- Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise
- Developer: Toybox Inc./White Owls
- Publisher: Rising Star Games
- Platform: Nintendo Switch
- Release Date: July 10, 2020
WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for the original Deadly Premonition, as well as minor spoilers for Deadly Premonition 2.
Deadly Premonition was one of my favorite games, or at least gaming experiences, of the previous console generation. This bizarre Japanese take on Twin Peaks combined with Silent Hill, Resident Evil 4 and Shenmue started development on the PS2 in the mid-00s, but as the project ran into a variety of issues it was delayed multiple times and nearly cancelled. Somehow, the team led by Hidetaka “SWERY” Suehiro was able to finally push the seemingly doomed project into completion, and the game originally titled Rainy Woods resurfaced in early 2010 as Deadly Premonition, a budget game for the Xbox 360. In Japan, it was also released on the PlayStation 3 as Red Seeds Profile, but that version never made it to the west presumably because nobody expected it would sell.
Upon release in the US, Deadly Premonition was savaged by many critics. The first major review came from IGN, whose reviewer slapped the game with a score of 2/10 and described it as “a system seller” in the sense that you’d want to sell your system after playing it. This was somewhat harsh because the game isn’t fundamentally broken or anything, just extremely dated in terms of visuals and gameplay and rough around the edges in general. Other reviewers genuinely enjoyed the experience despite its flaws, with Jim Sterling famously awarding it a score of 10 out of 10 in his Destructoid review. The descriptor “so bad it’s good” has often been attached to Deadly Premonition, but I’ve always felt it does the game a disservice — while some of the rough edges definitely add to the game’s unique charm, there’s much more to Deadly Premonition than that. When the PAL version came out a year after the US release, I bought it expecting something so bad it’s good, but instead I got something flawed but actually good.
The main story and its central murder mystery are genuinely interesting and surprisingly well-crafted (while the premise of “eccentric FBI agent arrives in a small lumber town in the Pacific Northwest to investigate the murder of the local prom queen” was obviously inspired by Twin Peaks no matter how much SWERY claims he didn’t see Twin Peaks until after the game was released, the story of Deadly Premonition is very much its own thing), with the kind of emotional depth and intense moments of horror you definitely would not expect from what looks and plays like a bargain bin survival horror game for the PS2.
At the center of it all is our protagonist, FBI Special Agent Francis York Morgan. Call him York, that’s what everyone calls him. Some of his eccentricities are clearly based on Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks, but York is so much more bizarre in so many ways. While Cooper was a friendly and likable person despite his odd quirks, the chain-smoking York is an unpleasant weirdo whose complete lack of social skills is only matched by his confidence in his own abilities as a special agent and his encyclopedic knowledge of 80s movies.
Despite constantly irritating the locals with his strange antics and tendency to talk in detail about grisly murder cases over dinner, York isn’t a bad person. He’s just very, very strange, and his habit of talking to an unseen entity named “Zach” doesn’t help matters on that front. As the man himself explains it, Zach is York’s partner and best friend, who is always there to support him and keep him company, but in practice Zach was meant to be the player guiding York along.
Near the end of the story, it’s revealed Zach is actually Francis Morgan’s original personality that was suppressed as a result of horrific childhood trauma and retreated into the Red Room (sort of like the Black Lodge in the form of a red forest). At that traumatic moment, Zach’s mind created the York persona to shield him from harm until his original personality was ready to return. While Zach saw himself as York throughout this time and seemingly introduced himself as such, everyone he interacted with always saw and addressed him as Zach instead of York.
I wouldn’t normally spoil this twist because the revelation is such a memorable moment, but Deadly Premonition 2 does exactly that in the first minutes of the game and I want to be able to talk about the sequel without dancing around the York/Zach thing.
