My first encounter with Deadly Premonition came when I spotted it on the shelves of a local video store. Suffice to say, the cover art stood out from the crowd:

Who wouldn't rent this?

In a field of sports games, militaristic shooters, space marines, and the occasional swordsman v. dragon, a hooded person screaming as blood runs down their face counts as something of an anomaly. The axeman, naturally, sealed the deal. I rented the game immediately, and started playing it later that night. Just two hours in I'd already decided that I had to purchase my own copy, which I proceeded to do the next day.

I was ready to write an article nominating Deadly Premonition of the title of "Game of the Year" just halfway through its runtime. I'd already started grabbing screenshots and outlining when I noticed that the website Something Awful had posted a satirical article making the same suggestion. This left me thinking that I really ought to see what general critical consensus was before stepping up to make a fool of myself (once again). I quickly finished the game, and once I'd stopped weeping openly, I swung by the old Internet to see what various sites had to say about the game. After a little skimming I came to the conclusion that people were universally hard on the gameplay and graphics, but divided on the story. There was a "so stupid it made my brain bleed" camp, as well as a "so stupid I couldn't stop laughing" camp.

I wondered, for just a moment, anyhow, whether they'd played the same game I had. You see, the thing I responded most positively to in Deadly Premonition was the writing.

It may not have Heavy Rain's graphics, it certainly can't compete with Alan Wake's omnipresent product placement, but it has something I've rarely, if ever, seen in a videogame—a truly great story. Not great in the "so bad it's good" way, not great in the "high camp" way, not great in the "we're too hip to step into the world of a game and actually appreciate it for what it is, so let's just snigger from the sidelines" sort of a way. I'm not blind, mind you—I'm fully aware that the game can be enjoyed in all of those ways, I'd even admit that it invites those interpretations with its broad characterisations and supernatural flights of fancy. There's another, better way to approach the game, however. For anyone willing to take it at face value and suspend their disbelief, the game offers a rich world full of fascinating characters and enthralling mysteries. Players willing to engage with Deadly Premonition on its own level will find a story unlike anything they've seen in a videogame—and they'll find themselves wishing more games went that extra mile to create truly compelling narratives.

Deadly Premonition Screenshot

The game received a 2.0 from IGN, and a 10 from Destructoid, but both reviews approached it in exactly the same way—from a place of ironic detachment. Neither one was able to engage with the story, and so they couldn't see the game's true value. IGN couldn't get past the craziness of the plot, and Destructoid found the whole thing hilarious, going so far as to give it an ironic grade. By not being willing to just suspend their disbelief and inhabit the game's insane world, they missed out on one of the most special videogame storytelling experiences of all time, as well as the opportunity to really get to know a videogame character like never before.

That's right, because of a brilliant gameplay conceit that I'll expound upon at length later, Deadly Premonition allows the player to get inside the head of its main character in a way that no game (and nothing outside of novels) ever has—by the end of the game a player who has fully explored Deadly Premonition will know York Morgan more than they've ever known any other videogame hero, and once that's the case, they'll find it impossible not to be touched by his experiences. This is one of the most rawly emotional stories ever to appear in a videogame, and it has the ability to, if you let it, pull you in like no other medium could manage.

I'm not saying that Deadly Premonition should be the template for how every game should be designed—yes, the "gameplay" is largely abominable and dated—but it should be looked at as a singularly brilliant example of videogame storytelling, one that deserves to be studied by every game developer out there, so they can see how a story can succeed where 99% of video game stories don't. Deadly Premonition makes you a part of the story, and luckily, it's a fascinating story to be a part of.

Deadly Premonition has no real competition for title of "Horror Game of the Year". I'd even go so far as to say that, despite it being, in many ways, a terrible game, by December there won't be much competition for calling it the flat-out "Game of the Year".

But hey, I'm getting ahead of myself. I'm not just here to talk about Deadly Premonition in general, I'm here to present some highlights of the game, go in-depth about some of its details and mysteries, try to explain just why it's such an incredibly special experience—basically to convince anyone who takes the time to read this to play it for themselves.

