Friday, July 29, 2011


The Score: 8.5 out of 10

Is Deadly Premonition (2010) the the closest we will get to Twin Peaks: The Video Game? Japanese video game designer Hidetaka "SWERY" Suehiro loves David Lynch's Twin Peaks, and it shows in nearly every aspect of his XBOX 360 game Deadly Premonition. He unveiled the first glimpse of the game under the title Rainy Woods at the 2007 Tokyo Game Show, having originally designed it for last generation gaming systems, like XBOX and Play Station 2. Minor SPOILERS follow, but major plot developments will be withheld, including the identity and motives of the killer.
Original Rainy Woods Game Trailer
Among other things, Rainy Woods was preemptively criticized for passing the point of paying homage to Twin Peaks (1990-91) to actually ripping it off. In the game trailer above, we can see everything from the game's premise, characters, and imagery seem reminiscent of Mark Frost and David Lynch's memorable 90's TV series. Concerned the game might be extending past the point of no return creatively and perhaps legally, the design team spent the next three years retooling Rainy Woods into its current and less infringing incarnation: Deadly Premonition.
In Rainy Woods, FBI Special Agent Young Frequently Dreams of
Twin Dwarves Giving Him Clues in the Red Room
In Twin Peaks, FBI Special Agent Cooper Experiences a Meeting with
Two Separate, Nearly Identical Dwarves in the Red Room
Young Twin Brothers Meeting with Agent "York" in the More Textured
Red Room in Deadly Premonition is COMPLETELY Different...
Honestly, most of the changes to the story and game design between Rainy Woods and Deadly Premonition seem superficial, so the only meaningful thing this three-year delay did was to make the game's graphics outdated in the face of the popularization of the XBOX 360 and Play Station 3, which raised the bar for high definition graphics. And of all the complaints leveled against Deadly Premonition, the last-gen graphics of the game is the easiest to recognize and criticize.
FBI Agent and Matron Talk Over Coffee
But far from being a "deal-breaker," as Liz Lemon from 30 Rock (2006-Present) might say, Deadly Premonition's quaint graphics seem right at home in the old-fashioned town of Greenvale, Washington where game play is set. And game designer "SWERY" leaves intact a core gaming experience that mimics the style and episodic form of Twin Peaks without leaning overtly on Lynch's series for the central plot. SWERY develops a surprisingly original supernatural murder mystery that easily stands on its own merits, in spite of his obvious love for all things Lynch.
Agent York Introduces Himself to Greenvale Sheriff's Deputy Emily Wyatt
Deputy Emily Wyatt is More than Your Typical Video Game Love Interest
Possessing a Strong and Distinct Personality of Her Own
Fake Agent York Quote: "Deputy Emily Wyatt Bears a Striking Resemblance to
Another Famous Lynch Protagonist, Doesn't She, Zach?"
"Can You Guess Who?"
"I'll Give You a Hint."
"She was a Character in a Film David Lynch Originally Intended as a TV Pilot."
"But No Network Wanted it, So He Shot New Scenes and Released it as a Standalone Movie."
 "Come on, Zach, We Watched this Ten Years Ago. I Know You Can Figure it Out..."
"Yes, Zach, Betty from Mulholland Dr., Released in 2001. "
"Can You Remember the Actress's Name, Zach? That's Right: Naomi Watts."
"She's a Beautiful Woman, Isn't She, Zach?"
"Do You Remember Her in Peter Jackson's King Kong, Released in 2005, Zach?
I Thought She was Great in that as a Struggling Performer Turned Actress."
"Remember When People Were Complaining it was Too Long? But We Liked
the Movie's Length Just Fine. Didn't We, Zach? It Must Have Been Hard to Act
Opposite a CGI  Giant Gorilla that Isn't Really There in the Studio with You."
"And Do You Remember Her in that Horror Movie The Ring, Zach? She was a
Strong Mother and Investigator in that Film. It was Funny How After Watching
the Film, People in Real Life For a While Freaked Out When a Phone Ringed."
"It was Actually a Remake of Hideo Nakata's Ringu, Released in 1998. But Honestly,
this is One of the Few Times that I Enjoyed the American Remake More. The Version
Directed by Gore Verbinski in 2002 Just Felt Creepier Somehow... And More Real.
Guess We Should Get Back to the Case, Zach."