I should also point out that when I talk about Deadly Premonition, I specifically mean the original release on the Xbox 360. I haven’t played the Japanese PS3 version, and the later Director’s Cut ports to the PS3, PC and Switch made some slight changes to improve the gameplay and visuals but also introduced a slew of bugs, frame rate issues and other issues that dragged down the experience and sadly earned Deadly Premonition a reputation as a buggy, broken game with awful performance, which was not the case with the original release at all.
The Director’s Cut also added a new framing device featuring an old Zach telling the story of Deadly Premonition to his granddaughter. At least I think she was his granddaughter, it’s been a while since I played that version. Frankly, I think that particular story is a bit intense for young children, and the whole framing device was rather unnecessary as a whole. The Switch port omitted these scenes altogether, and unless something extremely weird happens in the Deadly Premonition 2 story (which is always a possibility, I suppose) they seem to have been stricken from continuity.
Deadly Premonition 2 begins in January 2019, some nine years after the “Greenvale incident” of the first game. I was always under the impression that case took place in 2006, but the sequel establishes it happened in 2010 so we’ll go with that. Francis Zach Morgan is now retired in his mid-40s and lives alone in his Boston apartment (which looks a lot like the apartment from SWERY’s D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die), watching movies and smoking medical marijuana rather than cigarettes. He also refers to himself as “we” now, and in York’s absence keeps talking to an invisible female entity he calls “my fairy”. As a result of the horrifying experiences he went through in Greenvale, Zach now has a crippling fear of the color red and completely breaks down whenever he sees it, even if it’s a seemingly innocuous case like a red tie or a small cut on someone’s finger.
Zach looks a lot older than his age not only because his hair has been bright white since the childhood incident, but also because he has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Right now, he seems to simply be waiting for the end and the opportunity to reunite with York (which obviously goes against the Director’s Cut scenes, where he was a very old man in relatively good health and had a loving family). Our guy really isn’t doing too well, and things get worse as Zach soon finds himself being interrogated by a pair of FBI agents on suspicion of… murder?
Yes, an old serial murder case Zach (as York) had seemingly solved has been reopened as the body of the first victim has finally been rediscovered after fourteen years, and as one of the few survivors from the case Zach is now considered a prime suspect. He maintains his innocence, but FBI Special Agent Aaliyah Davis is not convinced and demands to hear the whole story. What happened in Le Carré, Louisiana in 2005?
The opening scene with Zach and Agents Davis and Jones is very, very long. I would say too long. I definitely didn’t help matters by clicking on every single thing I could while interrogating Zach as Agent Davis (who exhibits signs of the same metaphysical profiling abilities as Zach, which hopefully means we get to properly control her later on), but I doubt you can get through this in less than 45 minutes even if you only choose the relevant dialog options because everyone just loves their own voices and Zach in particular never stops blathering on. It comes across as a bit self-indulgent, honestly. However, once you finally do get through the opening interrogation, the actual game starts with what I can only describe as a James Bond title sequence and, of course, the much-awaited return of York. Once again, you control his actions as Zach.
Now sporting a haircut that I’d rank at approximately 0.98 on the Nathan Drake scale, York is as delightfully weird as ever, perhaps more so because he’s five years younger and less experienced in this one. York is enjoying a vacation in Le Carré when he learns there has been a gruesome murder of a teenage girl (both York and Davis remark how odd it is he always seems to get caught up in such cases), and he gets right to investigating the case. York’s interactions with the kooky townspeople are as glorious as they always were, and he even gains a sidekick of sorts as the daughter of the local sheriff decides to tag along on the investigation.
York having a kid as a sidekick might seem annoying on paper, but Patricia has a lot of funny dialog and doesn’t get in the way (and is also more competent than her dad) so I don’t mind her. Everything in Deadly Premonition 2 that has to do with the main story, the weird townspeople and York being York is classic Deadly Premonition, and it’s wonderful.
The more mundane aspects of the original game make a return as well, so York has to shave and shower regularly as well as change his suit, and of course keep track of his hunger and sleep gauges. I haven’t found a fishing minigame yet, but there is a stone-skipping minigame and you can also go bowling once you get the crazy old lady at the local restaurant/bowling alley to let you use the only lane.
