Deadly Premonition: The Janus of Games
What it is: Shit
As already stated, you play as Francis York Morgan, an FBI agent who seems to have no genuine caseload since he’s cruising along in the rain on a deserted mountain road following up a hunch in the form of odd red seeds found in the remains of an apparently unconnected series of murders. And then you promptly swerve off the road and sail down a pine-covered hill in your vintage Mustang thanks to the intervention of a shadowy figure (what other kind of figure would you expect?), necessitating you make the journey on foot through the spooky and oddly pixelated forest to the town of Greenvale. Is it just me, or is anyone else having a flashback to 1998? This game came out in 2010, but the graphics are at least a decade old. Devs can’t present a genuine circle, so they hope you won’t notice the series of polygons used in place of one. Shading is non-existent, and character design is appallingly old. Your character can’t smile or express much of any emotion, so in cut scenes you’ll find devs simply pull his lips away from his teeth in a brutal approximation of a serial killer’s leer. Then there’s the matter of clothing. They’re still using wire-frame models and have no understanding of clothing physics, so every part of your body clips through every other part at least once.
And that’s before you actually try to control your character.
Your right stick controls the camera, but your left stick pulls double duty in turning and perambulation, so walking is very much like the drawn-out process of parallel parking. The same goes for your combat controls, which are a must after about five minutes of exploring wet forests fraught with howling winds. Since your left stick is responsible for aiming your generic 9mm FBI Custom Handgun, you can’t actually move out of the way when a slow-moving, moaning ghost decides to limp toward you and brain you with a shovel. You’d think a trained FBI agent would be able to do something as simple as aim and walk simultaneously. Presumably the man went to college. Then again, you don’t need to worry about your aim since an auto-aim button orients your weapon at the level of the enemy’s crotch, an area which can sustain more damage than one has traditionally been led to believe.
After a quicktime event with a murderous madman in a red rainslicker carrying a headsman’s axe, you find the bridge into Greenvale—a tiny ex-lumber town nestled somewhere in the Appalachians—where you meet local law enforcement. At this time you conveniently forget having just witnessed anything to do with the supernatural. You are greeted by Deputy Emily Wyatt and Sheriff George Woodman, who appear to have been physically modeled after Christina Applegate and Danny Trejo respectively. They are annoyed at having had to wait so long for you, but rather than explain yourself you promptly begin issuing orders like the douchebag you are. I would use perhaps a different term, but who can argue with Mother?
In fact, your only real friend is Zach, your other personality. You talk to him constantly, though he’s curiously reticent to respond… This comes off as a cheap way for the writer to get the main character to actively narrate his thoughts, thus cutting out stage action, a Watson, or other more enriching means by which writers externalize the main character’s feelings.
To show just how little devs think of the player’s intelligence, Francis explains what’s already been shown several times: He’s learned a young woman, Anna Graham, has been found dead in the local nature preserve, crucified and appearing strangely reminiscent of both Old Testament Eve and Rabbinical Lilith. Sheriff Woodman does what any small town sheriff does in the course of investigating a heinous murder: Follows up Francis’s investigative leads while being mindful to regular meals, naps, sleep, laundry, and keeping indoors whenever it’s raining in a town known for near constant rainstorms.
Other major sticking points are the translation issues. Keep in mind that this is a Japanese-made game being presented in the rural United States featuring American characters. It’s not overly surprising that writers would take certain American foibles for granted. Police only salute in ceremonies. Americans typically hold a cigarette between the index and middle finger instead of pinching it like a Gestapo member conducting an interrogation. Diners open for breakfast. Little old ladies aren’t in a perpetual state of bowing. And being called names by an inbred piece of filth is more likely to earn said filth a beating in a dark alley than the offended party choosing to rise above and earn filth’s respect.
But what is surprising is the difference between American and Japanese character archetypes. Deadly Premonition puts me more in mind of a Sengoku Period wandering samurai piece than a small town drama.
While American protagonists vary, they tend to focus on results as opposed to the ins and outs of protocol. This is complemented by a need to make allies, a sense of humility (or at least the ability to act it), and a pre-occupation with achieving the goal before him. Francis seems preoccupied with getting the local sheriff’s office worker to cook for him, talking about movies with his silent alter ego, and alienating local law enforcement and townspeople he should be cooperating with.