By the time I finally reached credits in Deadly Premonition 2, I mentally felt like I had run a marathon. I went through a gamut of emotions in the two days I dedicated to clearing it for review, and it’s even a tad hard now to sum up my thoughts on the game without resorting to the tried and true “mixed feelings”.
The Deadly Premonition series is primarily the work of Japanese game designer Hidetaka Suehiro, most commonly known by Swery65 or simply Swery, who could be described as the quirky creator of many bizarre games over the years. 2010’s Deadly Premonition put his name on the map thanks to its sheer quirk which somehow managed to overshadow just how broken of a game it was in just about every department. It went on to become a cult hit and garnered a following which resulted in ports for a variety of systems after its original Xbox 360 debut.
Since then, however, a lot has happened in its creator’s life, with even him apparently leaving it all behind in order to become a monk at some point. When he got back, he started a new studio called White Owls and later announced a Fig campaign for a new game called The Good Life, which ended up not meeting its goal back in 2018 but eventually picked up steam through Kickstarter and is now slated to come out sometime this year. So it came as quite a surprise when during April’s Nintendo Direct it was announced that Deadly Premonition 2 would be coming out a few months later as a Nintendo Switch exclusive, after it was quietly unveiled late last year. Agent York and his friend Zach would live on to see another game.
And what a game it is.
Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise is both a direct sequel and prequel to the original Deadly Premonition. It opens in 2019 in a Boston suburb as two FBI agents make their way to Francis Zach Morgan’s run down apartment in order to question him about new evidence found for a case he’s long solved, one that took place in 2005 in the sleepy Louisiana town of Le Carré. It’s been years since he left the bureau and he’s now physically sick and more unhinged than what we’ve seen him before, if you can believe it.
For anyone that happens to be uninitiated in how Deadly Premonition as a whole goes about its business, this new entry will instantly invoke the feel of a bargain bin game, one that you could just tell right from the get go that it’s truly awful from just playing a few minutes, same as anyone would back in 2010 when booting up the original. Going in with the right mindset is paramount to trying to understand what Swery and crew attempt to go with here, and that is delivering an utterly bizarre gaming experience.
Drinking their Kool-Aid is all well and good, but there’s absolutely no denying that what was considered charming ten years ago might sit as well now, and that what could be taken as a happy accident in the past wouldn’t work as an excuse this time. In that regard, A Blessing in Disguise is as faithful of a follow up as a game could be, and if you’re expecting to play a game as technically flawed and frustrating at times as the first Deadly Premonition, you’ll be surprised with how much the new one manages to surpass it in every one of those departments.
The opening bits in modern day with York and the agents chatting look and play somewhat like a visual novel of sorts since you’re not given much control outside of choosing which order the various exchanges take place, along with the characteristically strange vibe that comes from Swery’s iconic dialogue writing that even manages to elevate pizza to an extremely believable divine level. This section gives absolutely no clue as to how the rest of the game plays when you’re back controlling Francis York Morgan — call him York, it’s what everyone does — that is, slow to a crawl.
You can name practically any technical fault that could be in a game and it’s likely that Deadly Premonition 2 has it during the segments that take place in Le Carré, the prequel content as you will to the events of the first game. Be it terrible frame rate and incredibly short draw distance in as you skate around town to the sheer unbalanced quality of the visuals, the warping around of characters during the rare times you see some walking about, or the lockups and crashes that randomly happen, be them during scene transitions or even when trying to save the game, incredibly long loading times that take place every time you walk into or out of a building… the list goes on and on.
With apparent plans for a patch in the works according to the devs, you could say that Deadly Premonition 2 in its current state is among the most technically problematic games to come out in the last few years, and from anyone looking from the outside, it’s a product that should be avoided at any cost, but to those like me who have grown to appreciate the original game after watching an “endurance run” of it done by the late Ryan Davis during his time at Giant Bomb back in the day and eventually playing through it for myself, I eked out enough enjoyment out of this latest entry despite and in spite all of its flaws.
