Warning: mostly negative opinions inside.
Deadly Premonition is an unusual mix of third-person shooter and open world design. As the protagonist, Agent York, investigates the murder of
Laura Palmer Anna Graham and shoot walking corpses that bend back, he can also enjoy the carefree life of the countryside for indefinite amounts of time. His leisure time tasks involve helping NPCs through a series of fetch quests and puzzles, driving around Greenvale using one of its many fine automobiles, and stalking NPCs around town with some occasional window peeping.
Of all the gameplay elements described in the introductory paragraph, only one doesn’t fall into the “so bad it’s good” category (for those not in the know, that’s how many DP fans describe it as a whole). So, unless you don’t care much about polish, you should treat it as parody of a game to avoid disappointment. Though if you happen to be a fanboy/fangirl of that one David Lynch TV show, chances are nothing I say here will impact on your enjoyment.
Considering just the “main content” of DP, the game revolves mostly around shooting in a third-person perspective, driving around town to reach your next destination and some occasional puzzle solving. And it definitely says something about the game when those are easily the worst parts of it.
At certain points of the game, York will inexplicably enter the “Otherworld”, where the ambient around him becomes twisted and he gets to fight the “Shadows”. I think those parts were supposed to be scary and intimidating, but the graphical quality, the enemies presentation and gameplay execution all fail to convey any sense of danger. Most of the time, you’ll fight 3 types of enemies, and all they do is slowly walk (and sometimes warp) towards you to attack. Considering their limited mobility and even more limited moveset, they’re pretty easy to kill. As you advance towards the end, they become stronger and more resilient, but the tactics required to deal with them remain the same. There’s a 4th type of enemy that appears somewhere mid-game to spices things up a bit. But, once you figure out how to deal with it (also pretty easy), this new enemy becomes just another boring bullet sponge along with the rest.
It doesn’t take long before these shooting bits become a drag, making you want to get them over with ASAP. But you can’t, because York moves like a brick. Not only his movements are awkward-looking, they’re also slow and clunky. And on top of that, you can’t move while shooting, something many third-person shooters did away since the glory days of Resident Evil 4. But, you can move while using a melee weapon, which is… still bad, since your attacks sometimes just plain miss even when you’re standing right next to the enemy. Last but not least, there’s a stealth command, which can easily get you surrounded by enemies and leave you unable to flee or fight without wasting some health. Oh, did I mention enemies completely block your path? Because occasionally they do so even after you kill them and their bodies disappear into the ground, leaving an invisible wall that lasts around 5 seconds after they vanish (there is an non-obvious way to avoid this, though).
And while we are talking about combat, you’ll sometimes get into some QTE situations where if you fail, you die. Other times, you’ll be moving your gamepad’s analog stick constantly and for long periods of time. I don’t think it’s worth elaborating further on this point, I already dislike QTEs in general, but these particular kinds are absolutely the worst. Blergh.
Things get a bit better whenever you’re back to the normal world, but I’m not getting to the good part yet before talking about the second main activity of the game: driving. One of the first two things you notice when driving a car in DP is that the when you make a turn, the third-person perspective camera moves in the opposite direction, which is both irritating and pointless (unless being irritating is the point). The other is that the first car you get to use, a police vehicle, is slow as hell, specially since right off the bat you’re sent to two locations very far away from the residential area where most things are located. Luckily for the player, not only you have access to other types of car, but you also get an infinite uses item that magically summons a much faster car (assuming you have the default choice from the add-on settings). But while its speed makes driving through the game much more bearable, this vehicle is very unstable at semi-high speeds and losing control of it is a very common occurrence. Because, you know, you can’t play this game fast, you just can’t.
The game does have some redeeming qualities, though. In certain chapters of the game, you’ll meet the Raincoat Killer and it’ll kick your ass (until you get the hang of the button prompts and QTEs necessary to “beat” it). Some of these encounters are marked by a two-camera scheme that shows simultaneously two perspectives of the ongoing action. This little novelty helps to emphasize how dangerous this antagonist is and add a sense of urgency to those particular scenarios, which is the complete opposite of what happens with normal enemies. Another point worth mentioning would be the cars: they have limited gas and durability, something not used very often in open world games, though you can also skip this gameplay element thanks to the ‘flare’ (the aforementioned infinite uses item).
The gas and car durability are just two of the many “real life” elements included in this game. Some minor ones include the fact that York can grow a (small) beard if you don’t shave regularly, and if you use the same suit for too long it’ll get dirty and you’ll start attracting flies. Those are dictated by an in-game clock that also controls other aspects of the game. The most obvious ones are the main missions themselves, as most of them carry some sort of time frame to get them started. And York, just like any other real human being, also gets tired and hungry over time, requiring the player to feed him and put him to sleep.
The one “real life” element of DP that I liked the most was the NPC behavior. They all have their own patterns that vary according to the in-game clock, the weather and sometimes the chapter you’re currently playing as well. While this has a mechanical purpose, that is triggering sidequests by talking to NPCs at certain times/chapters, their routines are also quite amusing to watch. And figuring out when/where/how to approach these characters almost make up for the boring tasks that are the sidequests themselves.
I won’t elaborate much on the non-gameplay aspects. The PC port is barebones and plagued with bugs. The graphics are kinda bad for a 7th-generation-console game. The story is nothing to write home about, and it ends pretty poorly. The voice acting sounds amateurish. The music does very little… except surprise the player by being incredibly out-of-place at times.
There are a few other small gameplay aspects that I didn’t mention here neither as a pro or a con, considering they make up a very small percentage of the whole package. But by now the point should be very clear: I find Deadly Premonition to be a very poor game. It can be enjoyed to some extent if you play it with the proper mindset, but unlike the rest of its cult following I can’t bring myself to praise it as a whole due to its faults. I wouldn’t recommend it… under normal circumstances. Did you see the game at 85% off or more on Steam? Did you get it as a gift from someone, or snagged a freebie somewhere on the internet? Do you have tons of time to spare with absolutely nothing else to do? Then sure, try it. Whatever.