You just experienced an accurate simulation of playing the game Deadly Premonition (2010). SWERY will not only take you on a strange mystery but also treat you to Agent York's take on movies, food, and pop culture trivia. You even learn of his early teenage rebellion as a punk rocker. Whatever York does not reveal in dialogue with others, he will share as you drive around town alone. York talks to us via his alter ego Zach. These monologues are not necessarily connected to the main story, but are enjoyable asides that are like Quentin Tarantino's movie dialogue: not necessary but makes the whole experience worthwhile.
In One Humorous Side Quest You Help Teach Emily How to Cook
Really, Deadly Premonition is in a class of its own when it comes to characters and story. Other video games of the genre, like Play Station 3's Heavy Rain (2010), tend to rush you through the story so quickly that it is difficult to absorb the game's world or get to know its characters as well as you would hope. For the most part, Deadly Premonition avoids this problem and provides a fascinating and interactive open world to play around in that has more in common with an RPG than a normal story driven horror survival game.
Much of the Game You Will Drive from Place to Place, Hearing Agent York's
Witty Take on Popular and Obscure 80's B Movies
The game is so revolutionary in terms of its well-written cast of characters and enjoyable side quests that we just noticed we have not even begun discussing the game's compelling central mystery. Deadly Premonition begins with FBI Agent York following up on the murder of a popular teenage girl in Greenvale, who serves a similar role in this game that Laura Palmer did to Twin Peaks. The deceased girl's name is Anna Graham (anagram, anyone?), which clearly alludes to Heather Graham's character in Twin Peaks: Annie Blackburn.
Murder Victim: Anna Graham
Agent Cooper Flirts with Annie Blackburn at the RR Diner
Played by Actress Heather Graham
As in Twin Peaks, Agent York discovers Anna was the latest victim of a serial killer he's been pursuing. The young women are killed in a horrible, ritualistic fashion and York must race against the clock to stop the killer from taking more lives. But unlike most video games like Heavy Rain, which seem to drive their stories quickly to emulate the pace of movies, Deadly Premonition takes an approach closer in nature to television. Realizing that you will be playing the game in installments rather than a single play-through, SWERY designed this game to be played in episodes. And like Twin Peaks, each new episode begins with a recap of what has happened recently in the investigation.
Agent York Discovers the Next Clue...
And time itself plays an important part of the game, everything taking place in 1/3 real time. Many characters, buildings, and quests are only available at certain times of the day. If you find yourself somewhere a little early, then you can just kick back and light up some smokes. The act of smoking a cigarette in the game actually makes time pass at a hyper-accelerated rate, allowing you to travel to a more opportune time of day.
Pictured: Agent York Being a Terrible Example to Children
You also have a sleep and hunger monitor that indicates when you should eat and sleep in the game. Your clothes also become ripe unless you change them regularly and even your facial hair grows continually unless you shave it off. The choice is yours. In case you think this sounds tedious, it is not. These realistic touches set apart Deadly Premonition from the crowd. Rather than simply shooting your way through town like you would in a conventional crime or horror game, Deadly Premonition puts you in the driver's seat of a realistic investigation.
Well, "Realistic" is a Relative Term...
Greenvale, WA is by far the craziest town this side of Twin Peaks, populated with a bizarrely entertaining cast of eccentric townsfolk. For instance, Mr. Harry Stewart, the wealthiest man in town, wears a gas mask designed in the shape of a human skull. He does not communicate directly with you, but whispers into the ear of his servant Michael Tillotson, who repeats his master's messages in rhyme while always adding: "... so says Mr. Stewart." And the interesting thing is that these bizarre eccentricities will, for the most part, actually make an odd kind of sense by the end of the game.
"I Love this Game, it's Super Duper. I'm Not Andrew Packard and You're Not
Agent Cooper... So Says Mr. Stewart."
And the Earnest Agent York is No Less Eccentric...
And as in Twin Peaks, the People Here Have a Preoccupation with Food
A Hunch About Lunch
Like Twin Peaks, much of Deadly Premonition's charm rests in its ability to change gears from sappy and melodramatic comedy to a deadly serious murder investigation without skipping a beat. And like Twin Peaks before it, this frequent change of pace and tone works surprisingly well. You can be knocking back a few cold ones with the Sheriff while listening to the town's lounge singer one second, then running for your life from a deranged serial killer the next. The game is pleasantly suspenseful and unpredictable, but still maintains a strange kind of coherence.
Lounge Singing
Sheriff George Woodman and Agent York Socialize at the "Roadhouse..."