Everything in it feels like it belongs in a Dreamcast or early PlayStation 2-era action adventure game like Headhunter, where the action and shooting are overly simplistic and rigid, and the gameplay features are plentiful, but never go anywhere or play a significant role in your progression, all the while absurdly grind-heavy and time consuming. Deadly Premonition 2 takes place in an open-world that’s barren with very little of actual interest to do outside of whatever the main objectives happen to be in any particular point. The many side quests that you can do give practically no clues for their completion and feel like a chore, their rewards downright pitiful, as you run around killing an insane amount of critters or fetching difficult to pick out items around town.
The little that there is in terms of actual investigating, you know, what FBI special agents are known to do, is very straightforward and there’s little to no input on your part in order to solve any of the scenes you’ll be clicking through with York. His intuition mode, a meter that’s on the top left of the screen and is refilled by drinking coffee (what else?) only comes into play when trying to look for items on the ground and not for the expected sleuthing. The most interacting you do in these instances is severely limited and take no actual thinking on your part. The only real detective work you’ll have to do, really, is figuring out where to go next in some of the quests in the game due to the absence of clear instructions which is perhaps yet another of its (un?)intended quirks.
Deadly Premonition 2 is dictated by an in-game clock that moves at a snail’s pace, and key story events usually don’t give enough time to get to wherever you need to be next, or way too much time and nothing to do in-between. You can only make it go faster by going back to York’s hotel and sleeping in, or taking a smoke outside, either of which you’ll be forced to do in a few key moments during the story due to how ridiculously far — days ahead — a timed objective is or just because you missed someone’s routine and didn’t manage to catch them where they’re supposed to be at, not to mention store hours.
Funnily enough, the only 24-hour shop that’s in the game isn’t critical to the story, and its only purpose is for buying and crafting the game’s grindy and ultimately useless upgrades (I managed to beat the game without a lot of trouble only upping a couple of them just to see if they worked). These come in a few flavors, all requiring an absurd amount of materials to craft: York’s key stats like body and stamina; his trusty sidearm, which can see improvements in range, stopping power, and shot speed; upgrading the skateboard he zips around on, and, of course, improving his minigame skills. You wouldn’t want to be caught dead with only the starting skills in your next stone skipping competition, right Zach?
All of that might be enough to put you off for good if you’re new to Deadly Premonition, but you didn’t hear about the extremely weird cast that’s in the game, a vital element that helped the first Deadly Premonition become so beloved, and is as ever present in the second one. Agent York is expectedly as eccentric as ever, with plenty of hilariously awkward quips, out of touch movie trivia and introspective moments where he stops to have a one-sided chat with his buddy Zach regardless of whoever happens to be talking to him. It’s only in a world as nuts as its protagonist that Deadly Premonition 2 works, and boy, is it ever this time around.
There are numerous examples of just how bat shit bananas everyone is, but the one character that stuck with me is perhaps the closest (if yet far, very far) that the game comes to providing a somewhat normal human being: a ten year old girl who happens to tag along with York as his partner, who’s quick to call him out on his manic behavior and antics, but not without having some of her own. For as easy and tired a comparison it is to make, Suehiro’s style of character writing and development really feels like the closest a game could get to David Lynch in Twin Peaks in sheer weirdness, and this game continues that trend and then some.
Story-wise, Deadly Premonition 2’s is about as convoluted and all over the place as the first one, with the added weight of having to follow up and connect with the events that took place in the 2010 game, making having played that one almost a must if you wish to have any chance of getting all of the references, and even then, A Blessing in Disguise manages to go places. That, coupled with the sheer force of will and state of mind that it required of me to finish it in order to provide a timely review helped with that feeling of finishing a marathon that I brought up in the opening. If I were to play it leisurely, I would certainly take my time and interweave it with other games currently in my personal backlog, as playing it in spurts feels like the best way to experience it.
As a fan of the world of Deadly Premonition, problems aside I was happy to get to see Agent Morgan’s continuing adventures (as both York or Zach) and find out how crazier and crazier things could get in yet another game in the series. With that in mind, I could only truly recommend this to anyone who’s in the same camp and are up for another go at the sort of game that it is, or to someone who’s new to the franchise and has got their expectations in check, is in the right mindset, and willing to overlook its host of serious technical issues and design decisions that can and do get in the way of enjoying the unique flavor of absurdity that it delivers.