Deadly Premonition Origins (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Renan Fontes 23.07.2020 2

Review for Deadly Premonition Origins on Nintendo Switch

No other medium can connect with an audience quite like video games can. There's an interconnectivity inherent to gaming that lends itself well to immersive storytelling, especially when freedom is at the crux of the core gameplay. The simple act of letting a player stray off the beaten path - of giving them a shred of genuine agency - can elevate any narrative. Deadly Premonition features a linearly told narrative, but its premise sees FBI Agent Francis York Morgan investigating a murder in the small American town of Greenvale completely at his leisure. The script itself is already remarkably well-written, but what truly bolsters the plot is a commitment to rewarding player freedom at virtually every turn. The performance of Deadly Premonition Origins stumbles more often than it should, but underneath a distinct lack of technological polish lies one of the most gripping, immersive, and freeform open-worlds in gaming. Period.

Anyone who stops to watch the demo reel will almost immediately notice how poorly everything looks and runs. The sound mixing is choppy, with music clashing over dialogue, character movements are stiff and uncomfortable, and the voice acting is blatantly amateurish. Yet there's an instant allure to the opening nonetheless - a rawness seldom seen in the medium. Deadly Premonition is as rough around the edges as a video game can be, but it doesn't diminish the experience. It doesn't take long for the vocal track Greenvale to kick in, and what was a technical embarrassment becomes a haunting moment of pure tension, as two twin boys stumble a woman's dead body in the woods. The victim of what was evidently a ritual killing, the camera doesn't shy away from the gory details, lingering on young Anna Graham's mutilated corpse. As chilling as she is intriguing, Anna's body is a promise that there's more to Greenvale than meets the eye - and an important promise one at that, since the actual first gameplay impression is lacklustre to say the least.

The story has the decency to kick off with an excellent cut-scene that establishes protagonist York's personality (along with that of his split personality, Zach) in a Tom & Jerry monologue that's surprisingly more layered than one might initially expect. It's as strong an introduction to the world of the game as the demo reel is, but it's literally derailed as York crashes his car into the first combat section. After establishing such a solid narrative foundation, it's disappointing that the opening then throws one of the title's worst stages at the audience. There's engaging level design and decent enough combat to be found, but that's not the indication the first Otherworld stage gives. Deadly Premonition gives the impression that action plays a more prominent role than it actually does, and that it's slapped together with little rhyme or reason. What's worse is that players are expected to learn the controls in a hostile setting, rather than in the comfortable and grounded Greenvale the majority of the experience is set in.

Every action York makes is methodically slow, which is appropriate in a combat-less open world, but cumbersome when action becomes the focus. York locks into place while aiming - not too dissimilar to Resident Evil 4 - yet enemies move much faster than he can react, requiring foresight that stems not from strategy, but an understanding of the control's fundamental flaws. Aiming itself manages to somehow be too stiff and too sensitive, locked over York's shoulder from an angle that outright guarantees his body will obstruct the player's view sooner or later. This is recognized to some extent as York can auto-aim with the press of ZR so long as his gun is out. There's a benefit to actually learning how to aim accurately, but auto-aiming circumvents combat's uglier qualities. Or at least most of them. It's a pity the first action section is so poor, but it's perhaps a blessing that it is - this really is the worst Deadly Premonition ever gets.

Screenshot for Deadly Premonition Origins on Nintendo Switch

Everything that plagues the first level is present later on, but sudden quick time events and infinitely respawning enemies (sometimes) are easier to stomach, when they're not the first things audiences are forced to engage with on a mechanical level. At least the atmosphere in these Otherworld sections is always top notch. Almost evocative of early Silent Hill's art direction, the Otherworld segments twist familiar locations (more impactful once players are actually familiar with said areas), by greatly decaying their architecture, killing the lights, and filling them to the brim with mindless Shadows - grotesque humans who contort their body and stagger towards the player at varying speeds. They're a creepy sight to behold, and the way they often clip through the environment actually adds to the fear factor. It's not unusual for a Shadow to suddenly jolt in front of York, making a tense scenario even tenser. If nothing else, being thrown into the deep end does add to the allure and mystery of Deadly Premonition. Opening with an action sequence was a mistake, and is almost antagonistic towards newcomers, but it's hard not find the Otherworld profoundly fascinating.

How does it tie into Anna Graham's murder? How crucial is it to understanding the mystery? How literal are these gameplay sequences meant to be interpreted? It's always a relief finishing an Otherworld, if only to return to the splendour of Greenvale. Although the story's pacing will always suggest urgency, this is more so narrative momentum is never lost if players take a break from the main plot to indulge in some side quests. The gameplay loop is at its best when treating York's time in Greenvale as a proper investigation. Every single named NPC in Greenvale has its own dynamic, 24-hour schedule that changes from chapter to chapter. They all have their own side quests that develop them as characters (and suspects) as well.

