Deadly Premonition was incredibly divisive on its release back in 2010. An open world detective game set in a sleepy Twin Peaks-like town, the title is created by the strange but beloved Hidetaka Suehiro, better known by his nickname Swery, a game director who has only recently returned to the video game industry. Deadly Premonition, his most famous game, is either lauded or panned for its weirdness, which pervades every aspect of gameplay. Protagonist York discusses everything with his imaginary friend Zach, from clues on the case to reminiscing about ’80s horror movies. Important clues are discovered in cups of coffee, and the background music deliberately ratchets up in volume to drown out the dialogue in a dull scene. Vital game mechanics are often hidden within one of the many sidequests, like the ability to quick travel and the majority of the weapons.
Despite the intense subject matter of hunting a serial killer, gameplay is often a relaxed affair, with the player wandering around town at their own pace. Many hours can be spent befriending the townsfolk, fishing for ammo, and upgrading York’s car, almost a horror-themed Animal Crossing.
Deadly Premonition is one of the funniest games I have ever played. Deliberately misusing the camera and sound for comedic effect is not a technique I have encountered in a game before or since. York is often given ludicrous requests by the townsfolk, like helping the station clerk with his squirrel-based filing system or speeding an old woman from one side of the map to the other so her food does not get cold. A deep level of simulation brings the town of Greenvale to life, with the non-playable characters leading busy lives; they can be seen visiting the diner for breakfast, going to work, or even committing nefarious deeds. It is a world one can settle down in, bizarre as it is.
While the world and characters are brilliant in their kookiness, other aspects of the game are not regarded as fondly. Combat is clumsy and difficult, to the point where the harder difficulty levels were removed for the 2013 ‘Director’s Cut’ edition. Graphics were bland and dated even then, stuck in the era where all things were depicted in shades of brown. If one does not take the time to upgrade York’s car, the driving feels horrendous—all slippery and awkward.
So why is the development of a sequel to this bizarre mish-mash of a game so exciting? By and large, the excitement has to do with the return of Swery. Seemingly as eccentric as the characters he creates, Swery is the creative core of these games, always eager to try something new. Along with silly writing, he has a passion for new technology, creating chapter one of D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die for the Kinect and giving lectures on the topic of physical input in video games. As a Nintendo Switch exclusive, Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise is the perfect option to try out some of the console’s quirkier options. The Switch has many underutilised control features that would benefit from further exploration, such as HD rumble or the IR sensor on the right Joy-Con. Even a full Labo kit could be utilised, creating cardboard controls for the driving, fishing, or slaying monsters.
For a while, Swery no longer returning to the video game industry seemed like a possibility, having to take a few years off due to reactive hypoglycemia. While this sadly meant that D4 was never completed, he has made a full recovery from his illness and returned to the gaming world with new studio White Owls. So far, White Owls has created the touchingly sad The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories and will release The Good Life some time next year. To see him well and creating once again is heartening.
Despite the silliness of Deadly Premonition, I became very attached to the people of the Greenvale, and was sad to bid them goodbye. Now, nearly ten years on from Deadly Premonition‘s release, I cannot wait for Swery’s new world to sink its hooks into me once again.