Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Microreview [Video Game]: Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise by White Owls and Toybox Inc.

I wish that a premonition warned me about this game.

The first game in this series, Deadly Premonition, was a cult classic that was released in 2010. The game received mixed reviews and was one of those love-it-or-hate-it kind of games for most. The best compliment I can give the game is that it was memorable. There was a uniqueness to the title that evoked a specific feeling of whimsy whenever the title was mentioned. That's not to say I don’t recall all of the game's negative traits (of which there were many), but the distinct essence of Deadly Premonition kept the game in a more positive glow for this reviewer even after a decade. Three years ago, Swery and the teams at Toy Box Inc. and White Owls decided to throw us back into the shoes of Francis York Morgan so that we could solve the case of the red seeds and figure out who’s been chopping people up all while discussing films in a wholly unusual and obsessive way.

The most simple way I could describe Deadly Premonition 2 is that it is exactly what a sequel shouldn’t be. The game attempts to create another bizarre story (and boy is it bizarre), but in the process loses out on what made the original unique and memorable in the first place. Now, there is a high possibility that I may be forgetting some of the fine details of the original, and my mind and views on the world and its politics have indeed changed these last ten years, but I don’t recall the original’s quirk being tied to incest and transphobia. When I think of this game in ten years, these are the things I will remember.

This isn't to say that the game’s director/writer intended any sort of transphobia (though one non-transphobic character misgenders at some point) through the lens of the creator, but it’s used more as a tool to create an uncomfortable otherness. It comes across as ignorant, not to mention the glossed-over conversation of race in the American South. It attempts inclusion by incorporating persons of color, a trans character, and a character with mental disabilities, but fails to have a reason to do so. The inclusion isn’t meaningful and ends up setting these characters up as caricatures to be used for the plot. It’s a wasted opportunity that unfortunately brings to light the need for more well-researched and appropriate inclusion of minorities in video game media.

All this aside, the story is an unhinged mess. One of the final cutscenes has so much going on that I’m not quite sure the writer understands what it means to create rules within a universe and then abide by them. So many things go unexplained, and not in a quirky and mysterious way that makes me want to continue to figure everything out. There is some random guy named Houngan who appears on reflective surfaces and gives you oracles that essentially allow you to solve the case. Who is he? Why does he exist? Does he exist? I have no idea. I Googled him, thinking maybe I missed something because I skipped so many awful, unrewarding side quests, but no. There is no clear answer about the character or whether he exists. While there is a chance that I could discover more about the creator’s motives through multiple play-throughs of the game, that would mean playing the game again.

The gameplay is abysmal. The controls feel awful, like no time has passed between 2010 when the original game was released, and 2020’s sequel. The skateboarding segments feel worse than the old Tony Hawk games from the ‘90s. The shooting also feels antiquated. I can’t think of a single gameplay aspect I can commend this game for. The original game’s shooting mechanics were understandable (though still awful), they were a last-minute addition to increase the entertainment value of the game. They knew the sequel would include them from the start and still bungled it. It is not exciting or fun to play almost any aspect of this game (except for the maybe the stone skipping mini-game). At one point, the game tasked me with following a dog that moves faster than I walk, but slower than I run, so I had to keep a constant pace with him as we seemingly traversed the entire town of Le Carré. Halfway through this mission, I put the game down for a week. I almost never put a game down in the middle of a mission, let alone for a week.

The final segments of each chapter force the player through long, boring shooting segments that astound me. Over the twenty hours of gameplay the main story provides, you face off against maybe seven enemy types. Three of them are animals (wolves, alligators, and bees (yes, bees)) and are encountered in the daytime. You'll find the other four in the other world and a new one is unveiled each chapter. But here’s the thing; the AI is awful, and in addition, they repeat the same audio over, and over, and over. “Snip, snip, snip!” It’s laughable.

The performance? You guessed it; atrocious. You would think that a game with basic semi-cell-shading graphics, low-poly geometry, and simple animation would perform fine, but the game stutters constantly. It’s never fully unplayable, but it constantly reminds you that you're playing a poorly optimized game. While I played this on the Switch, it’s not an excuse. The game doesn’t push any graphical or gameplay boundaries so the hindrances are unwarranted.

There are some redeeming factors to the game. It never crashed on me despite performance issues. The story is followable for the most part and some of the characters bring some charm to the small town, like Patricia. Despite the basic graphics and lack of an endearing art style, the game manages to eke out a sense of a unique small town vibe for Le Carré, and though it isn’t particularly pretty to look at or explore, it has an odd coziness to it. There were moments that I enjoyed exploring Le Carré with Patricia and trying to solve the gruesome murders, but I frequently found the rest of the game getting in the way.

Whether I was watching a dreadfully long exposition scene, killing mundane enemies with early PS2 shooting mechanics, or listening to York repeat the same conversation to himself a hundred times, I found Deadly Premonition 2 to be a complete slog. It feels antiquated in all the wrong ways and doesn’t particularly reward you for that patience with a great story. It’s interesting, to be sure. It has moments of decent storytelling but overall feels weird just to be weird. And if that’s your thing and you loved the original game, then you may enjoy this. If, like me, you enjoyed the original game for its quirk and uniqueness, but disliked the gameplay and some of its story drivel, you may find yourself repulsed by Deadly Premonition 2’s lack of advancement in any meaningful area of game design. Francis York Morgan may have some charm, but hearing him say “Lollipop, I just wanted to say that” for the fiftieth time begins to grate on one’s nerves. If you have no investment in the series, skip this game.


The Math

Objective Assessment: 4/10

Bonus: +1 for some catchy tunes. +1 for being completable and mostly understandable.

Penalties: -2 for everything else.

Nerd Coefficient: 4/10

Posted by: Joe DelFranco - Fiction writer and lover of most things video games. On most days you can find him writing at his favorite spot in the little state of Rhode Island.