Monday, October 17, 2011

Video Game Assessment: Deadly Premonition (2010)

Deadly Premonition is a fantastic survival horror video game, easily one of the best I've ever seen, seemingly heavily inspired by such great works as Silent Hill for the atmosphere, Twin Peaks for the setting and most of the characters, and Resident Evil 4 for its gameplay. It takes a lot from each and every one of those other horror-related media, but it stands on its own for its content, its plot, and its amazing way of telling its story from beginning to end. It gave me a reason to believe in video games and it gave me a reason to see that there can be quality in anything if given the chance.
This game is a cult classic, and don't mistake it for anything else. It has horror, suspense, unforgettable characters, and a plot that is like nothing else out there.

The game starts off with a murder of a young woman and an FBI agent named Francis York Morgan goes to Greenvale, Washington to investigate her murder. It sounds similar to Twin Peaks already, with a kooky FBI agent and a small town in the Northwestern United States... but that's when the game takes a turn for the weird. The FBI agent crashes his car into the woods and proceeds on a nightmarish journey through the woods to civilization. The player is left wondering if the nightmarish world actually happened or if it was all in York's mind.

Eventually after coming out of the forest, York meets up with some of the townsfolk, a gruff sheriff with the name of George, and his beauty of a deputy, Emily. After they all get acquainted, the investigation starts and more of the nightmarish sequences follow as York tries to understand how the young lady was murdered and who it could be that murdered her. As he delves into the case, he finds a quirky town full of very odd inhabitants each with ties to the case or each other, and a horror underlining everything in the town and its history.

The game starts out as a very different one than it ends up being. I could compare it to titles like Indigo Prophecy and Silent Hill because of the similarity in tones and settings, but really this game stands all by itself with its unique ideas, dialogues, characters, and settings. It has an open-ended world in which the player can do many things, go on many adventures, and chat with people who may or may not have anything to do with the case, all while trying to solve the case in turn.

Trying to figure out who the killer is and why the killer did it is the real point of the game. There are several early clues as to who is the murderer and who York can trust and who he should not. Trying to solve the case faster than York does becomes something of a challenge, and a challenge that I actually failed at. The game went a long way to pointing many possibilities for the murderer and tries to confuse both York and the player until neither are quite sure what is reality and what is fiction. And the murderer, the killer, in the end it is such a surprise, and a heart-wrenching surprise at that. SWERY made a beautifully unforgettable game that is both horrific and wonderful in almost every way.
Agent York, please stop smiling, you're terrifying the children.

The blend of a realistic world and a psychotic nightmare world where York kills demonic evil citizens and outruns the ominous Raincoat Killer is the best part of this game, becoming a very unique experience. Neither the player nor York are quite sure what's really going on until the very end and even then, the player is still left a little dazed and confused, wondering how much was real and how much was in York's head all along.

The ending was both disturbing and heart-wrenching. The story itself feels real, with situations so distressing that sometimes the player just doesn't want to look at the screen even when the game forces one to look lest the player misses something. The characters are both funny and lively, but also serious when they need to be. They feel like real people and act like real people, sometimes even to an alarming degree.

The music and sounds are surprisingly good. The vocal work is much better than I would have ever expected from such an inexpensive game, although none of the characters are fully voiced, which was a tad disappointing. The music makes the game though. At first it seems WAAAAAY out of place and you might be left wondering why the hell a happy song is playing right after some gruesome murder, but it works weirdly enough... and the tone is set. There is a dissonance in the game that can be quite jarring, and you really start to wonder after a while if you're going insane or if the game is just that peculiar and different.

I would say that I did not like the enemy sections though. Although the nightmare world was pretty awesome, fighting the same five or six enemies (not including bosses) throughout the entire game became tiring after a while, especially when it took so long to actually take them down... and the freaking things that come out of the ducts in the walls are by far the most irritating enemies... usually taking five minutes to take out and being a very popular enemy in the second third of the game or so. I dreaded those things showing up. They were incredibly easy to take out sure, but they were also just so annoying and time-consuming... and they made you waste an incredible amount of ammo on them... just an annoying enemy all around. Despite this though, the enemy sections (although annoying) had a certain amount of dread attached to them. The enemies did get progressively harder and sometimes they would just keep spawning forever... and you know once you get into a room that has the enemies just keep spawning that all you want to do is run away screaming like a scared, crying child. So, these sections really were quite effective at using scares, annoyances, and guile to move you to keep continuing the actual storyline.

I can't stress how good this game really was despite some of its flaws. It doesn't have the marketing of some games and thus is not as well known and will probably never be popular. Some of the gameplay is actually pretty terrible as well, and things like the driving mechanics (which make you feel like you're a drunk driver all the time) and the shooting mechanics (which are incredible tough to control in the beginning) can be very frustrating to a person who has never played a survival horror game. To me though, the survival horror fan that I am, the gameplay feels like a lot of the older survival horror games, some of which I dare to say are some of the best video games of all time. The whole game feels like a throwback to the pinnacle of the days of survival horror games with a twist of its own all the same. Also, this game... let me start a new paragraph because this will start a rant.

Well, I can easily compare this game to another game, A PSYCHOLOGICAL ACTION THRILLER game to be be precise. Yes, yes. Alan Wake. I hate you, Alan Wake. I revile you. I think you are a piece of filth that should be forced into the nether regions of Hell for all eternity, but Deadly Premonition was what Alan Wake should have been. It was exactly what I was expecting from that game. And if you tell me that Alan Wake with all of its resources, with its stellar graphics and lackluster everything else... if you tell me that that piece of excrement even compares to a gem, a diamond, a ruby like Deadly Premonition, then you are wrong, and also probably deranged and should be locked up for copious mental deficiencies. Where that game defeated me, hurt me, tore me apart, Deadly Premonition succeeded, becoming one of my favorite video games of all time in the process.

I can't help recommending this game to anybody who likes fun, survival horror, and intelligent games full of questions that you need to answer yourself. Check it out if you have the gonads for it... and it is best played whilst alone... at midnight... in the dark... on a stormy night... then you'll really understand just how much this game can mess you up. Check it out. I recommend it highly in these October Nights.

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