While players are more than free to exclusively follow the story's leads, Greenvale's many side quests only add to the world's scope. Even the most minor of characters have detailed backstories, personalities, and relationships with the many citizens of Greenvale. They react to the chain reaction of deaths following Anna's, and the town's mood gradually changes as York pieces together a clearer picture of his perpetrator, the Raincoat Killer. That said, for as dark and dour as the main narrative becomes, the side quests are often light-hearted opportunities to decompress. Some are heavier than others, of course, but the script has a sharp sense of humour it makes sure to nurture. There's a quirkiness at play that deliberately evokes Twin Peaks, and while it isn't subtle, it is tactful.

It should be noted that Greenvale is massive, and designed more or less to scale with a real rural American town in mind. This does mean an emphasis on emptiness, but open spaces are hardly a bad thing. Much in the same way negative space can highlight a painting's composition, the emptiness of Greenvale speaks to a realism that's often ignored in open world game design. Perhaps it doesn't lend itself to non-stop engaging gameplay, but a gameplay loop doesn't need to be non-stop to be engaging. If anything, it's easier to appreciate Greenvale's scale because it commits reality to the point of imperfection. There are stretches of map where there genuinely is nothing to do, but that's perfectly fine. It's real, and makes traveling from point A to point B all the more meaningful. Time passes slowly, and being forced to feel the passage of time places players firmly into York and Zach's shoes.

There are collectible trading cards to find scattered throughout Greenvale, but the main incentive to explore is ultimately for the benefit of your investigation - to better understand Greenvale's economy, its culture, its traditions and values. Just going out in the rain makes all the difference. The citizens of Greenvale never leave their homes when it rains, and it does rain often. A cheerful, lively community becomes a ghost town blanketed with heavy rain. As shops and other establishments close during the rain, the weather can upend progress, but it's easy enough to manipulate rainfall by sleeping in any bed (and York does have a number of options scattered across Greenvale). On that note, it should be pointed out that York has hunger and tiredness meters that players need to keep track of. It's nowhere near as cumbersome as the game initially suggests, though napping drains so much of York's hunger that anyone looking to actively do side quests will need to keep some food on hand. York also has to manage his personal hygiene - wear a suit too long without getting it cleaned and he's liable to become a Stinky Agent.

Screenshot for Deadly Premonition Origins on Nintendo Switch

Given how large Greenvale is, it's not exactly advisable to traverse long distances by foot. York will have access to a car at just about all times, but driving is far from intuitive. Fast travel can be unlocked via a side quest, but it's also one of the most time sensitive quests in the game - All this to say that getting around Greenvale will take time and patience. Especially when taking the map into consideration. Anyone who can't read a compass, expect to learn. The map moves in relation to York's point of view and is locked with an extremely limited view. It is almost impossible to use the map reliably without having a physical understanding of Greenvale's geography. Getting around is a challenge in and of itself early on, but it's not so frustrating where it isn't engaging.

Once again, it's that realism at play. Driving controls are hyper sensitive, and trying to move the camera is an exercise in futility, but keeping an incredibly steady thumb on the analogue and driving in first-person makes for some fantastic immersion. Car controls are needlessly complex - complete with turn signals and windshield wipers - but it's worth mastering them, if only to fully take in everything Greenvale has to offer. That said, it's important to be mindful of gas and car durability. Most cars are guzzlers, and they can't take too much punishment. There's a gas station in town, along with enough car variety where a player can circumvent gas issues outright, but it's worth keeping in mind.

Even mastering the cumbersome controls and learning how to get around Greenvale, there's no getting around the technical issues. The frame rate is inconsistent, and only gets worse when there are multiple cars on-screen; York's suit jacket can glitch, piercing through his torso seemingly at random; and the game is all but destined to crash if the player switches between docked and handheld play mid-session. It's never fun tiptoeing around a title's technical issues, but Greenvale is so immersive and immensely charming that Deadly Premonition is worth the occasional headache. It's not as if the technical issues are without reason, either. Greenvale's design is aggressively ambitious. Bodies of water and mirrors have 1:1 reflections, York actually sleeps under bed covers while closing his eyes, NPCs have unique animations for just about anything they do, and they're always on the move - even when the player isn't around. In terms of pacing, the main campaign is divided into Episodes which are then broken down into Chapters.

Episodes essentially cover major arcs within the story, while Chapters themselves focus on specific narrative beats. While most Chapters are cut-scene-heavy and light on combat, Otherworld sections pop up with a frequency early on. While traversing the Otherworld never becomes as gripping as exploring Greenvale, weapon variety does add something of an enjoyable edge to gunplay. Between an infinite ammo handgun, a freakishly strong shotgun, and a reliable machine gun, York does have reliable means of fighting back. Melee weapons also pack a mean punch, often doing more damage than guns at the expense of durability.

Unfortunately, combat is really only ever engaging from the player perspective. The enemy design is fairly lacklustre, never evolving meaningfully. Invisible enemies that crawl on the walls are introduced mid to late-game, but their telegraphs are long enough where the fact York can't auto-aim them isn't even a problem (a fact which might stress players out more than it needs to when they fight one for the first time). Bosses don't fare much better. They're fine enough on a conceptual level, but the poor aiming controls makes bosses a chore. They're also fairly outlandish and over the top, more so than the story's tone typically allows for. It's a stylistic decision, but considering the combat sections weren't even in the game to begin with, it's hard to appreciate the wacky boss design fully.

