While I was between Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and Fatal Frame games in the days of PS3/360/Wii, I delved into the budget title Deadly Premonition. Originally an Xbox 360 exclusive, it was eventually released in a slightly expanded “Director’s Cut” on PS3. Even better, the controls and gameplay were streamlined to make it an even more immersive experience rather than just a “video game.”
You play a detective who consults with a special, “imaginary friend” (aka: talks to himself) as he questions suspects and gathers clues to solve a gruesome murder in a small town. The quirky locals – who all have their secrets – are terrified of “The Raincoat Killer” and won’t leave their houses at night when it’s raining. Throughout your time in the town, you must contend with ghastly ghosts that contort and moan things like, “I don’t want to diiiiiiiiiie!” as they attack you. However, they only appear during specific chapters of the game, or if you are outside at night past a certain hour. Most of the game is focused more on collecting evidence and profiling to uncover the truth.
Deadly Premonition can be very straightforward if your approach is to just complete each chapter and solve the “mystery,” which is more or less what I did the first time I played. But upon a replay, I had a walkthrough all printed out and by my side, so I milked this game dry, doing all the side quests, which scores you loads of upgrades that make the horror battles that much easier, from infinite magnums and shotguns, to a special doll that automatically regenerates your health! However, side quests tend to become tedious, repetitive, and require a lot of backtracking. In fact, there are entire chapters you have to replay multiple times in order to complete certain side quests, which are dependent upon things like time of day and number of times you’ve already spoken with certain characters or performed a specific action. Definitely takes away from the flow of the story! Not to mention, while you can save whenever and wherever you find a telephone in a first play of a chapter, which is a treat in these days of autosave checkpoints, you can’t save at all during a chapter replay. Cross your fingers the game doesn’t glitch.
Oh…speaking of glitches. Another reason you’ll want a walkthrough handy if you play this on the PS3? There’s a glitch in the game that will force you to have to start the game all over for saving and quitting at the wrong time. See, in chapters when a particular item is crucial to finishing the chapter, if you get the item (let’s say a key), quit the game, replay an older chapter, then come back to play the rest of the most recent chapter at another point, word is the item will be GONE from your inventory and you can’t progress any further in the game.
So what can you expect from the gameplay? As soon as the game begins, the detective crashes his car, finds a clue, and you immediately learn about “profiling.” Although it says “profiling starting” on the screen, to truly start, you have to press a button before a quickly moving time bar runs out. No, I don’t know what happens if you don’t press it in time. I was afraid I’d find out that doing so would give me a “sucky detective” trophy or something. Profiling shows you blurry clips of events leading up to the murder, giving just a fuzzy sense of what happened and who might be involved. Effectively creepy flashbacks! Gotta love it.
Seconds after your first profiling event, you have to enter the “otherworld” for the first time—which is slightly like “dark Silent Hill,” but not nearly as ominous or terrifying. The ghosts that block your path as you travel are chilling at first (they often rise from black ectoplasm puddles on floors and walls), but you kind of get used to them as the game progresses. They are also fairly non-aggressive until you get up close, so you can usually shoot them dead before even getting near them. But they go down faster if you just use melee weapons on them. Of course, the melee weapons only last a certain number of hits before breaking—that is until you get the infinite guitar a few chapters into the game after doing a side quest, which makes the otherworld segments pretty damn easy. The ghosts do pull that Samara The Ring quick travel bullshit from across the room sometimes, which is kind of freaky. And later in the game, some of them have fricking guns (but they shoot like spastic Bub zombies). Even later in the game, there are long-haired Grudge girls that crawl out of vents and grab you from up on the ceiling. EEK!
The scariest part of some of the otherworld sequences is when you actually encounter The Raincoat Killer! Sometimes you need to do quick time events (loathe those), which basically require you to keep doing it and dying until you’re lucky enough to hit each button command fast enough. Dumb. Other encounters give you no choice but to RUN from him by jiggling the left stick back and forth. Not only that, but you’ll have to press a button at times during the run to climb over things or push things out of the way. Argh! It’s not so bad the first few times, when the camera is over your shoulder, but much later in the game, the fricking camera is in front of you! You’ll be jiggling away on the thumbstick to run, then suddenly…you’re STUCK. That’s because there’s a damn obstacle in your way that you can’t SEE. Ridiculous. And finally, there are times when you have to HIDE in a nearby closet or locker and wait for the Raincoat Killer to leave the room. However, you also have to watch the screen, for when he nears your hiding place, you have to press a button to “hold your breath,” otherwise he’ll find you and it’s game over!
