Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Well-Rendered's Games of the Generation #3: Deadly Premonition

Deadly Premonition, Access Games/Rising Star Games (2010)

Game-ruining spoiler warning

There are games that set out to rewrite the rulebook on how interactive narrative works, and there are games that learn from everything that has gone before and push the medium forward yet further.

And then there are some games that are so unlike anything that has gone before that it is possible to imagine that while their creators have read enough Wikipedia to learn what a "Video Game" is, they have never actually got as far as playing one.

Deadly Premonition, a Twin Peaks-style murder mystery in the sleepy American town of Greenvale, is one such game. Though the protagonist is one FBI Agent Francis York Morgan, the player is cast in the role of Zach, his invisible friend. Or at least that's what you're led to believe for the first few hours, but it eventually turns out that Zach is the main character, who created York as a kind of avatar for himself following severe childhood trauma at the hands of the supernatural entity responsible for the murder that brought him to Greenvale in the first place. Zach, then, effectively conrolls York in much the same way as the player does. I go into this in more depth in this Character Select article on Francis York Morgan.

This narrative conceit, or versions of it, is not unheard of in gaming, but it is executed by Deadly Premonition with the bravado of a game with far more resources, or at least an experimental indie PC title with nothing to lose. To have it unfold in a budget survival horror game is a surreal, dislocating experience. Its creator SWERY (with whom I once conducted a slightly awkward interview through email and a tired translator) has explained that his goal with the game was to create a town in which players would want to live, which goes some way towards explaining the apparently back-to-front game design in which all the actual action (shooting, running, driving etc) is so bad you can't help wondering how the game even made it to release, while at the same time the dialogue is endlessly brilliant, creative and strange.

There aren't really any objective reviews of the game because it's so divisive, but for a slightly more rounded overview that re, this famous 10/10 review of the game by Destructoid's Jim Sterling comes highly recommended. I don't know if I would love Deadly Premonition any more or less if the action was better and I don't care: it's terrible and it's one of my absolute favourite games of all time.

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