Down the Rabbit Hole

PS3 owners finally get to walk on the weird side with Deadly Premonition: The Director's Cut
Author: Vincent Ingenito
Published: January 28, 2013
"This is the game that should have saved video games, but didn't," crooned a fellow writer, his admiring tone betraying just the slightest bit of fanboy bitterness. We all have games we feel this way about – titles we were sure would be the next big thing, and in a just world, would have been. Still, judging by what was on screen, I found it hard to believe that my contemporary was being anything but ironic. Is Deadly Premonition, perhaps 2010's most critically polarizing release, really so special? And will this soon to be available "Director's Cut" for PS3 bring the game to a new set of would be converts, or will it just leave a path of confusion in its wake? I'm guessing representatives from both columns A and B will be on site to answer.

In case you missed the small, localized pocket of hysteria it originally caused, Deadly Premonition is a survival horror game that originally came out as an Xbox 360 exclusive 2 years ago. Featuring an open world structure, and David Lynch levels of bizarre atmosphere, the original inspired as much cult-driven love as it did critically-fueled hatred. For whatever charms it has, there's simply no denying how empirically awful it is in terms of production value and design, a fact that garnered it review scores as low as a 2 out of 10 from some major outlets. However, there are those who felt that its combination of shoddy craftmanship, and fearless absurdity made it a grand achievement in its own right, essentially the video game equivalent of Plan 9 From Outer Space.

Which makes Hidetaka Suehiro (called SWERY by his fans) a modern day Ed Wood by some accounts. While he's done work on bigger, more visible franchises like Tomba and Ace Combat, Deadly Premonition is undoubtedly his opus, the contribution for which he will be inevitably remembered, regardless of what else he does. And allow me to assure you that, if nothing else, you will remember this game. From the moment FBI Agent York steps into the Greenvale police department to investigate the brutal murder of a local girl, it's clear you're in for a long, irreverent tumble down the rabbit-hole.

Returning fans will be happy to know that, despite a significant sharpening up in the visual department, Deadly Premonition retains its homely identity. This might be the first time ever when fans of a game with such infamously poor visuals will actually be happy that there are no new art assets. You can see everything more clearly, but the good, bad and the ugly have only become more so. For better or worse, depending on who you're talking to, the original look and feel have been faithfully, even mercilessly preserved.

Access has done more than simply up-rez the graphics though. Aside from a new intro, and a new story scenario that adds cutscenes to the existing plot, several gameplay tweaks have been made to make the director's cut more accommodating. The town of Greenvale is actually an open 9x9 kilometer world, plenty big enough to get lost in. To help navigate it, you can now enlarge the in game mini-map to nearly full screen size, making it much easier to navigate to distant objectives. Other new conveniences include faster load times, fully mappable controls, and one more “feature” that may ruffle the feathers of the more hardcore fans.

Having decided that the main draw of their game is the story, Access wanted to make sure it could be enjoyed by people of all skill levels – a noble aim, but one that I fear isn't in step with the kind of fan they've attracted. To this end, difficulty select has been removed, and the overall challenge level has been re-tuned to somewhere between the "easy" and "normal" settings of the original. Why they wouldn't simply add this level off difficulty to the existing ones instead of making it the only possible setting, I can't rightly say. Some of the QTEs have been simplified as well to fall in line with this decision, so expect an overall breezier experience than before.

Still, I can't say that the decision to play, or avoid playing Deadly Premonition is in any way related to its difficulty. In the eyes of its most ardent fans, its such a complete disaster of a game, that it not only manages to be good, but somehow transcendent, an experience so "other" that it simply begs to be had. Even the small chunk I got to watch nearly defied description. It was as if Alan Wake and Shenmue had gotten it on in a truckstop bathroom, and I was there nine months later to watch the messy outcome. I'm not so sure that my time with it left me dying to play it, but it certainly managed to intrigue me, something I find myself feeling about fewer and fewer games these days.

Look for Deadly Premonition: The Director's Cut in late Winter or early Spring 2013.