Thursday, December 23, 2010

7 Reasons Deadly Premonition is GOTY: Introduction

Belieeedat, York.

And believe me: Deadly Premonition is my Game of the Year. Easily. And with all apologies to Danny Weissenberger, who made this call back in July, I'm going to add my voice to his excellent series of articles on the topic. I'll also do my best to keep spoilers to a minimum.

For anyone who hasn't read Danny's articles, here's the brief overview. Deadly Premonition is a third-person detective story by Japanese designer Hidetaka "SWERY 65" Suehiro, released in the US back in February. Sold at the budget price of $19.99, it was both panned and lauded by reviewers. It's gained cult status not only due to the polarizing responses it's provoked, but also because of its unrelentingly strange and oddly charming Twin Peaks-esque story and characters.

For a much better introduction to the game than I can give here, check out this video of Infinite Lag pal Matthew Weise's MIT presentation from a few months back.

Before I get into the 7 Reasons Why DP is my GOTY - which I'll cover in a series of posts, all of which will be linked right here on this page - let's look at the big reasons it shouldn't be.

1. Combat is poorly implemented and thoroughly unnecessary.
2. Driving can be interminable, especially with the anachronistic Resident Evil-style controls.
3. The map, which rotates depending on the direction you are facing and has no zoom levels, is useless.
4. The graphics and animations are sub-PS2 quality, and the sound mix in inconsistent at best, with many instances of cheesy soundtrack music popping up during tonally inappropriate times.
5. The side quests are largely impenetrable affairs, and the game is filled with seemingly tangential objectives and items.

In the series of posts that follow, I'm going to lay out 7 reasons I think these flaws - which are significant, no doubt - are completely worth overlooking. EDIT: All posts are now linked below.

Without further ado:

7 Reasons Deadly Premonition is Game of the Year
1. It features the most memorable and multifaceted protagonist in recent memory.
2. It is fully committed to the player's emotional connection to the characters and reaction to plot events.
3. It plays with the sense of player "agency," shifting perspectives in meaningful ways.
4. It is, like LOST, a patently absurd supernatural story that is nonetheless expertly told.
5. It contains, as SWERY has said, many "lovely useless elements."
6. It is remarkably ambitious in ways big-budget AAA titles can never be.
7. It embraces ambiguity and weirdness, respecting the player's ability and desire to discuss the story and atmosphere without needing a "right answer."

And once you've finished the game, check out this great conversation I had with indie developer Bredon "Switchbreak" Clay, who provides some excellent counterpoints in his own analysis.

Look for a post on each factor over the next few weeks. Until then, do yourself a holiday favor and go pick up a copy, will you?


  1. Obviously Deadly Premonition is my GotY too, but I wasn't as down on some of its elements as you were. The music I don't find tonally inappropriate. It's very much in the style of classic JRPGs in terms of how the music, along with specific animations, signals changes in tone. If DP were a sprite-based 2D game, it wouldn't feel weird. What's strange is how SWERY lifted that representational strategy for animation and music directly from 8-bit games and dropped it directly into a next-gen 3D game, which is largely what renders it absurd. However, once you realize this is the convention its functioning in the tonal strangeness isn't very confusing.

    I also have to say I really enjoyed the side-quests and the driving. Did you do many side-quests? Because they flesh out the characters and significantly affect the driving, which becomes easier and more fun the more quests you do. Did you manage to get York's car fixed? That makes a lot of difference. Also, going back chapters to do side-quests for characters who had already died in the main story was really illuminating, especially in the case of the second victim. Her story didn't seem tragic until I went back and got to know her more.

  2. Great point about JRPG conventions, although the fact remains this *isn't* a sprite-based 2D game. I did get over it fairly quickly - so much so that the "Life is Beautiful" whistle theme has become my warm-up every time I pick up my guitar these days - but the idea that that theme should pop up during, say, Anna's autopsy scene is still pretty jarring.

    You know what the music timing reminded me of? Older Bond movies. You know how sometimes there's this 5-minute-long fight sequence where the only sounds are grunting and punching and crashing into things, only to have the trumpets blast in like 85% of the way through? It's just off-putting - although not necessarily in a bad way.

    I did do a number of the sidequests, including two of the car upgrade quests. And yeah, I eventually came to enjoy driving, especially because of the York/Zach conversations. But I should have made this clearer: the criticisms I listed above are not necessarily *mine*, but more a compilation of the major complaints players have commonly expressed. I'm setting those out here so that once I can address them throughout the next several posts, and especially in my last post, which will pull some choice insights from SWERY himself. Stay tuned!

    As I'm going to try and articulate in the next few entries, you and I are on the same wavelength: DP isn't "so bad it's good," it's *actually* good!

  3. I actually disagree about the autopsy scene. I think you're not giving the developers enough credit for employing deliberate irony. That music is perfectly "appropriate" for York's mental state at the moment, because that's how the world seems to him, not to other people.

    I think one can make a case for the music perhaps not creating the intended effect from time to time, but saying it's "tonally inappropriate" suggests the developers weren't aware of the dissonant effects they were creating. I'm sure you didn't think the use of "Amazing Grace" was tonally inappropriate, did you? It quite obviously is intended to contrast the scene, not complement it, and it's probably (for me, at least) the single most effective use of music in the game. That said, can we really take the other examples of seemingly "inappropriate" music any differently?

    Anyway, those are just immediate thoughts. I know we are on the same page about the game. Can't wait to read the following posts!

  4. I just found this essay and I can't wait to read through your reasons 1-5 that you have up so far. I'm glad that there are others who appreciate what great title Deadly Premonition is, so much so to write such these thorough pieces as to why it's GOTY material! :) I made sure to direct other fans to this essay as well.

  5. Whitney - thanks very much for reading and spreading the word. I owe you a debt of gratitude for your site, which was helpful both in writing these articles and in playing through the game.

  6. Hi J.P. I'm so happy you found my site useful in writing these articles :) I look forward to reasons #6 and #7!! BTW when you are done can I put your list on my site?

  7. Sure, feel free to link away! Hopefully your readers will find the pieces interesting.

    FYI, I do plan to follow post #7 with one more article about DP, so you may want to hang on until that's up. (Hopefully soon.)

  8. This game was the only reason my xbox 360 wasnt completly useless after all.