There’s always been something about Deadly Premonition that has resonated with a gaming audience. Whether it be the quirky cast of characters you meet along the way, the B-movie sentimentality the pours through every scene or the fragmented nature of its mechanics, the phrase ‘cult hit’ has never rang truer. Those who will sing from the rooftops the merits of Deadly Premonition are acutely aware that, in any other game, its issues would be lauded as a reason to avoid a purchase altogether. The pure definition of ‘stronger than the sum of its parts’ could be the reason why it’s forgiven for its vast misdemeanours.
Ahead of 2020’s Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise, Deadly Premonition Origins arrives on Switch in its original condition, rather than the superior director’s cut – a strange choice considering the latter featured crisper visuals and tighter controls. There’s little here to suggest any work has been done to bring the game up to date. This is a straight port and sadly, it’s immediately apparent.
The murkiness of the game’s visual palette demonstrates that even upon its original release on PS3 and Xbox 360 in 2010, there was no doubt it belonged on the generation before it. Deadly Premonition was originally a cancelled PS2 game called Rainy Woods before it was rebooted a year later, and there’s enough evidence on the surface to back this up. Toybox Inc’s port runs poorly and looks even worse than what you may remember from almost a decade ago. There’s really only so much charm a game can exude before it begins to feel like it’s taking the brunt of how poorly it plays and looks on its back as a means to cover it up.
And yet, with the game in your hands, it feels almost purposeful. There is nothing quite like Deadly Premonition, and you begin to appreciate what the original developers Access Games were aiming for. The vibe of the third-person action-adventure titles of the era. Elements of Alan Wake and Resident Evil 4 are drip-fed throughout. Upon its original release, there were even comparisons to Twin Peaks, and it’s wholly justified.
As you explore this juddering town of Greenvale you are drawn into the atmosphere, and meeting its inhabitants is often equally hilarious and ridiculous. As first impressions go, you really need to get to know Deadly Premonition Origins in the first instance. There’s an open world to explore and plenty of rocks to uncover.
You play as Francis York Morgan (York), an FBI agent sent to Greenvale to investigate the grisly murder of a young woman. You get to learn a fair bit about York throughout your playthrough, either by waking up and deciding not to go into work and go fishing instead, or (most notably) his split personality which he calls ‘Zach’. You’ll hear York talk to ‘Zach’ throughout the game, either by trying to piece together elements of the case he’s working or, say, what his favourite DVDs are.
There’s excruciating detail in the conversations York has with himself. While some are wildly entertaining, others are seemingly just words flowing through consciousness. He’s an interesting character who is a treat to control as you unravel the case alongside him. Zach, by extension, is you. As York learns more about Greenvale and the truth behind the murder through deductions and uncovering evidence, you’ll begin to almost feel like his subconscious. Yes, Deadly Premonition Origins is quite a unique beast, to say the least.
York’s mental state leads him to find clues in hot coffee, in an almost Sherlockian style of crime investigation. You also need to keep him nourished and awake by feeding him coffee and food you find lying around the dark and dingy areas he explores. His mindset seemingly allows him to question whether or not what he’s seeing before him is actually real, and if he’s the only one that is aware of the paranormal beings that haunt him.
This opens the game up to its shooting combat and, in a genuine Twin Peaks style-twist, these sections appear to work rather well. It’s frankly unforgivable that you’re unable to move whilst shooting your enemies, though you’re never all that overwhelmed with the ghostly beasties that follow you around the locations you’re exploring for clues. They can appear from the ground or the walls through a black gooey substance, and if you find yourself stuck in a particular area, will continue to fumble their way toward you until you find a means of escape.
Thankfully, your trusty FBI pistol has infinite ammo, so as long as you don’t let your enemies get too close – they can grab you and shake you a bit, but nothing worse – it’s easy enough to bring them down with a few shots. As the story progresses you’ll come across shotguns and machine guns which are finite but naturally give that extra kick when necessary.
As your enemies perish they’ll sink into the ground with the cries of ‘I don’t want to die’, which is unintentionally hilarious every single time you hear it. Try saying that statement out loud but in very slow motion. That’s what it sounds like. Every. Single. Time. Wonderful.
For a good portion of Deadly Premonition Origins you’ll be driving around Greenvale, exploring the town’s various hotspots such as a Hospital, a long-closed factory and far more serene locations like the police station (the less said about the squirrel-key finding task in this location, the better) and the forest, where the murdered woman’s body was discovered. If you’ve ever played the game before, you’ll be fully aware of the driving mechanics, which feel akin to pushing a warthog up a mountain. You’re given the master key to every police car in Greenvale early in the story, and they all feel exactly the same.
Of course, with its original release nearly ten years ago at this point, there’s no real waypoint guidance to speak of, rather an enormous red arrow at your desired destination which you’ll come to get to know very well throughout the campaign. Ergo, it’s rather easy to get lost if you don’t consult the map which can either be expanded from the bottom left or can be found in the menus. The latter is few more button taps away, but is far more helpful.
There’s an awful lot to like here then, but there are moments where you just have to sit back and wonder what on earth was being considered upon the game’s original development. One sequence where you’re standing in the morgue over the young woman’s body, you’ll work out a particular clue and suddenly, inexplicably chirpy music will begin playing under the dialogue, completely removing you from the rather serious discussion taking place.
That’s not the only time, either. Upon heading into the forest to investigate the crime scene, as York is in the middle of his deductions, an acoustic guitar soundtrack with a whistling accompaniment begins playing, drowning out the dialogue as if it wasn’t there and without any consideration that you’re currently standing where a young woman was brutally murdered and put on display. Throughout the game, there are music cues that never quite fit in with the otherwise grisly, noir-esque atmosphere. Deadly Premonition Origins is packed with off-kilter moments like this.
Deadly Premonition Origins is chock-full of major issues that in any other series would be reason enough to be cautious of its upcoming sequel. Despite this, the characters and the world of Greenvale are more than enough to make you forgive its fundamental technical flaws, as you can’t help but fall for an absurdly fun narrative and a protagonist that keeps you invested throughout. You may play the game and utterly hate it, but we’d advise you at least give it a chance. It’s such a strange and captivating experience that we wager many of you will become lifelong fans regardless of its myriad problems.