Hello there, everyone. Before I give you my general impressions of Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise, I’d like to say two things:
The first is an apology for the lateness of this article. I preordered a physical copy of the game as soon as it was available, but with the world being what it is, it took a bit longer than expected to get to me. Things happen.
The second is that I will be using the names of certain characters that are, believe it or not, spoilers for the first game. It’s very difficult to catch if you don’t already know what happened in the original, but nonetheless, if you are interested in this series and want to go in absolutely unspoiled about anything (which is the best way to do it), I would recommend not reading this until you’ve beaten the first game. I personally adored it, and named it as my sixth favorite game of the 2010s. I believe it’s worth a look for anyone with an appreciation for the weird, and for any fan of Twin Peaks (which, if you’re reading this site, I’m assuming you are).
Anyways, folks, Nintendo announced last year that cult hit Deadly Premonition would be getting a Switch-exclusive sequel, and now that it’s dropped, it’s…definitely more Deadly Premonition. The first game gained cult status due to the fact that, on paper, it’s pretty much a gigantic piece of crap. Originally starting as a PS2 game, development eventually had to carry over to the Xbox 360 hardware, which led to a lot of bizarre bugs, some comical and some not (flipping your car by hitting the curb at the wrong angle is funny; the game crashing when you try to enter a certain building required to continue is not). Every mechanic felt like it needed more time or budget, which resulted in a game that defines the phrase “more than the sum of its parts.”
But to write the game off as “so bad it’s good” does it a disservice. The main character, Francis York Morgan (but just call him York, because everyone does), is a genuinely lovable riff on the much beloved Dale Cooper. He’s quirky as hell, constantly talking to someone off screen named Zach (but don’t ask him about it, because that’s a personal matter), treats ’80s action and B sci-fi movies as high art, and takes his cues from cryptic imagery in his coffee. The janky nature of the first game and the bizarre dialogue and characters actually reflect York as a playable protagonist, leading to a surreal but absorbing atmosphere. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: if the first game was technically better, it would somehow be worse. Much like the original Evil Dead, it overcomes its glaringly-apparent budgetary and technical limitations to deliver a wholly unique, bizarre, and memorable experience that, despite all the technical problems, actually holds a genuinely compelling and sometimes tragic story at its center. It’s one of the few games I’ve played in my adult life to make me tear up at its ending. Its soundtrack is the stuff of legend, too.
And as much as I love the first game to bits, in all its weird glory, I had high hopes that this second game would at the very least be a more technically competent experience. I’m leading with this: it’s not. The graphics, despite taking on a slightly more cel-shaded look, are straight out of three generations ago, with jagged edges all over the outlines of character models and facial animations that are, believe it or not, worse than in the first game. Characters’ lips animate entirely separate from the rest of their face, and there’s a weird… jump whenever someone is done talking. Every character has their resting face, and whenever they’re done, there’s a weird hiccup in the animation that skips back to whatever their resting face happens to be. Then there’s the frame rate, which has been the biggest point of contention from what I’ve seen, and yeah, it’s pretty bad. I’ve seen others say that it renders the game unplayable, and I find that to be a pretty egregious hyperbole. Indoors, it’s mostly fine, but in the open world it’s noticeable and stutters a lot. I have yet to have it full on skip frames or crash on me, and for the most part I’m able to tolerate it. Still, it’s the biggest issue I’ve come across so far.
It raises the question of whether or not this is intentional, or if it’s the result of once again running out of time and money. If it’s the former, I’m not sure what the end goal would be. Maybe the writer/director/auteur behind it, Hidetaka Suehiro, aka SWERY, is trying to make some kind of statement on how open world games have developed over the past decade and a half? Maybe it’s just trying to recapture the weird charm of the first game, which managed to still be a compelling experience despite the individual parts not really working? And if it’s the latter, and they really did run out of time and money, I have to wonder how the same creative team behind the first game learned no lessons at all and put out an equally buggy, borderline broken product. Still, I hope it’s the latter, because as all B-movie fans can tell you, something is only so-bad-it’s-good when it’s an honest attempt at being creative, NOT when you’re purposely trying to make something bad.
Bottom line: if you’re someone who was turned off by the unstable technical elements of the first game, and couldn’t get past them, steer clear of this game.
Things fare much better on the story and actual gameplay side. Acting as both a prequel and a sequel, the game starts off with players controlling Aaliyah Davis, a Federal Agent charged with investigating the whereabouts and past activities of Francis Zach Morgan, who has retired at the age of 40 and lives out his days in a dingy Massachusetts apartment smoking weed to help him deal with his cancer and watching the B-movies he loves so much. There’s an extended introduction sequence where you question Zach about his past and learn that he refers to himself as “we,” and holds a deep phobia for the color red. As it turns out, an old case of his has been reopened. Lise Clarkson was murdered an put on display in the town of Le Carré back in 2005, and Francis York Morgan was the agent that performed the investigation due to his consistent track record. As it turns out, Lise’s body was stolen and never actually found, until 2019, where it appeared in a block of ice inside a cold storage warehouse.
