Deadly Premonition 2 review – Francis York Morgan strikes back
The sequel to one of the strangest video games ever made is a technical disaster and yet still has some of the funniest dialogue of the year.
With the next generation of consoles fast approaching, and games like The Last Of Us Part 2 already out, video games have reached a level of unparalleled sophistication not just in terms of graphics but everything from the controls to the voice-acting. As a result, players now expect a much higher quality of presentation from indie titles, let alone full price games… but they won’t find it in Deadly Premonition 2.
Not only are the graphics absolutely appalling, to the point where we can think of several PlayStation 2 games that looked better, but the controls, camera, and combat are also shockingly poor, to a standard we wouldn’t have believed possible nowadays… or at least we wouldn’t if we hadn’t already played, and loved, Deadly Premonition 1.
Often mischaracterised as a game that’s so bad it’s good, the original Deadly Premonition (recently re-released via a disappointing Switch port) suffered from all manner of technical and presentational problems but not only did it overcome them, with its captivatingly bizarre plot and characters, but its off-kilter atmosphere was positively enhanced by the technical faults of the game itself. To the point where we’re now not sure whether the same problems in the sequel are an affectation or not.
We’re going to give Japanese auteur Hidetaka ‘SWERY’ Suehiro the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s not making the graphics and controls this bad on purpose and that, once again, it’s all simply a result of a lack of budget and experience.
Things do start off particularly poorly though, with the first 20 minutes of introduction almost enough to put anyone off the whole game. Deadly Premonition 2 uses a similar flashback framing device as the director’s cut of the first game, in which aged FBI agent Francis Zach Morgan (the middle name is important) is interrogated by a couple of fellow agents about an old case.
Whereas the original game was heavily influenced by Twin Peaks, here SWERY borrows obviously and liberally from season one of True Detective. But the present day sections are instantly unappealing and a complete drag whenever the game returns to them.
Thankfully, when the story proper begins, the tone suddenly shifts to something much closer to the original, as York (as he preferred to be addressed back then) recounts how he ended up in the small town of Le Carré in the US deep south. Just as before, it’s not because he was told to go there by the FBI, he just turns up, ostensibly on holiday, and begins to investigate the murder of a local girl and a deadly new drug.
Or at least sometimes he does that. A lot of his time is spent haranguing passers-by over their taste in movies, learning to ride a skateboard (his car got stolen), stone-skipping at the river, and talking to an invisible friend called Zach (it’s a personal matter, he prefers not to be asked about it).
Not that the people of Le Carré are exactly what you’d call normal either, from the hotel owner that plays every role, from concierge to chef, but pretends nobody notices, to the young daughter of the local police sheriff (who describes every situation as if he’s voicing a bad movie trailer) who tags along with York as his guide, but is sensibly suspicious of everything he says and does.
Within half an hour of setting out on your investigations York has upset or weirded out everyone he’s met and implied that Bigfoot is behind the murder. Although even getting that far into the game requires putting up with what we can confidently say is the most technically incompetent game of the generation. Deadly Premonition was always bad but despite Le Carré being quite a small open world area the frame rate is shockingly poor and the graphics, and in particular the animation, is so terrible we genuinely thought it was a joke at first.
The hopelessly clumsy controls make the various attempts at stealth and survival horror a nightmare, or at least they would do if the Silent Hill-esque ventures into an alternate dimension weren’t so pointlessly easy. They were already not as scary as the first game but they quickly become just another part of the game that has to be endured rather than enjoyed, as you wait for York to say something funny again. Which, to be fair, he usually does.
It’s the banal nature of most of the story missions that finally kills the game though, as you’re forced to take part in pointlessly boring fetch quests or solve insultingly easy puzzles. Even the forensic profiling of the original game has been dumbed down, and while it was always a case of smoke and mirrors here it’s been reduced to just clicking on everything on-screen to get a description.
And yet as bad as Deadly Premonition 2 is we still enjoyed large chunks of it, purely due to the dialogue and bizarre characters. It’s not that the script is well-written necessarily but there’s a strange Lynchian quality to the whole experience that is at once dreamlike and so impossibly naïve it’s frequently laugh out loud funny – sometimes when it’s trying to be and sometimes not.
As in the original, the game’s inhabitants run on their own clock, so if you’re not in the right place at the right time to meet them then you won’t. That was highly original back in 2010, with the first game, and it’s still unusual now, but the problem with the sequel is that there are no longer enough characters to really make it work. The cast is noticeably smaller than the first time round and apart from anything else that’s a real problem when the game is trying to be a murder mystery with not enough suspects.
The saddest thing about Deadly Premonition 2 is that it’s become what everyone accused the original of: it really is so bad it’s good. Although not in the sense that you’d ever want to play it yourself. There’s a lot of funny stuff in the game, and we’re sure streamers and YouTubers will have a field day with it, but the unlikely balance that made the first game so compelling, both in spite of and because of its technical failings, has been lost. It’s still not as bad as it looks – it’s hard to imagine anything could be – but lightning has not struck twice.
Deadly Premonition 2 review summary
In Short: A technical disaster in almost every conceivable way, which obscures not only the hilarious characters but the fact that the game is considerably less compelling and nuanced than the original.
Pros: The characters are wonderful, not just York but all the new ones too – especially his young ward Patti. The dialogue and voice-acting is often bad but in a way that enhances the atmosphere and comedy.
Cons: Everything about the graphics is absolutely terrible, especially the frame rate. The characters are fun but there’s not enough of them and the story lacks the depth of the original. Not scary.
Formats: Nintendo Switch
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Developer: White Owls Inc. and TOYBOX inc.
Release Date: 10th July 2020
Age Rating: 16
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