In fact, let me just pause right here to encourage you to go out and buy the game—the rest of these articles are going to go into exhaustive detail about the game's plot, characters, and mechanics, and I can't stress enough how much better a time you'll have discovering all of it for yourself, playing late into the night with all the lights down low. You can always come back and read the articles later—they're not going anywhere, but your lack of knowledge about Deadly Premonition's secrets is.

Okay, now that the convolutions are done with, let's start the game!

As mysteries must, Deadly Premonition begins with a corpse. An artistically posed corpse at that. More importantly, what the hell kind of tree is that?

A murder tree?

Seriously, though, just a minute into the opening movie and I already know I'm in for something special. You've got sex, violence, biblical allusion, demonstration of character traits without dialogue—this is clearly the opening of a real story, one that's shooting at a target slightly more difficult than the average murder mystery.

The snake represents communist expansionism.

You've got an Eve crucified to the tree of knowledge as a flesh-coloured snake slithers between her nearly-naked breasts. I generally prefer my imagery to be a little less incredibly on-the-nose, but the game wants to make it absolutely clear that the woman's death was caused, at least in part, by a curiosity about the forbidden (specifically sex). The fact that Deadly Premonition's opening gives me a chance to talk about the imagery being employed alone serves to set it apart from the crowd, and is just the first of the game's many, many wonderful flourishes.

The movie then goes on to check in with a variety of the characters we'll be meeting over the course of the game, each of whom is dealing with news of the death in their own way, before the whole thing ends with as interestingly-framed a shot as you're likely to see in a game.

Moody bar!

The game hasn't even started yet, and we're already being shown that violence has crushing real-life consequences, causing people to run the gamut of reactions from stoic resignation to utter hysteria. Before we know any of these characters' names we understand they're important, and can start to make guesses on how they fit into the overall picture. The mystery's already begun pulling the player in, and we haven't touched the controller yet.

Next time, we'll meet our main character!

If you don't want his identity and details of the plot spoiled, I'd like to encourage you once again to zip on over to Amazon where you can order a copy of Deadly Premonition for under twenty dollars. In fact, if at any point in this series of articles I manage to make you feel like this is a game worth taking a look at, I absolutely want to encourage you to immediately stop reading and go get the game—you won't be disappointed.

And if you are, hell, it was just twenty dollars. Send me a bill. I won't pay it, but feel free to send it along.

Oh, and while comments on this article are fine, try to keep them spoiler-light.

Next time: Meet York Morgan (Deadly Premonition is the Game of the Year, Part 2).



Daniel Weissenberger

Daniel Weissenberger

What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died?

Nothing relevant to this conversation, that's for sure! Because we're here to talk about (sorry, write and read about, respectively) GC_Danny, who's updating this profile for the first time in thirteen years!

So let's take a gander back at that time and see what's happened! In addition to writing hundreds of video game reviews, Dan produced a book that can be legally purchased by almost anyone! He also wrote two short films, two episodes of television, and two movies! Although, sadly, and through much fault of his own, the movies have yet to be released.

In addition to general game reviewing, he's also dabbled in more long-form work, writing some of the longest and most comprehensive game reviews of all time. Then there's his non-GameCritics blogging, where he's famous as the world's foremost expert on the TV show Criminal Minds, as well as the co-host of a weekly podcast!

If all that wasn't enough, just a few months ago he rebranded himself as 'The Hidden Object Guru', hoping to stake another claim of ultimate expertise, this time over a genre of casual games! Will he be successful? Only time will tell, but you're free to join the thrilling ride at his YouTube channel!
Daniel Weissenberger

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10 Comments on "Deadly Premonition is the Game of the Year (Part 1)"

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Kristy
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Kristy
5 years 3 months ago

I found this article through a search engine. It’s only the first portion of it and I’m already planning a trip to buy Deadly Premonition later today. Although the video sealed the deal, your writing didn’t hurt matters. Thanks for such an interesting read. I look forward to the game and the remaining articles of this series.

