Deadly Premonition has been met with a number of bad reviews. It occurs to me that they seem to follow a similar thread. Allow me to demonstrate the general consensus among those who so vociferously detest this product: "THIS GAME IS AWFUL BECAUSE OF THE GRAPHICS, AND SINCE THE GRAPHICS ARE AWFUL, IT MUST THEREFORE BE ASSUMED THAT THIS GAME IS AWFUL. TOTALLY WEAK GRAPHICS ARE MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE TO A GREAT GAMING EXPERIENCE. ONE STAR! ALSO, I SHOULD NOTE THAT I AM NOT RATING THIS GAME FOR THE GAME ITSELF, BECAUSE I HAVE NOT PLAYED IT."
I, however, have played this game. A lot, in fact. I sunk around 50+ hours into the whole experience and found the game to be engrossing and easily worth the twenty dollar asking price. So how could I be so wrong, having played the game and all? Because I didn't know the truth. The ineffable yet utterly obvious fact: good video games didn't exist prior to Modern Warfare 2. There was no such thing as a good game for the NES or Dreamcast. There was no system seller title for your Nintendo 64 or Playstation. Forget what you thought you knew about Perfect Dark or Symphony of the Night or any of those games you thought were "good." Childish thoughts, those. Those games could not be good. Have you seen the graphics? They're SO bad, guys!
If you are on the fence, please disregard the negative reviews for this title, as they are incredibly redundant and almost totally useless. The drawbacks to this title are pretty notable once you crack it open, so there is little or no point to spend so much time hammering them (never mind making them the entire focus of your ire). And yes, some may consider them core elements of what essentially makes a video game. Graphics are not "next gen." Controls take some getting used to. Translation sucks sometimes. Audio is a little out of whack. Got it? Good. The difference between Deadly Premonition and so many other games with similar problems is that it manages to excel past so many of its peers on other levels to a point where it more than makes up for its problems. I personally assure you that, despite these shortcomings, the flaws are not egregious enough offenses to kill what is a very unique, if unpolished, gaming experience. Deadly Premonition is not a game that needs to look great to win favor, because its beauty comes from the story, which is an incredibly rare thing for the format.
I find that the problems so many people have with this game are born from being duped into believing that a game's primary objectives are looking as slick as possible and providing a quick-moving, kill-happy multiplayer component that will provide plenty of loud explosions to scream over in order to call some kid in Tulsa something vaguely homophobic or racist. But the real goal of video games is, and has always been, having fun. And Deadly Premonition is a lot of fun. It isn't strong as far as graphics are concerned, to be sure. However, for anyone who has ever enjoyed a title on an older-gen console and would find themselves drawn back to it for the game and not the look, this isn't an issue. Portions of it drag, and the combat, particularly with the boss fights, can become redundant and stale. The complaint about controls is invalid, particularly with those who enjoyed the earlier games of the Resident Evil/Silent Hill ilk. The character controls like a tank, but that has never been an issue when one considers how great, say, Silent Hill 2 is. We have become so concerned with games being bigger, faster, stronger that people tend to disregard things that make games fun. Mediocre graphics, somewhat frustrating combat, and tank controls did not hinder any of those early survival-horror classics from becoming just that. And my feeling is that this same distinction will befall Deadly Premonition with time: a classic. Once you settle in and get familiar with Greenvale and its inhabitants, it's a ride worth taking. And that's a big turn off for a lot of potential players. The fun is not in endlessly playable and thoroughly mindless slaughter, or marveling at how pretty it looks. Today's gamer, for the most part, is a pay me up front type. They generally want bang-bang action and they want it fast. Deadly Premonition is a slow burn. It takes its time to tell the story, because that is what is at its core. The fun is in the investment in the town and the characters who occupy it. It's feeling a connection to what you are playing, and feeling that you are a part of it, rather than a removed entity mindlessly pressing buttons. Deadly Premonition, more so than any other game I've ever played, sucks you in and completely envelops you in the world it creates. And while it may deter some gamers with shorter attention spans, it will inevitably pay dividends for those who have a mind to stick with it.
This is because Deadly Premonition takes full advantage of the shift in video games that places greater emphasis on storytelling. The story to be had here is disarmingly interesting, and it is amplified by the wide assortment of characters, each quirkier and more Lynchian than the last. From the gas station attendant who speaks almost exclusively to hundred dollar bills to the Pot Lady (directly influenced by Twin Peaks' Log Lady), each character is unique, regardless of how integral they are to the story. No character is more engaging than Agent Francis York Morgan, who succeeds in being one of the richest characters in video games. While a big point of contention for many has been, of all things, the slowness of driving and getting around in the early going (quick aside: boo hoo), I never felt it was an issue. Reason being, Deadly Premonition provides a character in Morgan who, rather than simply getting from point A to point B, gives the player something to chew on while they do so. The banter between York and Zach, who is essentially the player to a point, is endlessly entertaining, whether it is about the case and the characters involved or about a shared fondness of punk rock and B horror movies. This game doesn't simply use dialogue to advance the plot, nor does it choose to conveniently dump background information into the player's lap in a nicely bundled expository package. It gives the player bits of information, however arbitrary or tangential or bizarre they may seem at the time, that build over the course of the game to form what, for my money, is the strongest ensemble of characters ever put forth in a video game.
And it is because of this investment and trust in the characters from the creators that the story succeeds. Because of this strength, every twist, every death, is felt by the player. The game's conclusion is arguably one of the most effective of its kind because of that relationship with the characters. At the end, there is a choice that must be made. And there is one option that must be taken to advance the game. But it is a choice that I did not want to make, and I tried every other option available before the realization that this was the only way to go. This is entirely to the credit of the story and characters, as over time they become more than simple NPCs and filler. Deadly Premonition is a game that has substantial weight to it, and in that category, it stands without rival.
The argument that this game could have been great or fun were it that it came out on a console a generation ago is absurd, because the last time I checked, a good game is a good game. Bottom line. Were we to play revisionist history, and if Deadly Premonition had come out five or six years ago, it would have been hailed as a flawed but beautiful gem and would have set the bar for developers looking to translate a story to the medium. For it to have been released in 2010 should not effect the perception of what this game manages to do with what it has at its disposal. Arguing this end is the equivalent of suggesting that films of yesteryear are inferior due to the use of practical effects when compared to the application of CGI today. If a film utilizes amazing visuals but fails to be a good movie, it's a pretty looking mess. And so many games today manage to be pretty looking time wasters, which is fine if that's all they strive to be. Junk food is always nice. Deadly Premonition is like a film that is budgeted an eighth of what Michael Bay spends blowing things up on screen. A film whose producers knew that there was no point trying to compete with the glossy sheen of bigger productions and poured its money into screenwriters and casting. And from this effort, they pull something that doesn't look as nice and may have a hiccup here and there, but manages to tell a bolder and more captivating story. It won't see the big box office returns and it won't get immediate recognition, but it will stand the test of time while other films become statistical footnotes that are wiped away by reboots, remakes, and sequels. Deadly Premonition, for all intents and purposes, is a pretty remarkable gaming experience. If you enjoy video games, you are doing yourself a disservice by missing out on it.