Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut PS3
We live in a strange time where objectively terrible products are hailed as entertainment, due to some sort of self-accepting irony. Basically, “so bad its good” has become a legitimate genre, particularly with films like The Room or anything directed by Uwe Boll. This form of entertainment has also grown popular with video games, thanks to the Internet’s collection of comedic streams, from witty Let’s Plays to the latest rant by The Angry Video game Nerd. You would be forgiven for placing Deadly Premonition under this category; originally released for the Xbox 360 under a budget price, anyone could spot the immediate issues from the first glance; the graphics are awful, barely sufficing as a PS2 game, the character animation is stiff, the combat is an uninspired mish-mash between classic Resident Evil and modern Resident Evil, and the enemy designs are absurd to the point of hilarity. Any veteran gamer would instantly write this low-budget title off and call it a day.
But the ones who stuck by it were the first to spread the word: underneath all of the unpolished technical matters was a uniquely enjoyable experience that featured one of the most likeable cast of characters seen in a long while as well as a surprisingly well put-together story filled with twists and turns that no sane human being could ever see coming. Rather than suffer from its limited budget, Deadly Premonition works through the limitations and delivers a deliciously demented game experience rarely seen in video games today, least of all in multimillion-developed HD titles.
With a well established cult following, series director SWERY has become a name associated with hardcore fans worldwide who eagerly await his next game. In the meantime, however, they can make do with Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut, a PS3 exclusive that adds several changes and additions to the original game, including “upgraded visuals” (the context of those quotes will be made clear below) as well as new story elements.
The original story is retained in its entirety in The Director’s Cut; in the small countryside town of Greenvale, the horrifically mutilated body of a young girl was discovered by the residents, prompting the FBI to send one of its agents to investigate the shocking murder. Special agent Francis York Morgan and his partner Zach arrive at Greenvale to obtain clues about the murder while simultaneously working with and clashing against the town’s local law enforcement. The secrets unearthed by York will forever change the town, revealing dark secrets long buried by murderous madmen and supernatural aberrations, which may also tie in with the FBI agent’s own repressed past.
Things get real weird real fast in Deadly Premonition, as evidenced early on by York’s frequent conversations with his unseen partner Zach; dreamlike sequences inside red-colored rooms and cryptic children become routine throughout the story, as well as Silent Hill-like shifts between the real world and a nightmare variation filled with malicious ghosts and thorny vines. There are also the numerous quirks by the oddball cast of characters, from rhyming butlers to hipster parents, effeminate police officers and seed-selling salesmen.
Yet no one is as quirky as Agent York himself, a loner investigator who frequently discusses old movie facts, demands specific preparations of his food and uses his morning coffee to predict the outcome of his case. Simply put, Deadly Premonition’s main character is almost worth the price of admission alone, and the story takes such insane turns that York slowly ends up looking like the sanest person in the whole town. If any of this sounds familiar, then it’s no surprise that the cult TV series Twin Peaks played a heavy inspiration to the game (a bit too heavy, as the game went through a significant re-working before release in order to avoid potential lawsuits). Keep on playing through, however, and eventually Deadly Premonition starts to gain its own identity, going to places so bizarre that not even David Lynch himself would have conceptualized.
As even the most diehard fans can attest to, Deadly Premonition is an entertaining experience every second of the way – except the parts where you have to actually play the game. Featuring a third person over-the-shoulder view popularized by Resident Evil 4, Deadly Premonition’s controls are serviceable on the outset, but several meandering imperfections keep the gameplay experience from ever reaching above “average”; nearly every action, from opening doors to driving cars, selecting weapons and managing items, all lack a certain amount of polish and consistently feels clunky. Anyone hoping for the Director’s Cut to tighten up a few of these mechanical quirks will no doubt be left disappointed, although there is one major change to the gameplay.
The most common complaint among fans is the combat; throughout the game, players were forced to engage in “combat areas”, which involve navigating across maze-like rooms with doors and pathways that must be unlocked through certain means, while also fending off against hordes of undead apparitions utilizing guns with limited ammunition as well as melee weapons with durability that will break apart after extended use. These sequences may elicit nostalgic memories of classic horror games like Resident Evil and Silent Hill, but lack the tension and moody atmosphere of those once-celebrated franchises. Simply put, these areas of the game all share the same aesthetic, take too long to complete, and are otherwise boring filler to slog through in order to advance the story.
