There are two kinds of people in this world. People who’ve played Deadly Premonition – the 2010 survival horror game for the Xbox 360 – and those who still think they know a good game when they see one.
The original Deadly Premonition was a game of contradictions. It was a kitchen sink-esque grab-bag of game mechanics all stuck together with sticky tape and craft glue, centring around a murder mystery plot that was actually rather good, due to sincerely weird characters and dialogue. The ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ nature of the gameplay ended up igniting imaginations of gamers and early streamers, and Deadly Premonition became a word-of-mouth hit, a game where the subtext was a joke which you weren’t sure if the game was in on or not, which made ‘getting it’ half the fun.
So here we are, ten years later, with Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise, a game that we genuinely can’t tell you is good or bad.
We return to the shoes of the eccentric Francis York Morgan, who is a person so strange that people will choose to talk about the weather to divert away from whatever bizarre rabbit hole he turns conversations into. He’s also a genius FBI agent with a love for scalding hot coffee and talking to himself. Agent York has a keen mind for riddles, a love of ‘80s cinema, and a burning desire for justice. It’s what has brought him to Deadly Premonition 2’s primary setting, the Louisiana town of Le Carré in the year 2005, and the site of a most scandalous murder mystery, which has claimed the life of one Lise Clarkson.
“It all feels a bit Fargo…”
Le Carré treads a line between outright mockery of, and direct homage to, small town southern America. There’s local dominant family The Clarksons, who the game’s plot is obsessed with. There’s the mysterious Professor R, a trans-woman who is handled about as poorly as you can handle a trans character in 2020. There’s voodoo mystic Houngan, for whom the racial characterisation and politics are dubious at best, and a variety of other appropriately peculiar characters.
It all feels a bit Fargo, with characters’ relationships and motivations criss-crossing and revealing themselves as the story moves on, but always with a feeling of heightened reality. That feeling is because the story of Deadly Premonition 2 is told in flashbacks as a deathly ill, now former-Agent York is grilled by current FBI agents about what really happened in Le Carré.
Doesn’t this just sound great? The kind of pulp detective drama that is the perfect palette cleanser after some of the more serious video game narratives we’ve had this year? All’s well and good with tales of revenge and bloodshed, but sometimes you just want to “Follow the eerie dalmatian” like a quest in Deadly Premonition 2 will ask you to.
But as was the case with Deadly Premonition way back in 2010, fans of the sequel will have to beg sceptics of the series to see past Deadly Premonition 2’s myriad flaws and frustrations in order to find the gold underneath.
It’s most obvious in the game’s performance. Stepping out from Agent York’s home base at the Casa de Pineapple Hotel, the game’s framerate is truly a sight to behold. Skateboarding down the town’s streets has the feel of the stop motion animation you made with your friends in sixth grade. Some combat encounters verge on unplayable with too many enemies on screen. There’s the endearing ‘rough around the edges’ jankiness of Deadly Premonition, and then there’s Deadly Premonition 2.
Ultimately, our most distinct memories of Deadly Premonition 2 are twofold. The first emanate from all the moments that it wasted our time. Like needing to repeat whole combat sections due to bugs, the game’s love of fetch quests, or the multiple moments where you simply have to follow an NPC to multiple separate locations, one after the other, at an excruciatingly slow pace.
But the second collection of memories is for all the moments that Deadly Premonition 2 shines as a piece of weird self-aware art. There are moments where the game is genuinely hilarious, thoughtful, and the dialogue hypnotises you much like a dog riding a skateboard can. The early portions of the plot are packed with unforgettable lines like, “Let’s catch the truth and present it with a shiny pair of silver bracelets”, or moments where you’re awarded $25 for ‘Finding the singularity’. The rapport between Agent York and the townsfolk is completely unpredictable, but always filled with a wild offbeat energy which strings you through the more trying gameplay moments. Deadly Premonition 2 is buggy, weird, boring, hilarious, offensive… and it couldn’t be a truer sequel to the original game if it tried. It’s quite impossible to recommend, but much like the first game, it’s really something that you’ve got to see to believe.
Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise releases July 10, exclusively for Switch.