That being said, I should point out there is apparently some clumsy handling of transgender issues later on in the game, which is very unfortunate even though it surely was not intended as malicious (I am definitely not an expert when it comes to such issues, but by most accounts I’ve seen, SWERY did a decent job handling trans characters in The Missing). York also occasionally does these vaguely uncomfortable vocal impressions of Houngan, the voodoo spirit who serves as his guide of sorts. Again, I don’t think it was meant to be offensive, but it’s still not ideal. I’m not here to judge the game or its writers for these things, I just want to bring them up so you can make your own judgement whether they bother you or not.
UPDATE: The first patch addressed some but not all of the issues, removing the most egregious parts of the (unvoiced) dialogue in the scenes that have been brought up. There is still work to do, but this was at least a step in the right direction.
What I am going to judge the game for is… everything else, to be brutally honest. The pacing is all over the place, not just in the modern day segments but also in Le Carré. Completing the first chapter took me eight and a half hours, and in that time I only investigated two locations in the real world and one in the otherworld (like the original, Deadly Premonition 2 contains these action segments in the otherworld, but I’ll get to that in a second) and watched a handful of story cutscenes.
In the original Deadly Premonition, I’d be halfway through the game by now. That game was actually quite well paced, now that I think of it. Sure, opening with the weak combat section wasn’t optimal and probably turned many people off as it was a terrible first impression, but once you got to the meat of the game things moved along at a decent clip. You never felt like your time was being wasted, because the chapters were short and story progression was always just around the corner, and there were plenty of sidequests you could complete to help out the townspeople and learn more about them. Here, everything seems to move at a… I’d say glacial pace, but that would be a grievous insult to glaciers.
At least in the first chapter you’re always waiting for some plot event to happen, and while there are ways to pass the time faster it’s still a bit of a pain to deal with. The sidequests I’ve seen so far have all been designed to waste the player’s time, with obtuse quest descriptions and minimal signposting, and exploring doesn’t seem to be worth it because there just isn’t anything interesting to find. No trading cards, no hidden bones, nothing but the occasional crappy item.
UPDATE: Apparently there are collectibles in the form of… uh, what’s the plural for fleur-de-lis? Fleurs-de-lis? Okay, apparently that is correct. Anyway, you can find those hidden around Le Carré but I hadn’t come across any at the time this article was written.
York still monologues about old movies like in the previous game, but this time he repeats the same lines over and over while you’re in the open world. In the original, you had to press a button to make him talk, and once he’d gone through all the monologues in each chapter he’d just hum or make some quick, random comment. Here, you better believe you’ll be hearing about Forest Whitaker and Scatman Crothers over and over and over and over and over again in the first chapter. Sometimes he’ll repeat the exact same bit immediately after he finishes it!
UPDATE: This has thankfully been fixed in the first patch. You now have to click the left stick button to make York talk, which is a massive improvement.
One of the early sidequests involves the shower in York’s hotel room breaking down. Obviously, York doesn’t want to wash himself with a rag on a stick (although that is an option, as you can buy them at stores) so you need to sort this out as soon as possible. The quest description says “Talk to the concierge” so you mosey your way to the hotel reception and ring the bell. However, what the game fails to tell you is that this doesn’t count as talking to him, as you only get access to the store by ringing the bell. So what now? Did I do something wrong? Well, the quest journal also says you should investigate the water valve at the hotel, so you check out three valves and find yourself unable to interact with them in any way. Huh?
As it turns out, the actual solution to this quest is to wait until the concierge is hanging around the reception desk with the “Talk” prompt available, which only happens during certain hours of the day. Then you can talk to him about the shower and he’ll direct you to the water valve, and NOW you can interact with it. Of course, that doesn’t fix the shower, so now you have to talk to the bellboy (available in the morning) and turn another valve, and when that doesn’t work you talk to the chef (available after 5 PM) and turn the third and final valve. With better signposting and, frankly, less awful design, it’d be a funny quest because all three employees are in fact the exact same person pretending to be three different individuals. As it is, it’s very easy to get frustrated because you know what you have to do, yet the game seemingly refuses to let you do it.