SCARY NEWS! Some of the side quests are otherworld replays! Eh, it’s not as bad as it sounds. First of all, even though they’re supposedly a little harder, since you know what to expect, you pretty much blast through them, especially if you have an infinite weapon. Also, there’s NO Raincoat Killer when you replay the otherworld. There are numerous early escape routes if you don’t want to finish an otherworld side quest after you’ve begun, but once you’re in them, you might as well just plow through. Doing so makes you pretty immune to the horror of it all, so near the end of the game, when you’re almost exclusively stuck in the otherworld (EEK!), well, it doesn’t feel so eek. In fact, for me, one of the scariest parts of the game ended up being a way too long driving segment near the end in which a HUGE demon dog keeps suddenly dropping from the sky onto the road in front of you. Yeah, this is a weird game.
Now, those are the EASY aspects of the game. This is a HIGH maintenance game like no other survival horror game I’ve ever played. You need to eat. You need to sleep. You need to change your clothes. You need to send your clothes out for cleaning. You need to watch your health. You need to watch your heart rate. YEESH! Aside from being able to do all this at your hotel, there are sleeping areas all around town, plus you can drink coffee or soda to stay awake. Sleeping is also necessary to pass time if a mission requires you to be at a certain location hours later. To pass shorter amounts of time, you can smoke a cigarette to kill an hour or two.
Missions are highly dependent upon killing time. Certain people you need to meet or businesses you need to enter will only be available at particular hours. Plus, the damn weather can also affect these situations. How the frick you’re supposed to know so-and-so won’t be at such-and-such a place unless it’s raining without following a walkthrough is beyond me. This can get annoying. For instance, there are times when you’re trying to meet a person at a certain place at a certain hour on a rainy night, so you have to keep SLEEPING until it’s raining on that hour. And each time you sleep, you wake up hungry. Which means, every time you sleep (you can sleep in 3, 6, 9, and 12 hour intervals), you have to grab food and eat before sleeping again, then repeat the process over and over until it’s raining at the right time. If you don’t eat, you die! Good news is, there’s food to be found or bought everywhere. Conveniently, there are also spots with unlimited food near most sleeping locations.
You can also shave in bathroom locations, but I’m not sure why you need to beyond realism. This time around I didn’t shave at all for the near month it took to solve the mystery, yet I never topped Miami Vice scruff status! I was hoping for full-on bear cred! There are suitcases around that allow you to change clothes when your suit is dirty (sadly, you don’t get to shower—that would be sexy). There’s also a toolbox to store excess items you can’t carry in your inventory. Good news is, if you want to pick something up but don’t have room in your inventory, you can choose to automatically add it to your toolbox even if you’re nowhere near one. As magical as Resident Evil item boxes.
You make money to buy items both from solving each mission and from collection medallions you can find all over town. You LOSE money for doing things wrong…like accidentally crashing into people with your car. Oops. And yes, you get a car. You have to drive. You have to maintain the car, which takes money. You can fill up the gas tank, and you can repair the car by getting it washed. Later on, you can upgrade the car on side quests at the junkyard. If your car is close to breaking down or running out of gas and you’re in the middle of nowhere, you don’t have to foot it back to town provided you have a flare on you. Using a flare gets another car delivered to you (staying in a car that runs out of gas or breaks down means death for you!). The car can also be used for annoying side quests that score you bonus items if you run a short race in an allotted time around certain areas. The races get harder with each newer racing side quest.
To stay entertained while driving, you can TALK to your imaginary friend. What do you talk about? Pop culture, horror, and 1980s trivia. Very detailed, geek trivia. Amazing. If you get out of the car mid-stream of thought, you’re like, “let’s pick this up later.” And I’ll be damned if you don’t pick up right where you left off when you get back in the car. I’ve also learned that there’s a limit to the conversation per chapter, and it’s always the same convo. Once you’ve gone through it, your character will just whistle (it sounds notably like the Kolchak TV show whistle theme to me).