Er, Umm, We Mean at the "Galaxy of Terror Bar"
The Raincoat Killer Will Attempt to End Your Investigation Regularly
Agent York Will Face Many Obstacles in His Search for the Killer
And the Raincoat Killer is One of the More Intriguing Video Game Villains
His Existence Rumored About in Urban Legends from Sixty Years Ago
The worst part of the game is a random alterna-verse where Agent York ends up battling a random assortment of zombies at frequent intervals throughout the game. With no dramatic purpose for these scenes to be included, we can only assume the development team thought the game needed a bigger "draw" than the central mystery investigation and Peaks-like atmosphere. Which is a shame, since these zombie "shoot 'em up" levels seem tacked on and rather than spice up the game they simply interrupt normal gameplay and are frankly boring in comparison.
Hmm, What Would Complement Our Small-Town Murder Mystery? Only One Thing!
"Zombies. Why'd it Have to be Zombies?"–Indiana York
These Zombies Will Attack You in the Weirdest Way Possible. Thanks Japan!
Being fans of Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2, you would think we would enjoy a little of the old ultra-zombie-violence, but you would be wrong. The zombie combat is too slow, frustrating, and terribly repetitive. Frankly, Deadly Premonition would have scored a perfect 10 in our review if the designers had simply left out this element of the game. But since they did include the zombie combat and it really slows down the story and interferes with some of our enjoyment of the other more interesting aspects of the gameplay, we ranked the game 8.5. The alterna-verse simply does not belong here, at least not this frequently. There's enough weird to go around without having a periodic, random zombie battle in each episode. Do yourself a favor and set the game to "EASY" to make this portion of the game sail by as quickly as possible.
Deputy Wyatt and Agent York Have a Heart to Heart
The best part of the game are the character interactions, particularly those between Emily and York. Their relationship is hilarious, touching, and very refreshing for a video game. Most gamers are accustomed to boring and unbelievable romances that seem randomly thrown in by immature hack writers, but Deadly Premonition is most revolutionary in its strong and well-developed characters. Nearly every single character feels like a distinct and real person.
We Have the Opportunity to Play as Emily Who is Probably Even More
Enjoyable to Play than Agent York. In Fact, She Even Shoots Better
When describing Deadly Premonition, many reviewers bandy around the phrase: "So bad it's good." But we think that is a bit misleading. While we agree that so "bad it's good" description applies to the technical aspects of game play and graphics, the writing is exceptionally entertaining. This video game is a horror-comedy hybrid, in the spirit of Twin Peaks, which is a difficult genre meld to pull off well. We offer our kudos to the writers and translators who fashioned this bizarrely funny game into existence.
Frankly, Not Many Games Feature Such Well-Written Women, in Particular
Although its story is weirder than your typical game—putting it mildly—the story is by turns funny, scary, disturbing, and sad when it is supposed to be. Honestly, the weirdest thing about this game just might be the Japanese prism through which American life is viewed. The quirky way a blue collar small town Sheriff will randomly cite an obscure fact about Feng shui, or an occasional Japanese idiom will be transliterated makes for a particularly strange and entertaining experience, too.
Agent York Clearly has Some Interesting Things Happening Inside His Mind
Deadly Premonition (2010) is technically flawed, but the characters are always entertaining to interact with and SWERY's stylized small town in the Pacific Northwest is subtly engaging. The central murder mystery is thoughtful, complex, bizarre, and compelling. And in the ongoing debate of whether video games can qualify as works of art, games like Deadly Premonition make a strong case for the format's potential. And we will likely never again get another video game that so closely emulates the experience of watching Twin Peaks. This could be the weirdest game you ever play... but in a good way.
Special Thanks to Claire Laffar for Bringing the Game to Our Attention
Original Artwork by Claire Laffar
Other articles of interest on Deadly Premonition (2010): Something Awful's "2010's Greatest Game Ever to be Made in the History of the World," Atomic Gamer's "Game Review," Level 42's "Excellent Analysis," MetaGame's "Video Game Auteur Profile: SWERY," Dan Birlew's "Game Guide," IGN's "Extremely Negative Review," and Destructoid's "Extremely Positive Review." This Podcast Contains Spoilers Podcast also did a show about the game. More information about the game can also be found at Giant Bomb's extensive and loving profile and its Wikipedia page.
Deadly Premonition Game Trailer

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1 comment:

  1. The "alterna-verse" represent's York's thought process during the investigation of random areas.