one. This is just part of my nature when it comes to videogames as I've always been about the game first and everything else is superfluous.

So without a doubt I'll say that Deadly Premonition grabbed me from the beginning and held me tighter with each passing hour. During the entirety of the twenty-four or more hours I spent with this game I couldn't come up with a single flaw. Issues maybe but serious problems or even simple mistakes that could have been easily fixed? Nada. Even the issues themselves I either glossed over or found items that improved or circumvented them with enough time spent on the game. If there was a serious problem I'm not sure if I'd be able to notice it because I was simply engrossed in all aspects of the game.

The storyline starts off simple enough. An FBI Agent is sent to a small town in Washington to solve the murder of a young woman. Within the first several minutes however a simple drive through the country takes a turn for the weird when our FBI Agent Francis York Morgan starts talking to an unseen person named Zach, wrecks his car, and runs through a haunted forest shooting zombies. Surprisingly this is not even close to the extent of the weirdness this game is capable of. Fans of the surreal would do well to pick this game up immediately.

But let's look past that cause it's actually not the reason I love the game. The combat itself draws comparisons to early Survival Horror games like the Resident Evils that predate part 4 and Silent Hill. York controls like a tank and can't move while aiming. Furthermore while he can kill enemies with melee weapons it's not exactly recommended as more than likely they'll grab him and stick their arms down his throat. The zombies in this game are certainly unique. While they're of the slow and shambling type they are also capable of very quick movements that almost resemble teleportation. They can do this to dodge attacks and catch players unaware. Still combat is very easy as the enemy variety is pitiful and most of the time all it takes is a little crowd control and a ton of headshots for York to make it through any area. Another helpful tool is the ability to hold one's breath. Since the zombies have no eyes the only way they can see York is by sensing his breath. The side-effect of this move is that it can only be done for so long or else York runs the risk of exhaustion which makes him an easy target. This makes for some interesting scenarios at times but otherwise it tends to feel like a chore.

I certainly don't love this game for the combat so let's look at exploration. A significant part of the game is spent in an overworld where York can drive to different locations, do some shopping, fish, engage in simplistic side-quests, or stalk the townspeople and peek in their windows. This game world is governed by time and in a rare twist one minute in the game is the equivalent to one real life minute. So if you have ten hours until your next appointment you literally have ten hours. Thankfully time can be passed quickly by smoking or sleeping. Anytime not spent in the town is spent in dungeons. The dungeons are a series of hallways and rooms broken up by the occasional puzzle and a few run-ins with the local ax murderer. Unlike some Survival Horror games that rely on twisted set-pieces (like the Amusement Park in Silent Hill 3) this game plays it fairly straight and actually gets pretty repetitive as a result.

With game design that looks to be steeped in mediocrity it's certainly a wonder how I can recommend this game to anyone. Furthermore this game reminds me of titles I hated like Illbleed, Contact, and so on. Why I quit those games in less than a couple hours and why I'm continuing to play this one can only be answered like this. Deadly Premonition provides an experience I can connect with.

Experience is a bit of an ugly word for me cause I don't play adventure games or anything that relies on immersion to keep the player interested. Yet the experience of this particular game is unmatched to me. It sounds a bit perverse but I enjoyed watching the various NPCs go about their daily routine. Some characters would fix each other dinner, others would sit in front of the TV for hours, still others enjoyed to fish or stare at themselves in the mirror for extended periods of time. So much of the time with these free-roaming games all of the NPCs are either fodder or paper-thin in terms of depth.

This experience is more than just watching people. It extends to every aspect of the game. The combat is perfectly complimented by delightfully cheesy monster sounds and there is a certain appeal to clearing rooms of foes without getting scratched no matter how easy it is. It's also supplemented by a very clever reward system which pays the player money for every little thing they do. Staying well groomed with fresh suits and constant shaving should be a reward in itself but all the same there are cash rewards for doing that, driving long distances, and even just listening to townspeople tell bad jokes. The leaderboards are an extension of this so fans of shaving could prove that they're the greatest. It sounds silly but it's actually a rather clever aspect of the game.

The strongest quality of this game is the fact that it never takes itself too seriously. Even before the big encounter with the final boss there's a bed to sleep on and a suitcase for changing outfits. There are restaurants for ordering dozens of different meals even if the only difference between most of them is the price and a line of text or two. It teeters dangerously close to the absurd at times but the great characters keep things on track and the game knows when to get back to reality.

However I don't think I've said anything that makes Deadly Premonition a great game. It is a well-designed game I can say that much. Gamers spoiled by the shooters we have these days will find nothing new in this game and more than likely they'll be turned off by how it controls and the lack of challenge. Furthermore this game throws in QTEs which I've never been a fan of and even a few scenarios where the analog stick has to be wiggled to make York run away from whatever is chasing him. At best this game could be considered competent.

So in the end I'm left with an answer that sounds like both a cop-out and a cliche. Deadly Premonition is the kind of game where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Any one element by itself doesn't make for a good game but somehow all of the elements mesh together flawlessly to create an experience is fresh and exciting. The combat does its job of not completely falling apart and ruining the pacing while the other elements like exploring the town offer just enough variety to keep the player interested and the constant rewards of new power-ups are always a welcome justification for straying away from the next destination.

I can't say that you'll love this game if you check it out. I might think it's the best $20 I've spent since Raiden Fighter Aces but I can't guarantee anyone will enjoy it nearly as much as me or possibly even enjoy it at all. Still for an experience unlike much of anything you could do well to check this out.

1 comment:

  1. Indeed, I'm only about four hours in but I'm experiencing a similar level of bafflement as to what exactly it is that I find so compelling about this game. I've tried recommending it to some friends only to have them stare at me in bewilderment when I try to describe it. I love the tedium this game puts you through, I love the movie references and the humor, and I still find it genuinely chilling at times. Its a remarkable game despite the very, very apparent problems.