Too Much Static

Originally Published 27 April 2010

A month or so ago, I got a random IM from Seabass telling me that not owning Deadly Premonition despite owning an XBox 360 was me doing a huge disservice to myself. I googled the game, as one does, and quickly found two wildly conflicting reviews: Destructiod gave it a 10/10 while IGN gave it a 2/10. Since the game was only $20 (apparently it was released as a “budget” title”), I added it to my Amazon cart and ended up picking it up a few weeks later when I had a super-saver capable cart.

I think Deadly Premonition was the answer to a question: “What would Silent Hill be like if you set it in a GTA-style open world?”. The game begins in a relatively straightforward way for the genre. Francis York Morgan, protagonist and FBI profiler, and his apparently imaginary friend Zach are headed toward a small town where a young woman has been murdered. Something appears in the road causing him to swerve off and crash leading to the game’s first “Other World” scenario. He’s soon solving puzzles and fighting strange creatures.

As soon as you clear the “Other World”, however, you end up in the town of Greenvale. Once there, you can drive around the city, perform side quests like helping the grocer rearrange the stock room, talk to your imaginary friend about the movies that you like, eat breakfast with the kindly old lady at your hotel and other such things. Of course, there is still that little murder investigation to carry out.

The game itself is rather fun and the plot was interesting enough to keep me playing. It is very easy to see why people might but put off with it, however: the game has graphical quality more on par with the previous generation of consoles; the controls are very rough and lack the polish that a commercial release should have; the dialog is rather campy; you often have to drive from one end of the map to the other which takes damn near forever; dialog windows during conversation and item pickups are so slow as to be interminable. Any of these could be a deal breaker for some people.

I would say that the game is important if not necessarily good. The game points at the horizon and says that a horror game can be scary without startling us every few minutes. It says that a horror game can use humor without losing its edge. Most importantly, the game shows that a horror game doesn’t have to take itself seriously in order to deal with its story in a serious way. Unfortunately, it also shows us that being truly great does require getting the fundamentals down: shoddy controls and graphics that would have been just barely passable a decade ago bring down the game.

For fans of the horror genre and for people who care about its evolution, the game is required reading. For everyone else, if they want to know what kind of game can lead to an 8 point swing between two relatively respected publications’ reviews, it might be interesting. Otherwise, I’d give it a pass.

Deadly Premonition: 0

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