There are also various quests that involve shooting the wildlife in and around Le Carré, which are not very exciting. York’s gun, Mr. Alligator, is explicitly stated to be a tranquilizer pistol, which is actually quite nice and would help make you feel a bit less bad about the wanton animal murder you’re committing if you didn’t get alligator skins and wild dog skulls from these critters. These parts are used to craft voodoo dolls and necklaces, which boost York’s stats when equipped at one of the many voodoo altars scattered around Le Carré. I don’t know who decided Deadly Premonition should have a crafting system, but I’m pretty sure I despise them from the bottom of my heart. If that was you, SWERY, I’m sorry. I can’t help it. It’s kinda like Zach and the color red.
When York enters the otherworld, his gun somehow fuses into his arm to form some sort of creepy semi-organic contraption straight out of Videodrome, a fact which isn’t lost on York. It looks cool and also allows you to use lock-on aiming at the expense of some of York’s concentration gauge, although I haven’t yet found any real reason to do so. The enemies I’ve encountered have been strange scissor-wielding hunchbacks (go back to Clock Tower, you dolts), none of which have been difficult to kill. They often spawn behind York and can cause status effects such as paralysis or poisoning, but deal negligible damage and the statuses they inflict are easily cured with items.
As I said, I’ve only gone through a single otherworld combat section (or singularity, as they’re officially called), but that one was a fairly linear trek through some red hallways with an easy boss fight at the end. I’m kind of surprised there even is combat in this game considering it was never meant to be in the original Deadly Premonition and was added in at the last minute at the publisher’s behest, but thus far it’s fairly inoffensive and I don’t mind it. The movement and aiming are a lot smoother than any version of the original game managed, so unless something changes dramatically I’m fine with this.
Visually, Le Carré is… well, it’s ugly. There is no way around it. It doesn’t have the sense of place Greenvale had in the original game, and the art direction is not as strong either. Everything in the town kind of looks the same, and what is there really isn’t good. Exploring the open world vaguely reminds me of No More Heroes on the Wii, but I think even that looked better at least in terms of art direction. Actually, looking at the screenshots here, I’d say the game looks a lot worse in motion, especially in handheld mode where it also eats the Switch battery like the Club Escapade boss from Persona 3. Remember that guy? He attached himself to the power cables and you had to beat him up. I can’t beat this game up.
The textures here are extremely low-res, occasionally with point filtering so they’re pixelated like PlayStation or Sega Saturn textures, anti-aliasing is nonexistent, shadow quality is low and ambient occlusion quality is even lower, and actor pop-in is so severe I’ve run over pedestrians on York’s skateboard (his car got stolen and the thief left a skateboard behind, so he uses it to get around) without seeing them. Interiors fare a lot better and pack a lot of detail into the various environments, even if some of the textures are still rather crummy. However, when it comes to the open world, the original Deadly Premonition looked better than this even though the assets themselves were of lower quality for the most part. But you know what? The Switch… hell, resolution aside, even the Wii could probably do better than this, but that would be fine if it wasn’t for two major issues.
For starters, we’ve got the load times. Holy shit, the load times. Every time you go out into the open world, you’re looking at a full minute of loading. Every single time. The load screen itself is so choppy that the first time I saw it, I thought the game had frozen because nothing on the screen was moving. Naturally, you have to sit through this load screen EVERY TIME YOU COME OUT OF A BUILDING. At least entering buildings is a bit quicker, but what the Christ happened here? They had to have known this was not acceptable.
