So, in the midst of continuing work on the next issue of Venger, I have stumbled on an interesting little new release. Put together by Ignition Entertainment and Access Games, Deadly Premonition is an incredibly odd duck (gameduck?). Admittedly I am only through Chapter 1 so far, but I am hooked. Here’s why.
As a kid, I clearly remember the slathering hoopla around a little show called Twin Peaks. The brainchild of David Lynch and Mark Frost, the series built a deep mythos of intriguing, odd characters all affected by the sudden death of a local high-school girl named Laura Palmer. Her murder was a shock to the small town of Twin Peaks that caused most of the community’s demons to bubble to the surface. Witnessing this cauldron of hidden issues was the eccentric FBI agent sent to work with local law enforcement to sort out the girl’s grisly end (she was found wrapped in plastic inside an abandoned train car). The show got weirder as time went on, introducing opposing forces of good and evil (represented by white and black “lodges”) and the now-infamous backwards-talking little person, portrayed by highly underrated character actor Michael J. Anderson (last seen in the also highly underrated Carnivale on HBO). It was a show that required your attention and demanded faithful viewership a good 15 years before someone went and invented Lost and changed serialized drama for good. Even as a kid I loved it. Dale Cooper (the FBI agent) was my hero and I couldn’t wait to see what happened next.
I clearly remember watching the first season finale. It ended with a horrendous cliffhanger and I was royally peeved. I didn’t know how I, as a satisfaction-seeking twelve year old, was going to make it 6 months before I found out what happened next. I then recall watching the news right after the finale aired and seeing the footage from all the Twin Peaks parties that had been held in the area and their wordless gasps as the final scene played out, at least knowing that others were in the same boat as me. It’s an indelible part of my pop culture upbringing.
So, Deadly Premonition. It’s totally Twin Peaks. The setup of the game is this: an FBI agent named Francis York Morgan (everyone calls him York and he tells everyone he meets this fact) is traveling to the small town of Greenvale to investigate the grisly murder of a young woman named Anna (found crucified on a tree with her torso cut open and tongue removed) because it may be related to other murders he has been investigating. His car crashes on the way there when he swerves to avoid a strange man in the road (Silent Hill) and he is then confronted with people who appear to be ghosts that ask to die (again, I guess?). The pause menu takes you to a sort of game “limbo,” a clearing in the forest where the ground is covered in red leaves and the furniture is strewn about. At the beginning of the game there are two blond-haired boys dressed as angels sitting in high-backed chairs speaking gibberish. I hope they come back. Those of you who have seen Twin Peaks will likely be able to see how this is reminiscent of the White Lodge scenes. It’s stunning.
But, that’s not all. You see, York has a split personality, named Zach, who “consults” on the crime scenes and offers additional advice. He also receives his daily fortune from his morning coffee, loves donuts and cookies (Agent Dale Cooper loved pie in Twin Peaks), and displays an encyclopedic knowledge of 80s movies. Encyclopedic because he names directors, producers, stars, composers, and more.
I was completely taken aback when York mentioned (speaking to Zach, of course) that he enjoyed Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins. Now, that movie is also one of my favorites from childhood. It’s horrible, but I still get glowy and nostalgic about it. Then he mentioned Critters and Tremors and my head exploded. It’s like I was the guy who did the localization for this game and then I came down with temporary awesome job amnesia.
The tone of the game is also pulling me in. Here’s what’s cool: the game knows that it’s cheap. The team knew the graphics were subpar and that the controls were weak. But it feels like the devs hit a point and just said screw it and then went about making an awesome game without all those trappings that the Halo and Modern Warfare 2 players put so much stock in. The voicework is goofy, the line delivery stilted at times, but this only reinforces the awkward, off-kilter nature of the game.
Example-after your first night in the town’s hotel (a largely abandoned structure in which you are the only guest), you eat breakfast with the proprietor, a semi-retired widow named Polly. The scene begins with standard medium shots of each character in their seats, conversing. However, Polly seems to mishear most of what York is trying to say. The camera then pulls back, revealing that the two of them are seated at opposite ends of a 30 foot long banquet table. When York suggests that they sit closer together to facilitate conversation, Polly accuses him of trying to bed her and that they should keep their relationship formal. It was remarkably funny.
I won’t continue to blather on, but I will say that this may be my gem of the year so far. For 20 dollars it is assuredly worth the paltry investment. Forums are indicating that the game is 20 plus hours long and that I have just scratched the surface of how many characters and locations the game has to offer. The world map is massive and my only complaint so far is that the mission structure hasn’t afforded me the time to tool around and explore. I’ll update as I delve further into the game, but if you see this while out and about, I would suggest picking it up just as a novelty. I have a feeling this game is going to achieve cult status pretty quickly.