Screenshot for Deadly Premonition Origins on Nintendo Switch

Action is not this title's strong suit by any means, but it's not outright bad either. Either way, the Otherworld sections are purely dedicated to combat. The real crux of these sequences, especially by the last act, is York's Profiling. Gathering evidence by solving puzzles and exploring the environment, players piece together each crime scene they're investigating step by step. It's a very meticulous process, but going through the motions fully helps illuminate some of the story's finer details - that it's done primarily through visual storytelling makes it all the more impressive. There's a visceral, almost grotesque quality to York gaining a crisper picture of the gruesome murders happening in Greenvale. Framed as a film reel that York needs to remove the noise from, Profiling makes the Otherworld worth the hassle.

York is not alone in the Otherworld, however, and he'll occasionally cross paths with the Raincoat Killer. It's here where the aforementioned quick time events come in. Whenever ambushed by the Raincoat Killer, players will have a few seconds to react. That said, the Raincoat Killer usually attacks in sets of two, giving York a chance to get back up and escape if caught. These quick time events take on a new life during the auto-runner sections, which see York running from the Raincoat Killer, the camera focusing on both of them. It's almost disorienting controlling York, but so long as players simply follow the button prompts on-screen instead of considering the logistics of York's controls, they'll be fine.

Curiously, there are stealth elements that seem to be indicative of early design concepts - likely from before combat was added into the gameplay loop. There are multiple instances where the Raincoat Killer will trap York in a room, giving players minimal time to find a hiding place. Hiding is as simple as finding the closest locker and succeeding in QTEs to hold York's breath, but these set pieces make for some tense flavor nonetheless. The only real downside is that the level design never thinks to force York to stealth around the Raincoat Killer, always offering the player an immediate hiding spot.

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As for the Raincoat Killer's identity, the story does an excellent job at slowly building up to the reveal. All the suspects are considered, but York never lays out too much for the audience. It's a cheeky way of allowing the player to do their own investigating, while ensuring York looks like a competent FBI agent. As silly as the script can be, there's a maturity present, distinctly lacking from the majority of modern releases. Concepts such as sexuality, rape, and psychological identity aren't just touched upon, but explored intimately both through text and subtext. It would be in no way unreasonable to state that Deadly Premonition is worth playing for the story alone. The graphical quality is poor, but strong cinematography, and truly magnificent voice direction make each cut-scene compelling - as does the hyper-violence, never shying away from gore and graphic imagery. Video games often have a bad habit of undermining death - mainly due to developers treating their titles like toy boxes - but no one in Greenvale is safe. Realistic storytelling ensures that characters die when they naturally should. It's morbid, and results in defined NPCs with their own side quests and arcs dying - but their deaths wouldn't have half as much meaning without this jarring dose of realism.

The mystery of the Raincoat Killer, the Otherworld, and just York's relationship with his alter-ego Zach make for a thought provoking narrative. While Anna's murder is what brings York to Greenvale and kicks off the story, there's something to be said for York's relationship with Zach. At its core, Zach plays to the relationship the audience has with in-game avatars. York speaks with Zach as if through the fourth wall. It's all framed with proper context in-universe, but the intent is clearly to bridge the gap between player and game. Zach is also an excellent means of getting the audience to like York. Some of the best scenes are York's optional conversations with Zach while driving. He'll reference "their" past, how much they've been through, referencing old cases, and even their punk rock phase growing up. It's not only a fun way for the script to flex how well read it is - making real world references to cinema, television, and music - but it humanizes York considerably.

To be in York's head is almost a gift, and makes driving around Greenvale even more pleasant than it already is. But York's relationship with Zach isn't surface level, either. It's examined extensively beyond its context, and is arguably the thread which ties the whole experience together. Whether one manages to overcome the title's many shortcomings, or simply suffers through until credits roll, the ending leaves audiences with much to reflect on, almost beckoning them to come back for another play-through right away. One visit to Greenvale isn't enough to scratch the surface of everything the American town has to offer. As frustrating as it is genius, Deadly Premonition is a mess of a masterpiece.

Screenshot for Deadly Premonition Origins on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

A shoddy port of an already poorly built game, Deadly Premonition Origins isn't a definitive re-release that fixes its source's many issues - but it's still worth playing in full. Deadly Premonition isn't so bad it's good, it's just a messy product with an ugly coat of paint. Underneath that mess, however, is one of the most passionate and ambitious titles of the 2010s. Combat is nothing to write home about, and the controls will take some getting used to, but the story is masterfully told, Greenvale is one of the best open worlds in the medium, and the commitment to realism makes the mysterious serial killings at the centre of the plot stand out all the more viscerally. Every technical issue is worth the hassle, because no other game offers a world as alive or as charming with as much conceptual depth. Deadly Premonition is nothing short of brilliant.

Also known as

Deadly Premonition

Developer

Toybox

Publisher

Toybox

Genre

Horror

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

A clear as a crisp spring morning. F K in the coffee.

mr X (guest) 24.07.2020#2

shame about the awful sequel

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