Like many of the finer things in life, Deadly Premonition is an acquired taste. It's a very cool game, but in a very specific way. The oddball open-world mystery/horror game, which came out for the Xbox 360 in early 2010, will likely never find an audience like those enjoyed by, say, a Halo or a Minecraft. But what its supporters lack in numbers they make up for in enthusiasm.
Rising Star Games will likely enlarge that audience with their upcoming PlayStation 3 "Director's Cut" of Deadly Premonition. The expanded, re-polished game won't just let PlayStation 3 owners into the fold, it will also welcome anyone who was turned off by the original game's less-than-welcoming controls, combat and navigation.
Last week, I headed in to downtown San Francisco to meet with the game's director, Hidetaka "Swery" Suehiro and producer, Tomio Kanazawa, and to take a look at the Director's Cut.
For those who haven't played, here's the gist: Deadly Premonition is an open-world mystery/horror game that borrows heavily from Twin Peaks. You play as Francis "York" Morgan, a brilliant but decidedly odd FBI investigator who comes to the Pacific Northwest town of Greenvale to solve a series of gruesome murders.
The game plays out over as York explores the town and gets to know its colorful cast of characters, all the while surviving various action/horror sequences that play out like old-school Resident Evil. Greenvale operates on its own complicated schedule, and Morgan himself requires food and rest at regular intervals. While the game's graphics and animations are at times laughable, it's actually a very sophisticated, immersive simulation. And while the writing initially appears unhinged and borderline psychotic, Deadly Premonition eventually reveals itself to be a confident and well-conceived, if idiosyncratic, game. It's one of the true cult games of the last few years, entirely unlike anything else out there and very much worth your time.
If you haven't played the game and any of that sounds good to you, you should probably wait for late April, when the Director's Cut comes out. Here are the crucial improvements and points of difference:
- The game now has a new prologue, which introduces the story as a frame-narrative being told by someone else. I asked Swery if the narrator would pop up from time to time throughout the story, and he said yes.
- The game also has a new epilogue, which Swery said would be more or less what fans of the game might expect. Of course, he wouldn't go into much more detail past that.
- The controls have been overhauled to make the game play much better. I didn't have a chance to try them out, but from what I saw, you can now assign the buttons however you like, and the camera is, as far as I could tell, permanently fixed to the right thumbstick. No more insane stairwell-navigation or combat tank-controls. It now controls like you'd expect a third-person action game to.
- The difficulty has also been tweaked. After hearing that many people didn't finish the game while others just put it on easy and blasted through the combat sections, Rising Star has tweaked the game to only have one difficulty, which they said was somewhere between Easy and Normal.
- The map is hugely improved. This was probably the thing I was happiest to see, given that the map in the original Deadly Premonition was so incredibly difficult to use it almost felt like a practical joke. Now, the game includes a GTA-style mini-map that can be expanded in-game to show more or less of of Greenvale. I never thought I'd advocate for a mini-map, but in this game it could only make things easier. Swery did acknowledge that the first game's terrible map forced dedicated players to become more intimately familiar with the inner workings of the town, but it's hard to imagine the game really being hurt by having a better map.
The Director's Cut is still very much the shaggy-dog masterpiece I and so many others fell in love with three years ago. The animations still look like an off-brand PS2 game. The voice acting is still strange but beguiling, the music still hooky and enjoyably off-kilter. It still feels like the closest thing possible to a video game version of Twin Peaks, and Agent York is still the magnificent, enigmatic protagonist he's always been.
It's a tricky line to walk, improving a "cult" game like this without screwing up the thing that made its current following fall in love with it. But Swery, Kanazawa and their team at Rising Star appear to have pulled it off. At heart, the game is unchanged, and the only changes remove broken stuff that no one will miss.
I asked Swery if, now that he's gotten Deadly Premonition onto Xbox and PS3, if he'd consider putting it on PC. He said that he thinks of the PC as the system that's best for reaching the biggest number of players, and agreed that the mod scene could likely do amazing things with the game, were they ever to get their hands on it. He said he would certainly be interested in bringing Deadly Premonition to PCs gamers, but that Rising Star would need someone to back the project.
In the meantime, come the end of April, PlayStation 3 owners are going to get a chance to play through the best version of one of the strangest, most wonderfully weird games of the last several years. It's fitting that so much of Deadly Premonition revolves around coffee. Like coffee, it's an acquired taste, but if you give it a chance, it'll hook you something fierce. This new version just adds a touch of cream and sugar.