20th Sep2019

‘Deadly Premonition: Origins’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Britt Roberts

A wonderfully bonkers and yet flawed title from 2010 sees release on the Nintendo Switch. Whilst technically unimpressive, the game draws you in almost on sheer curiosity alone with its premise and execution. In my eyes definitely deserves the cult classic title it holds in the industry.

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I do have a personal history with Deadly Premonition, back in 2010 I played it on Xbox 360 and was about eight hours into the game when my save file corrupted / red rings of death occurred. As I had made such progress, I couldn’t bring myself to restart and so it lay dormant for about five years. Then, around four years ago I snapped it up in a steam sale and, although I dipped in and out, it always felt too fresh in the memory and that play-through never gained traction (We all know about the Steam sale vortex of the forgotten). Finally, after receiving it for review on Switch almost a decade after I was originally introduced to the rural town of Greenvale…I was ready to return.

The story of Deadly Premonition puts you in the shoes of FBI Agent Francis York Morgan, who has come to the town of Greenvale in order to assist in solving the murder of teenager Anna Graham, Agent Morgan is in a pretty much constant state of narration due to inner monologues with his ‘second persona’, Zach, which accounts for a lot of the humour and more abstract moments in the game.

From the second he crashes into Greenvale, everyone in the town is a suspect and the case is clearly part of something bigger and more ominous than anyone has foreseen with the answers tied to the shrouded history of Greenvale itself.

The main areas of game play in Deadly Premonition can be broken down into several parts, there are the more ‘open’ sections where you are free to explore Greenvale and solve side quests, talk to the locals and stock up on items before you drive around to collect the scattered ‘Trading Cards’ that are hidden around or move to the next maps marker to proceed with the main narrative. Either way, you’ll be treated to the constant chatter of Agent Morgan (provided by oddly the calming tones of voice actor Jeff Kramer) as he ponders the merits of various movies and general 80’s trivia with Zach.

These areas are where the game shines best, just watching Agent Morgan interact with the townsfolk in his own, inimitable way, and pottering around visiting the handful of locations in the town and its colourful inhabitants illustrate the unique sensibilities of the game, it feels like an irreverent explosion of ideas from a single individual or small team that hand a hand in everything. My favourite parts of the game were just watching the character interactions as the mystery deepens,driving around the town listening to the light jazz and whistling tunes that accompany you and yes…the car handles like the one in Hard Drivin’, don’t you worry about that.

Before I get on to the more negative aspects, I’d like to talk about the tone and inspirations for the game which will give you an idea of how it’s all presented. I can sum this up in two words that sound suspiciously like ‘Shin Beaks’ because yes, it’s a lot like David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Agent Morgan’s positive outlook and social demeanour call to mind Kyle Machlachlan and there are many other points that directly reference the cult show:

  • Messages found in (and a general obsession with) coffee
  • Divulging of the seedy undercurrent of rural American towns
  • Exploration of duality in good & evil and other aspects
  • Use of oddly upbeat music over unpleasant situations
  • And I daresay many more than hardened Twin Peaks fans will spot throughout…

There are, of course aspects of the game that aren’t robust, otherwise this would be a classic as opposed to a cult classic so I’ll get onto those as well.

Combat in the game is stiff, repetitive and generic, there’s no other way to describe it (it’s similar to Resident Evil 4… but clunkier). The samey (initially creepy but quickly tedious) enemies seem endless as you make your way through maze-like corridors that make up the buildings in the town in which you find clues. These combat-focused sections reminded me of Persona 4 in that it’s just a constant barrage of identical corridors that seem to exist mainly to extend the game and each time I reached for my gun or melee weapon, I sighed a sigh of resignation as I knew I was in for twenty minutes of irritation. It’s easily the worst aspect of the game even though different guns and melee weapons are available to suit your style.

When you come face to face with the killer, there’ll inevitably be some joystick waggling and Quick Time Events to evade him, another relic of gameplay from the previous console generation that is oddly strict with time here, meaning multiple restarts will be necessary unless you have the reflexes of a cat on PCP, which leads us into another section of the game that works against it, the un-skippable cut-scenes that you’ll re-watch each time you die and need to re-do a section (saving is managed by way of telephones scattered around the game world). There was a section in the Greenvale lumber mill that I misunderstood, thinking I had to wait for a certain moment to get out of the cupboard I was hiding in to run past the killer as he searched for me and quite frankly, I’ve never seen a man exit a cupboard so casually in the immediate presence of an axe-wielding serial killer, quite frankly, he deserved to die.

The only other major issue I had (and this is oddly the one that hurts me the most) is the lack of variety in the audio design. The music used in the game is fantastic and quirky but it gets re-used so often that after a few hours you’ll tire of it, great as it is. I was a fan of the juxtaposition of light-jazz against the darker elements of the story and vice-versa but the same audio cues come in again and again which massively lessen their impact, some variety here would have worked absolute wonders.

Moving on to the actual Switch port itself, aside from some audio glitches that I believe are being ironed out as I type this, the game runs as I remember it and lasts around three hours or so on the Switch in handheld mode, around the same time as the recent Friday 13th game. The visuals still have a slightly blurry feel to them and, when driving some distant mountains flickered oddly as if the lighting wasn’t 100% ‘there’ but to be honest, it just adds to the weird, dreamlike feel of the game and as the technical aspects clearly aren’t the focus, it’s not as big of a deal as it could be.

There are a LOT of people who won’t click with the atmosphere, focus purely on the game play and think ‘Wow, this is a janky mess’ and that is definitely a valid viewpoint but as an experience, Deadly Premonition feels quite singular, a game made by Japanese developers for a Western audience under tight budgetary restrictions that comes up with strong voice acting and such a unique vibe feels like it should be celebrated and remembered, warts and all. For me, this is one that I still remember well nine years on from my initial time with game and I will see it through to the end this time, even through the dodgy combat. Isn’t that right, Zach?

The review code for this game was kindly supplied by Numskull Games who are the European / Australian publisher for Deadly Premonition: Origins. The physical release of which is coming November 2019.

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