Speaking of “what the Christ happened here?” we also have the other main issue. If you can believe it, this one is somehow more crippling than the last one. If you’ve seen gameplay footage of Deadly Premonition 2, you know what I’m talking about. Yep, we’ve got what just might be the worst frame rate ever seen on the Switch. I don’t know if this is worse than Ark: Survival Evolved, but it’s close at the very least.
I also don’t know the exact frame rate this game runs at in the open world, but it has to be below 15 fps at all times with additional major stutters. Sometimes it looks like it goes back to the previous frame during these stutters! Indoor areas and combat sections are fine for the most part, but the open world component of this game runs so poorly and, honestly, is so poor in general that I actively dread exploring Le Carré. It should not have been this way. I think the handheld gameplay might run ever so slightly faster, but I might be imagining things.
UPDATE: The first patch improved things to a degree. The game still runs at roughly 15-16 fps in the open world, but because the original frame rate was so low (12-13 fps when it didn’t stutter and drop to 2-4 fps) even gains of about 3 frames per second are very noticeable and the game genuinely feels better to play. It’s still not good by any means, but it’s a step in the right direction. According to SWERY, the first patch wasn’t meant to fix the performance, just slightly improve it and I suppose that is what it did.
Oh yeah, the game is also buggy because of course it is. At one point, my map and pause buttons completely stopped working and I had to save and reload to fix it. Everyone who has played Deadly Premonition 2 has yelled at Rising Star Games and SWERY about the myriad technical issues and a patch is apparently in the works, and I believe Rising Star Games and Toybox were eventually able to somewhat salvage the utterly wretched Switch port of the original Deadly Premonition. Maybe they can make this playable as well, but as of this writing Deadly Premonition 2 is uncomfortably close to a complete disaster.
I will admit I had my doubts when Deadly Premonition 2 was announced. Toybox hadn’t exactly covered themselves in glory with the Switch port of Deadly Premonition, and I didn’t think Deadly Premonition needed a sequel or prequel in the first place but I ended up giving them the benefit of the doubt even after I heard about the issues. I figured I could still look past the problems. Hey, I have the platinum trophy from Deadly Premonition: Director’s Cut on the PS3, and that also ran very poorly. Surely, this couldn’t be worse. Right?
As I said, the story seems genuinely interesting and the dialog is as weird and charming as ever, and I would love to enjoy it like I did the original game. However, both the technical side and the actual gameplay seem to have taken multiple steps back. Like I also mentioned earlier in the article, Deadly Premonition now has a reputation as a buggy, busted, broken piece of shit game as a result of nearly a decade’s worth of lousy ports, so there have been some players who saw the issues the sequel has and simply went “Oh, but that was always part of the charm!” It was not.
Deadly Premonition was not charming because it ran like 4-player splitscreen with the max number of Meatsims in Perfect Dark on the N64, or because every load screen took 56 years. Those things did not happen in Deadly Premonition, which originally ran at a solid 30 fps 99% of the time, had fairly quick load times and minimal bugs (sadly there was one big one, but it was easy to avoid).
No, Deadly Premonition was charming because it felt like an ambitious Dreamcast game that got stuck inside a time warp for ten years. It felt like a labor of love by an inexperienced and underfunded development team whose ambition vastly exceeded their resources and capabilities, because that is exactly what it was. It was flawed. It was fairly ugly. It didn’t play very smoothly. But it had so much heart and soul, and that shined through the whole thing no matter how questionable some gameplay elements were. However, this time the game surrounding those parts I love the most about Deadly Premonition is ACTUALLY so broken that it’s nigh impossible to enjoy those elements.
This is not a flawed masterpiece, this is just a bad game. I hate to say that, but it’s how I feel about Deadly Premonition 2. I usually try to keep things positive when writing about games, even highly flawed ones, but in this case I can’t do so in good conscience no matter how charming SWERY’s writing still is. This game is quite simply broken, and so is my heart as a big fan of the original Deadly Premonition and SWERY’s work in general.
We deserve better than this. SWERY deserves so much better than this.