Sunday, July 16, 2017

Deadly Premonition: The Director's Cut review

    DEADLY PREMONITION: THE DIRECTOR'S CUT is a game which is impossible to rate. No, seriously, it's a work of genius that's almost unplayable. The storyline is one of my favorites in video games but the combat sections are incredibly difficult while the controls are deeply wonky. This was to the point of me rage-quitting with the original Xbox 360 version and only picking it up after it was re-leased with changes on a new platform. Unfortunately, they never bothered to release the Director's Cut for Xbox 360/Xbox One, which is ridiculous.   

    The Director's Cut is marginally better but that's only available on Playstation or computer while also not fixing the fact the combat is deeply unnecessary. This is a game which does not actually need a single combat scene in it and would have been far better had it just been a Telltale-style mini-game in a wide-open sandbox. It reminds me a lot of L.A. Noire in many respects, except with far-far worse production values. Eh, this is going to be a hard one.

Francis York Morgan is a great character. Weird, dramatic, and fun.
    Anyway, for the purposes of this review, I'm going to describe the gameplay and story of the Director's Cut but mention where it's different from the original so you can consider this an "all-platforms" review of the video game. You can ask which I recommend you pick up, to which I'll definitely say The Director's Cut but I'm sorry to say even there the bugs are close to approaching, "Watch a playthrough of it instead."


    The premise, framed by a narrative of an elderly grandfather telling a story to his daughter in the Director's Cut, is a direct homage to Twin Peaks. A beautiful young woman in the small town of Greenvale been murdered. In this case, crucified and tied to a tree as a forest goddess. Everyone in town is devastated by the loss and each expresses it in a different way. Due to the nature of the case, FBI Special Agent Francis York Morgan (and his disembodied companion Zack that he talks to constantly) heads to Greenvale in order to lend his assistance to the local authorities.

Emily is an incredible character.
    Francis York Morgan is an erstwhile Agent Cooper mixed with a bit of Fox Mulder and Ben Rosenfield. He's horrifically rude, callous, and prone to making bizarre statements in the middle of solemn occasions. Nevertheless, he's also a man of passionate devotion to making the world a better place by bringing its worst criminals. He's always entertaining to watch and listen to as you never know what he's going to do next.

    Accompanying him is Sheriff George Woodman and Deputy Emily Wyatt who are excellent contrasting characters to Agent York. George Woodman is trying desperately to macho posture his way to solving the case and resents York's presence. Emily Wyatt is the more reasonable one of the characters but more loyal to George than York at the start. Gradually, I really liked the relationship the characters built even as it is transformed by the events of the story into something surprising. If you can avoid spoilers for this game, I heartily recommend you do as I didn't expect a number of the twists.

    The majority of the game is investigating by going to various locations and talking to the peculiar inhabitants of Greenvale. This is the best part of the game and what really should have been left alone. However, the publishers of the game insisted on adding a wholly unnecessary shooting segment where you're assaulted by The Ring-esque ghosts and chased by an unstoppable raincoat-wearing killer. These sections were the worst in the original game but at least aren't completely awful in the Director's Cut. Unfortunately, even there, they get repetitive and reuse a lot of assets.

The game has some RE4 gameplay--which sucks.
    Much like Twin Peaks, the game is a mix of the truly horrifying and the hilarious. The characters are quicky and amusing contrasted to the nightmarish. While nothing occurs on-screen, the game deals with the aftermath of rape and murder as well as systematic child abuse. It's also got sidequests about teaching Emily Wyatt not to blow up her kitchen and a lady who travels around town with a pot who turns out NOT to have anything to do with the plot.

    The game is voiced in some places and uses text in others, probably because this was made on a budget of shoe-string and bubblegum. The graphics are incredibly dated, even with the Director's Cut, but some of the scenes are genuinely beautiful. The character of Emily Wyatt is one of the best designed in video games and is up there with Morrigan and Leliana for my favorite female character looks. It also, notably, says something about the way women are visualized in video games that she's beautiful and sensibly dressed with the only modification to her look being a rather snug uniform.

    Deadly Premonition is full of bugs from top to bottom. There's clipping issues, graphical anomalies, failed loading of environments, and lots of enemies dropping in from the sky as you drive into them. The kind of thing which plague Grand Theft Auto: Vice City rather than a game which should have been built better. This is for the Director's Cut, mind you, and it's not any better in the original game as you can imagine. Running away from the Raincoat Killer is a great and ultra-tense scene the first time you do it, less so by the fourth or fifth.

Anna's murder is a haunting image.
    Oh and the driving is terrible, like a really bad Grand Theft 3 Auto simulator, which a lot of the gameplay resembles as if fused with Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil 1 but lacking the charm of any. The game includes a number of strange rules, too, like the fact it is one of the few driving simulators which include the possibility of running out of gas. You also need to sleep and eat in order to maintain York's health. While this adds to the sense of "realism", I'm not sure anyone really benefited from their presence.

    I also have to state the final act of the game, where you're faced with two consecutive boss bosses battles, seems more at home in God of War than Deadly Premonition. This seems like the sort of game where you should have assembled a Maguffin out of a bunch of seeds, a flower pot, Anna's locket, and true love to defeat the villains. It's not the sort of game where you should just shoot the hell out of the bad guys.

These parts are directly riffed from Silent Hill.
    The music almost makes up for all the aforementioned flaws by itself. It's only a comparatively few number of songs and background keys but they're all excellently done. "The Woods and the Goddess", "Greenvale", "Life is Beautiful", and "Main Theme" are all great. Its one of the few soundtracks I would buy of a video game and it's a shame that it's not available to purchase in mp3 format (or CD or any format at all).

     This game feels like a hybrid of many different gamestyles but doesn't quite have the budget or design to pull them off. In addition to the GTA and Resident Evil elements, you can tell Silent Hill was also a major influence. I really think this game should have gone for something more consistent as a playstyle. Despite this, there's a lot of cute notes like the fact the enemies will become more resistant to specific styles of fighting them like melee weapons or bullets. So, you have to change it up unless you want to expend infinite ammo.

Our erstwhile Pyramid Head stand-in.
     The characters also deserve credit because I can basically name every single character in the game and talk about their biographies. The game takes time to make every person in Greenvale a character and have quirky personalities. It actually made me feel when characters were killed off in-story and want to complete the always entertaining but often inane sidequests. It's one of the few places I'd actually want to live in a video game, horrific murders aside, it's so vividly realized.

    In conclusion, Deadly Premonition is a game I feel should be experienced by every game player. However, its game elements are the worst part about it. It would work better as a mini-series or movie I think. However, I cannot help but imagine a remake of the game with decent gameplay and graphics. It would be....wondrous.


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