Perception is a funny thing. It can change from one minute to the next or stay resolute throughout an entire experience. More often than not, the world of video games doesn't pull too many surprises; what you see is generally what you get. However, sometimes an experience comes along that manages to grow from strength to strength and it's usually because certain aspects of the game flourish and mask other deficiencies. And this is exactly the kind of experience that Deadly Premonition presents. You could easily write the game off in the first passage of play, something that is rather tempting, but by persevering, you will be able to witness one of the best examples of story-telling this year.
Following the mysterious murder of a young girl called Anna Graham in a town called Greenvale, the FBI send in an agent called Francis "York" Morgan as it has similarities to a pattern he had been following, something to do with red seeds.
Despite there being a brief introduction, it does feel as through you're just thrown into the mix and expected to understand everything instantly. There are weird dream sequences, "other world" sequences and a town which is alien to you. It's a shame, because the initial passages of story are not a great advert for the game and it's only once things start to become a bit more clear (or unclear as the case may be) that the story starts to draw you in.
What starts off as a simple murder-mystery game develops into something much more sinister and although it does borrow many of its concepts from other sources, that doesn't make it any less engaging. If anything, it's a testament to the source material that's referenced. By the end of the game, you will feel very accomplished, like you've actually achieved something. So if you are finding it a slog at the beginning, stick with it and embrace it.
The story does start off slowly, but it's certainly not helped by the game's poor gameplay. This is a real downer throughout the entire experience and it's only through the emergence of the story that you'll really want to push through and see the next bit.
There are two distinct segments of gameplay, the sandbox and the survival horror. Both are sub-standard. The sandbox gameplay allows you to travel anywhere within the city through either walking or using a car, which is great and all, except the handling of the car is diabolical. If you go over 40mph, turning corners starts to become a real challenge and if you hit 70mph, the steering doesn't even work. It's difficult to really understand the logic behind this, especially as driving from places can take rather a long time. It is possible to get a radio which allows for quick-travel to previously visited locations, but this doesn't help when driving is mandatory.
Moving on to the survival horror aspect, you'll be quick to notice that the game employs the stationary attack mechanic. This means that while aiming a weapon, you are unable to move. It's fortunate that the enemies are rather terrible too, because the aiming can be quite frustrating. You have the option to auto-aim, but this always aims for the body and takes considerably longer to kill enemies. Manual aiming is the only way to succeed, as not only does it stun enemies and push them backward, it also causes them to die quicker - something which is rather handy.
It's all just rather boring. The only time things become remotely scary are when the corridor is thin, but most of the time you can just run in circles around the enemies and they won't do anything. If one gets too close (using its little teleport shuffle) you can just run past it, get some distance in and start shooting again. Part of the problem is that there is almost no variety with the enemies. You get the standard ones, ones that carry melee weapons and ones that use shotguns. The only addition to this is the "wall crawler", which could win some awards for "most boring enemy to kill in history". Using the standard pistol, it will take you approximately 3-4 minutes to kill one of these and it's not even challenging. When you have to tackle four of these in a row, it's rather soul destroying.
To try and mix the action up, there are some chase sequences or some "hide and seek" sections. In the chase sequences, you have to waggle the left stick the entire time, while pressing buttons when you're prompted. They aren't too bad, but they are far too long, especially the one at the end of the game. It's nice that they show two perspectives, one showing you running and one for your pursuer, but the performance of the game is hindered in a rather large way because of it.
It's not like game has stellar production values either, as the animations are often rather obvious and rigid. Terrible is the only word that can really be used to describe the graphics too, especially the trees - they are embarrassingly bad. The voice acting is pretty good though and while the animations are bad, at least the facial expressions of characters portrays their emotional state well.
The music throughout, is just odd. It doesn't fit that well with the game, but there's also something that's a bit endearing about it. There are so many different styles of music and the pieces are used in so many scenes of differing nature that it seems like the composer was given no real brief or that the person in charge of music selection thought they were doing it for another game entirely.
Completing Deadly Premonition will require quite a time investment, as the base single-player experience is around 15-16 hours long. On top of this, there are plenty of side quests to undertake, which will give you a better understanding of the town and its inhabitants.
Deadly Premonition is a game that showcases some great story-telling, but not much else. Everything else it showcases is done in a negative way as all of the gameplay mechanics are very poor and the production values often don't even feel as though they belong in this console generation. If you feel you're the type of gamer that can look past the game's obvious faults to experience a good story, then Deadly Premonition will be right up your street.