I really enjoy writing these retrospective articles as it gives me a chance to wander down memory lane, poking at bushes and turning stones over, seeing what nuggets I can dredge up from the depths of my mind. And heading back to Deadly Premonition is no exception.
It’s a weird thing to say out loud, but Deadly Premonition always reminded me of my first serious girlfriend, a young lady by the name of Jacqueline. We got together when we were studying for our A-Levels way back in about 1990, when I was a fresh faced young whippersnapper of 17 – this is heading somewhere, I promise. Anyway, she was mad about the films of David Lynch, and also the brand new (at the time) TV series Twin Peaks. This may or may not have had something to do with a massive crush she had on the actor Kyle McLachlan, but I digress. Anyway, because of her I learned to hate all of David Lynch’s work, starting with Blue Velvet and then the aforementioned TV series. Frankly, I thought such creations were pretentious, overblown and just not very good.
Fast forward to 2010, and out came Deadly Premonition. At the time, I was attracted by the cover featuring a creepy looking dude in a hood with glowing red eyes, a rural location and the words ‘Survival Horror’ leaping out from the blurb on the back. I bought it without bothering with a review. And for someone who had a David Lynch Haters Club membership card in pristine condition, this proved to be a mistake. You see, what they didn’t say on the back of the box was that this game was so close to playing an interactive version of Twin Peaks that it should really have been called Twin Peaks: The Game.
The plots are fairly similar, with both featuring an FBI agent coming to town to investigate the murder of a young girl, and then things taking a turn for the weird. Now, I never watched Twin Peaks beyond the first few episodes (the things you’ll do for love, eh?), so from here on out I’ll be talking about the game.
It all starts off with your character, FBI Agent Francis York Morgan, who comes to the fictional town of Greenvale to investigate the murder of Anna Graham, and her possible connection to a serial Killer called the Raincoat Killer. So far, so normal, right? Well it doesn’t stay that way for long. It turns out that good and evil are spread through the universe of Deadly Premonition by messengers that are influenced first by the forest and then by the red tree. And guess where the forest and the red trees are? That’s right – here in the sleepy little town you’ve driven into.
Each of the victims of the Raincoat Killer has been found with a red seed nearby, and as the investigation proceeds we learn that the trees that produce the red seeds grow in the town, and that there is not one but two Raincoat Killers. The original Raincoat Killer went on a killing spree after the US Military released a gas – made from the red seeds – into the town, but since that was in 1956 it can’t be the same guy. Can it? Now obviously I don’t want to go into the story too deeply here, in case you haven’t played it and are trying to avoid spoilers, but with a bonkers storyline featuring more murders, a secret sex club and trees growing out of the stomachs of many, it’s a bumpy ride that you’ll be signing up for.
Deadly Premonition plays out in the now traditional third person, over the shoulder camera view that has become de rigueur for survival horror games. The graphics, even back in the day, weren’t the stand-out feature of the game though. They had a certain muddy quality, a low-res look that, while not impressive, did sort of suit the game’s style. Certainly once I got into the story, the visual look ceased to matter to me.
I think the reason I enjoyed this game so much though is because of the disparity of its elements; one day we are fighting a shape shifting killer, the next we have to remember to change our clothes and have a shave. With trips into Francis’ subconscious to deal with, as well as unravelling all the twists and turns of the plot, including finding out who we really are, I certainly never saw the twist at the end coming. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to tell you the game has a twist in the tale, is it? You’d surely expect nothing less.
It’s also fair to say that this game divided the critics, both at the time of its release and even to this day. According to Wikipedia, in the 2012 edition of the Guinness World Records Gamer’s Edition book Deadly Premonition held the record for the “Most Critically Polarising Survival Horror Game”. It’s like the gaming equivalent of Marmite, and this simile holds up, as I like them both!
But how about you guys out there? Did you play Deadly Premonition when it first came out? It’s now available via Xbox One Backwards Compatibility so if you fancy giving it a whirl, you can do. With talk of a sequel to be released on the Nintendo Switch some time in 2020, now might just be the time to get in on the ground floor and see what the hype is about.