For the Director’s Cut, one simple modification was made to severely cut down on the time spent during these sequences: enemies are now significantly easier to dispatch. In fact, the majority of them can be killed with a single shot to the head, whereas in the original they took several bullets to bring down. As if that weren’t a simple enough handicap, players are also given a handgun with infinite ammo, rendering all other optional weapons (including a machine gun and shotgun) practically useless. Thanks to this downward difficulty curve, breezing through these areas are much easier…but this also sheds further light on how unnecessary these action moments are. According to director SWERY, the game was originally not going to feature combat, but was shoehorned in at the insistence of the production staff. It’s unfortunate these sequences were not removed entirely, but at least the lower enemy health means these breaks from the storyline are just boring instead of boring and lengthy.
As for the visuals, the Director’s Cut has touted that the graphics have been reworked to feature “high definition textures”. This is only partially true, as the visuals have simply been upscaled from its original sub-HD resolution to 720p. The result is a sharper image quality that makes everything much clearer to see, from the gruesome details found in dead bodies to the hilarious engrish littering interior signs and posters. The greenish filter that took up most cutscenes has also been removed, though that change may prove subjective to fans that preferred the old B-movie look of the original. Nevertheless, the overall game does look sharper as a result of the resolution bump, and the difference can be noticed immediately at the opening movie, which is recorded as an FMV and instantly switches between the old blurry resolution and the new sharper resolution between takes.
Unfortunately, this increase in image quality has also brought forth several new technical issues not present in the Xbox 360 version. Most noticeable is the framerate, which has taken a significant nosedive from the mostly-smooth original. Worse still is how random these framerate drops occur: merely rotating the camera from one angle to the other can break the flow of the game, while cutscenes are plagued with sporadic slowdown almost every second or two. Amusingly, navigating the main menu and map provides a solid 60 frames per second, causing one to wonder what exactly is straining the performance of the main game.
The technical issues don’t stop there; though less frequent then the framerate woes, the audio tends to stutter uncontrollably at times, especially during cutscenes. These audio pops can prove very distracting, ultimately breaking the flow of the story at inopportune times. Once again, this issue seems to occur entirely at random, and will persist throughout the duration of the cutscene unless players choose to skip it. While players could endure these technical hiccups and play through the game without issue, these are still troubling problems that plague what was supposed to be the definitive version of the game. In response to complaints, the developers mention
ed looking into a possible fix via patch, but as of this writing there have been no further comments or updates.
As unfortunate as these new technical problems are, at least the core of the game is carried over without issue. As simplistic as the game looks and plays, the real charm in Deadly Premonition’s gameplay is how deceptively detailed its aesthetics are. The town features an in-game clock and weather system, which plays a small role in the progression of the story (such as scheduling a meeting with an important NPC at a specified time) as well as determine the business hours of several vendors. This time-based progression also factors into the gameplay in small-yet-clever ways, such as York’s stamina meter (which depletes over his lack of sleep; resting in a nearby bed will take care of that quick, but the time passed from sleeping will also affect his hunger, which also plays into his stamina), or the daily routine of Greenvale’s residents; gamers who choose to tail certain characters at all times may be surprised to see what strange hobbies they may indulge in while under seemingly private quarters (good thing you can spy on their dealings using a nearby window). Keep too sharp of an eye on things and you may even learn about significant plot details right from the very beginning, though this can prove to be a major detriment in regard to the collectible cards littered throughout the game (they tend to reveal major story moments before they occur, so it would be best to avoid reading any of their descriptions until late into the game).
Ultimately, that is the very core of Deadly Premonition’s appeal; underneath the poor visuals and poorer gameplay, it still manages to surprise you once players dig deep into the story, an analogy that holds true about the fictional residents of Greenvale. It’s just unfortunate that what could have been the definitive version of the game ended up being the worst performing. If you’ve played the original or own an Xbox 360, it’s recommended you stick with that, as the framerate and sound issues are tolerable but still not worth suffering through. If the PS3 is your only option, then consider playing through the pain in order to enjoy one of the most unique gaming experiences in years.