The other thing about the excessive driving—you can cut most of it out later, provided you play a side quest that scores you the walkie-talkie radio. When you have the radio in your possession, certain areas you’ve already traveled and need to travel to numerous times become teleporting options. You simply use the radio, chose the place you want to go, and voila! After an annoying load screen, you’re there, WITH your car. This is also very helpful when you need to sleep for many hours since there are sleeping stations you can warp to quickly to go through the sleeping scenario.
Because of all the side quests, chapter replays, a happy-go-lucky whistling soundtrack during the general investigation, and limited otherworld action scenes until near the end of the game, it’s a generally slow moving, non-horror experience, but you do get really immersed in the town and the characters. That doesn’t make it any more fun when one entire mission requires you to talk to every person present at a town hall meeting. That’s just one of several tedious aspects of the game. There are a couple of missions that require you to shoot items from a tree while on a timer—fail and you fail the mission. Annoying. There’s also the fishing. Yes, standing on the dock with a pole fishing. Generally, it’s just a way to fish free stuff out of the water, but there is ONE mission in which it’s a requirement. And the “technique” to get the item you want is just to hopefully press the button at the right time as a “wheel of fortune” spins on screen. So stupid. Also frustrating is an excessively long running and following segment near the end of the game. It goes on forever. The only bright side is that you’re following an adorable dog.
And of course, there are the bosses. I guess you could call the run-ins with the Raincoat Killer a boss situation, but those aren’t battles. The ONLY time you have to fight bosses is at the end of the game (I’m not complaining). The bad news? After all the work you do collecting health, ammo, and (infinite) weapons during the game, the first boss encounter is the first time you play as a different character…who has nothing but a handgun. WTF? That is the scummiest developer move ever. Plus, the boss is jumping around the spinning gears in a clock tower with a HUGE window behind him that’s letting in blinding light, which totally washes out your gun’s aiming target. To add insult to injury, there are quick time dodge events tossed into the mix. The weird news? The first boss proves to be a character with a secret…
SPOILER, INCLUDING THE PICTURE – he’s a drag queen and proves to be pretty hot and bothered by how handsome our detective is!
The second boss is a classic—a mutated dude that needs to be targeted on a particular spot on his back. Naturally, you have limited opportunities to hit that spot before you need to run around and dodge attacks. There are a few progressively more challenging stages, of course, but he’s fairly easy to beat.
The final boss has quite a few stages, and damn they get annoying. First, you’re on a stage in a theatre and he’s hanging over the seats. When you shoot him down, he launches himself at the stage. There’s a ridiculously impossible button mashing sequence you’ll never be able to execute in time since it appears at the last second, but the fact is…all you have to do is run around the fucking stage to avoid the area he aims at and you don’t even get the quick time part. The next stage has you running down a seemingly never-ending spiral staircase—by wiggling the thumbstick back and forth until you feel like your hand is going to fall off, because the mutated boss is now chasing you and swatting at you. No fighting, just running. SO annoying. The final stage isn’t so bad. You’re on a big platform in what appear to be the middle of the universe. The boss is now giant and walking around the platform, holding a little doll. You simply have to shoot the doll until the boss’s health bar depletes. The boss occasionally shoots ground strikes at you that are easy to dodge. The second part is more challenging. You now have to wait for the boss to strike the ground with his fist, climb his fist and run up his arm to his shoulder, then try to directly aim your gun at the doll from over his shoulder, while your balance is completely being thrown off. Miss your opportunity in the limited amount of time you get, and you have to start the process all over again—as in, the boss’s health bar replenishes, so you have to do the first part of this arena battle again. ARGH!
Once you beat the boss, you actually WILL feel kind of sad that your character is leaving town. But you don’t have to go right away. You can actually stick around and complete a bevy of side quests if you didn’t do them during the game, as well as a couple of new ones! In fact, one character involved in one of the new side quests even makes a comment about you not needing to hang around any longer now that the mystery is solved!
After you’ve completed Deadly Premonition and thoroughly exhausted all the side quests, I don’t know that it’s a game you’d want to play again. After all, it’s more a mystery than an action game, and the mystery always has the same outcome.