Francis York Morgan is known for being an expert profiler, able to put himself in the mind of whatever killer he’s currently pursuing in order to catch them. This mostly amounted to walking around a crime scene in the first game and finding the required items, then letting York do the rest to piece together what happened. In this game, it’s been slightly changed, but still feels largely token. The opening serves as a kind of tutorial for this, with you deciding what parts of the room to investigate. Later on, when you’re investigating the scene where Lise’s body disappeared, you similarly view everything from a first-person perspective and decide what parts to examine. It’s all scripted though, with relevant parts having icons on them, and again, it doesn’t really challenge in any way (by the way, York comes to the conclusion that a ten foot giant is clearly responsible for taking the body away).
There are some other new mechanics that I have yet to dive too deep into, including gun customization, where you can fine-tune upgrades to things such as firepower and clip size, and a skateboard you can use to get around town. As York explains to the cook at the hotel he’s staying at, Casa Pineapple, his car was stolen when he arrived, but in its place was a skateboard. He has no problem with this, and proceeds to discuss how the movie Cat People is hyper-realism at its finest and the best movie Malcolm McDowell has ever appeared in. The cook doesn’t really know how to respond to this.
Anyways, the gameplay, despite these new elements, is largely unchanged. York can still (take forever to) get hungry, his clothes can still get dirty if you wear them for too long, he still has to sleep every once in a while (or you could just drink coffee), and the town runs on a fixed schedule every day, meaning you may have to come back to a given location at a different time to do whatever it is that needs doing.
The objectives are largely fetch quests, boiling down to being at a specific spot at a specific time or finding a particular item, which would be grating if not for the incredibly strong script. York remains as charming as ever, talking with Zach and others about different movies he loves (there’s a particularly surreal scene where he discusses the Michael Bay film The Island and says that Michael Bay will be sure to change art-house science fiction cinema for the better that made me belly laugh). He is the main reason to play the game, with all his lovable little oddities, but the supporting cast thus far has gone a long way to getting me invested in the central mystery.
York takes on a kind-of sidekick in the form of Patricia Woods, a highly intelligent young kid that I don’t hate. In fact, I quite like Patricia. The only reason I make mention of this is that I typically don’t like when fiction tries to get me to like kids, as it usually comes across as grating more than anything, but here that’s not the case. She’s smart and serves as a nice, grounded foil to York’s odd nature. Her father Melvin, who acts as the town’s sheriff, is equally charming. He often frames conversations with movie tag lines and titles, and manages to be charming in every scene he’s in.
This general unpredictability and weirdness present in every character goes a long way to making the missions engaging. In one early mission, York has to find a way to get an old woman to let him use her bowling lane. The solution? Going to the resident voodoo shop and speaking to the shop keep, a man named The Mirror, who mumbles to himself for half his dialogue and sells you a “very important” item that York takes in stride. It turns out this very important item is a stuffed alligator wearing a sombrero, and York places it on her stoop in the middle of the night, which makes her late to go bowling and lets York get a strike. By the way, Patricia asks him if he likes bowling and he says he doesn’t. When she asks if he wants her to do it, York raises a finger and says, “Absolutely not. This is something I have to do myself, no matter how stupid it may seem.”
It’s a line that really makes you wonder, again, how much of the game’s poor technical performance and reliance on fetch quests is a conscious choice on SWERY’s part. But it also made me laugh pretty hard. Oh, and in case you’re wondering why York believes getting a strike in bowling is an important part of his investigation, it’s because he spoke to a Loa-type figure in a painting in the lobby of Casa Pineapple.
I’m about five hours into Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise. I spent a significant portion of this first-impressions article detailing exactly how crappy of a game it is, and you know what? I’m loving it so far. The mystery has sunk its hooks into me yet again, and I simply adore spending time in the weird, wonderful version of America SWERY has written. I’m looking forward to uncovering every secret Le Carré is holding, and I’m also looking forward to getting to its many locations on the skateboard, poor frame rate be damned. Just as I’m getting annoyed at having to go on yet another fetch quest, or marveling at how poorly textured the road is, York talks to Zach about Scatman Crothers, or I run into yet another oddball of a character I can’t help loving. I’ve laughed more in the five hours I’ve spent with the game than I have with some feature length comedies, and I yearn to figure out what’s going on in Le Carré.
It’s more Deadly Premonition. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing comes entirely down to the individual. For me, I’m just happy it exists, because when I beat the first game, the world had no idea a sequel was coming. It seemed like a long shot that something so wonderfully weird could ever work a second time, but I’ll be damned if I’m not already invested in the mystery of Lise Clarkson’s murder and finding new and interesting ways to exploit the broken skateboard physics.
Welcome back, Francis York Morgan.
The controversy regarding the game’s treatment of a transgender character has been receiving a lot of press lately. Apparently, there’s an important character who shows up at some point that is transgender, and although York makes an impassioned speech about how a person’s race, background, nature, etc, etc, doesn’t affect their worth as a person, this character is apparently dead-named and misgendered by York and other characters. I have not come across any of this during my time with the game so far, but I’ve seen that SWERY has not only publicly apologized, but has promised to rewrite the offensive scenes and change them with a patch. He also cited his poor English skills (he’s Japanese) and cultural differences for why it was translated the way it was.
From what I’ve seen, it really is a misunderstanding and a poor/overlooked part of the game’s localization, and I don’t believe it came from a malicious place. Again, I have not encountered any of this content myself, and it sounds like everything is being done that can be done to change it. But I would like to take this time to say that 25 Years Later does not condone transphobia in any way, shape or form.