Few video games have managed to build up as much of a cult following as Access Games’ critically divisive open-world survival horror opus, Deadly Premonition. Not only did 2010’s Xbox 360 exclusive earn a prestigious spot in the Guinness World Records for being the most critically polarising video game of all time, but it also went on to become a legit cultural phenomenon that was later ported to the PC, PlayStation 3, and the Nintendo Switch. Frankly, to call Deadly Premonition the marmite of video games would be a massive understatement. Seriously, you really do either love it or hate it.
The strange thing is, for a murder mystery about an idiosyncratic FBI agent who has a penchant for coffee, cigarettes and 80’s B-movies, Hidetaka Suehiro’s rough-around-the-edges fourth-wall-breaking crime-thriller harbored a deep, meaningful story that not only emotionally resonated with fans, but skewered our preconceptions of what makes a game, well, good. In many ways, it profoundly changed the way I — and many others — view the medium as a whole.
Indeed, in a time when the majority of triple-A game narratives were copy-paste affairs that bordered on the bromidic, Suehiro — AKA Swery65 — came along with a low-budget whodunit that bucked the zeitgeist with a bonkers tale that blended the best parts of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks with the eerie atmosphere and symbolism-infused psychological horror of the Silent Hill and Clock Tower series. Fast forward to 2020, and we now have its long-awaited follow-up, Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing In Disguise. Was it worth the wait? Let’s take a peek into our cup of joe and find out, shall we Zach?
Serving as both a sequel and a prequel to the original title, Deadly Premonition 2 kicks things off in suitably nutty fashion and centers on a retired, stoned-out-of-his-mind York under investigation for a case long thought to be closed. Said case takes place in the backwater Louisiana town of Le Carré, and involves the murder of a young, beautiful woman called Lise Clarkson. For fear of spoilers, I won’t go into too much more detail, but rest assured, your favorite movie-obsessed FBI criminal profiler, Francis York Morgan, is ready to get to the bottom of yet another sinister plot.
What’s truly unique about Deadly Premonition 2 is how marvelously memorable and ridiculously campy the kookie cast of characters is. From a split personality bellboy/chef/receptionist at the Casa Pineapple hotel; to a theatrical sheriff who always expresses himself in the style of a faux voice-over actor from old movie trailers; to a bowling-obsessed widowed old biddy, there’s just an absurd amount of brilliantly written and wonderfully voice-acted personalities to be found in Le Carré.
Of course, all that campiness can prove to be tiresome in the wrong hands, but somehow, Swery’s latest sequel manages to balance all the bonkers zaniness with enough compelling drama, disturbing horror, and last-minute twists and turns to really make the story zing. Furthermore, while many familiar themes and motifs make their return — mysterious red seeds, nightmarish expanses reminiscent of Silent Hill’s otherworld, and barmy dreamscapes that unearth the hidden psyche of our crackpot protagonist — there’re a few new flashback-heavy storytelling techniques that help make the narrative feel pretty fresh. Long story short, the charming characters, the humorous dialogue and the emotional rollercoaster-like story are where Deadly Premonition 2’s artistic elements shine through the brightest.
Onto the gameplay, then, and this is where Deadly Premonition 2’s more antiquated design philosophy becomes a little harder to swallow. Much like the original, the game is set in a living and breathing open-world brimming with those aforementioned bizarro characters. The colorful cast of Le Carré’s inhabitants often gives the player handy directions, helpful advice, or even gift you with brand new quests, too. Impressively, all these individuals have their own personal routines and schedules that help the bustling town feel alive. Thankfully, if you’re looking for a specific person, you can always zoom in fully on the town’s map so you can see exactly where they are at any one time. Trust me, that tip will come in handy!
In addition to the myriad madcap folk, populating the town are a bunch of pesky critters who’re ready to rain on your parade. Dastardly squirrels, peckish alligators, and wild dogs can be discovered wandering the streets and riverbanks of Le Carré, which give you a prime opportunity to test your mettle with some third-person Resident Evil 4-esque over-the-shoulder gunplay. Fortunately, the core shooting is reasonably solid, especially when you’re up against the unsettlingly creepy horrors that lurk in the otherworld. However, the unreliable framerate — especially in the game’s exterior open-world sections — can make the action feel imprecise (more on this later).
Similar to its predecessor, York must eat, sleep, shave and shower to make sure he’s fighting fit. Honestly, these little touches do genuinely help you connect with the world of Deadly Premonition 2. It’s one of those rare games that authentically makes you feel like you organically exist in its strange, otherworldly reality.
What further accentuates this unique quality is that even carrying out the game’s more rudimentary investigative legwork can feel surprisingly true to life. For example, going out of your way to track down a witness or a family friend for questioning, who you may have not yet met, may be essential in making progress in the story. In other words, you’ll occasionally have to use your own noggin, rather than simply following a marker to your next objective. Essentially, these instances can sometimes make you feel like a genuine real-life gumshoe.
Rounding out the new gameplay additions is a brand new charged attack that’s quite useful for taking down Deadly Premonition 2’s more varied menagerie of macabre beasties (you can now mow down a roomful of nasties in one satisfyingly well-placed shot), as well as a new weapon upgrade system that allows players to get a bit more personal with York’s handgun — which is affectionately dubbed Mr. Alligator (I kid you not). Moreover, a bunch of new mini-games — like skateboarding, bowling, skipping stones, and riverboat rides — have also been added into the mix and are reasonably entertaining diversions in short bursts.
Unfortunately, from a presentation and performance perspective, Deadly Premonition 2 looks and plays much like its predecessor, for better or for worse. The catchy jazz-pop is absolutely amazing, some of the visuals in the many cut-scenes often look pretty sharp, and the well-directed cinematography helps to add some cinematic flair to much of the horror and the drama. However, textures and character models can frequently look like they’ve been lifted straight out of the PlayStation 2 era. And the framerate — particularly in the vast, outdoor areas — can occasionally drop into the single digits. Technically, it’s fair to say that the game is a bit of a mess. Hopefully, an update is deployed soon to help alleviate the performance issues in the future.
Truth be told though, in spite of all its foibles, there’s just so much to love about Deadly Premonition 2 that it’s not too difficult to look past its technical issues. It’s a marvelously weird low-budget title that’s the very epitome of a game that is greater than the sum of its parts. Boasting heart and ambition in spades, it’s one of those rare experiences that makes you feel a part of its bizarre, otherworldly reality. The loveable characters, the endearingly awkward dialogue, its unsettling atmosphere, and its twisted sense of humor only help to sweeten the overall deal. Make no mistake: it’s an acquired taste, for sure. But for those who’re fans of the original, you’ll feel right at home in the bonkers, and truly unforgettable, world of Le Carré.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A copy was provided to us by Thunderful Games/Rising Star Games.
While Deadly Premonition 2 suffers from technical shortcomings, the oddball characters, endearing dialogue, disturbing atmosphere, and emotional rollercoaster-like story are where its artistic elements shine through the brightest. Simply put: If you’re a fan of the original, you’ll love this.