randolf
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5 years 6 months ago
twin peaks with a japanese filter smalltown murder, a little off kilter xbox 3 and a lyrical tilt and you’ll find squirrel keys but the Sheriff’ll jilt ya at the alter, worshipping the goddess never falter, this oddysey’s the oddest inhabiting Jake – the imaginary friend a double personality, the player has to bend like the f*****-up zombiez, black-mouthed corpses gotta hold your breath, the tutorial taught this… (don’t) hold your breath, just do the side missions the wrench never breaks and it r*pes all the demons the radio you get does some funky transmissions… cut-scene, dodge the raincoat killer… Read more »
Rohsiph
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Rohsiph
6 years 2 months ago
If you don’t enjoy the humor, I’m not sure it’ll be able to pull you in very quickly. Through my experience the humor encouraged me to invest myself in the game-world (as per Daniel’s recommendation) so that the first tonal shift’s force solidified my attachment. I can easily see it going exactly the other way if the humor just isn’t your cup of coffee. But I’m really replying because you mentioned CoC (Dark Corners of the Earth, yes?). It’s an interesting connection–and I think it’s apt. Similarly flawed, with moments of absolute genius making it a game whose good points… Read more »
crackajack
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crackajack
6 years 2 months ago
looking forward to part 2, 3 … a game were the story is great?! But as i may have an opinion so far, videos seem like i could not enjoy it. Pretty laughable dialogs, characters and animation. The graphics look ok enough for me. It doesn’t take itself too serious? But it looks quite serious, serious in a soap opera fashion? Is Call of Cthulhu slightly similar? Despite a major bug in the end and the obviously low budget it was fun. If its at least the same quality i might want to get it. Nevertheless, i would have problems… Read more »
Sparky Clarkson
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Sparky Clarkson
6 years 2 months ago
It’s a natural point of reference, I guess. I liked Twin Peaks quite a bit, but I thought it was occasionally “too much” in Sontag’s sense. I’m a bit suspicious of this reaction though, as I’ve found that different people find different aspects go over the edge for them. One could argue, for instance, that Major Briggs’ stilted dialogue isn’t the sort of thing any actual person would say, but I’ve actually met several men who talk like that all the time (most of them are preachers). I have the feeling that Twin Peaks was created by assembling the largest… Read more »
Lunar Coyote
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Lunar Coyote
6 years 2 months ago
I didn’t find the humor, soliloquies, abrupt changes in tone/atmosphere, and other inconsistencies to be much of a problem; Deadly Premonition obviously doesn’t take itself too seriously and is quite self-aware that it is a quirky budget title, so the jokes are numerous and the weirdness is omnipresent. However, this does not change the fact that the characters and story are deep and interesting. York is still a well-crafted and touching character, and, in a way, the brutal changes in tone and the weird humor are very reflective of his personality and of the unique game world he evolves in.… Read more »
Daniel Weissenberger
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Daniel Weissenberger
6 years 2 months ago

Sparky,

I’ll get around to discussing the tonal shifts and humour as they come, but as a quick way of gauging reactions to DP, I’d like to ask, what are your feelings towards Twin Peaks?

Stephanie
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6 years 2 months ago

Okay that’s it. I am finding way too much positive reception of Deadly Premonition to pass this up. People keep lauding it as terrible (mostly because — and I quote X-Play “It has PS2 graphics”) but since when is good storytelling to be shunned to the shadows because of the graphics? I’m sure they had a small budget, and to get a story that unique for $20? No one deserves to talk trash about this game. I can’t wait to check it out for myself finally!

Sparky Clarkson
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Sparky Clarkson
6 years 2 months ago
I like your take on the opening shot of the victim quite a bit, Dan, though I think you’re belaboring the point when you get to the barroom scene. I’m interested to see more of your discussion of this game. Perhaps you’ll get into this later on, but why do you think the game intrinsically supports an immersive approach to interpretation? I tried to approach it this way myself, because it’s my usual way of dealing with a game, and found that I just couldn’t sustain it. The broadly played comedy, the “soliloquies”, and the weird shifts and disconnects in… Read more »
Lunar Coyote
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Lunar Coyote
6 years 2 months ago
Finally someone whose understanding of Deadly Premonition is close to mine. I decided to buy this game impusively after reading the ironic and misleading Destructoid review, seeking a funny, out-of-the-box video game experience I could laugh at, or at least, something so different and weird that it could wash away the awful taste left in my mouth by MW2’s single-player campaign and all the other over-hyped games I was blindly buying. What I found in Deadly Premonition forever changed the way I play video games. It is charming, witty and funny, but also demanding and heart-wrenching. The story is deep,… Read more »
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