Deadly Premonition. A game that apparently divided reviewers when it first appeared. The cover of the copy I have says 10/10. I knew, however, when Steph handed me her copy to borrow, that I was heading for a nightmare of controlling hell. I think it helped to know it would be torture, because it did stop me rage quitting at the beginning.
Apparently, it was panned when it came out. It promptly went on to acquire a cult following (as these things do), and now nobody can decide whether it is brilliant or terrible, or both. I think it might actually be both. There are moments, playing this game, where I think, this is genius. Or I fall over laughing. And other times I want to kill everybody involved in making this game. In the face.
Welcome to combat in hell
What sucks is the controls, and most of that is the combat mechanics. I can see why I was advised that easy was the best setting to play on. You start off with a gun, a piece of piping and a “mission knife”. Your first fights are against zombie things who lurch backwards (backwards?) toward you moaning that they don’t want to die.
You line up to aim and fire. You realise you can’t move. Who the fuck decided you should aim with RT and fire with A? You are pinned to the ground, forced to use the left analogue stick to aim the laser light at the zombies. You might even consider going into the control panel and remapping the controls, but you can’t change that bastard arrangement.
That analogue stick is a bastard to aim quickly and efficiently (you’re used to it with the right stick, I guess), and because you usually use it to move, you fire at the ceiling, the ground, into the bushes as you repeatedly forget that you are now nailed to the earth until you lower your weapon. (You can, incidentally, jump from side to side using the bumpers. How you do this at speed is beyond me, because you now have three fingers active on the right hand. It’s as counter-intuitive as it gets.)
I gave up. There’s nothing like a piece of steel pipe for getting the job done. It kills in one hit, too, while the gun takes forever. Unfortunately, it wears out and our erstwhile Agent York (I’ll get to him in a sec, don’t worry) chucks it over his shoulder in disgust. There was a point early on where I died several times because being unable to move, I couldn’t respond to danger behind me. Portly zombie women with spades are more trouble than they are worth.
Then there are the bizarre quicktime events. And by quicktime, I mean QUICK. I think a second to defeat the first appearance of The Bad Guy, possibly less. It was painful fighting those spade women again. And again. And again. In the end I just ran.
It’s not only combat though. Agent York strolls through the world like a catwalk model, and usually it’s fairly easy to manage him when he’s not trying to fend off the undead. But then stairs. You will come to fear stairs. You will beg for cuts to the action that involve you not having to negotiate York around a set of steps. You will cry as he walks down, then rotates, stalks backward three steps, then forward, then rotates again, apparently caught in some kind of mystical vortex that prevents him progressing further.
But then there’s Agent York
You’d quit. You really would. Any other game and you’d hurl the controller out of the window, clawing at your own face with the horror of it. But no, you don’t, because of Agent York. Agent York is a kind of Agent Dale Cooper stepping into his own version of Twin Peaks. He doesn’t have a secretary; Agent York talks to Zach (you), who is, we assume, a voice inside his head.
The world he inhabits is as Twin Peaksian bonkers as he is. The attention to detail, the unlikely moments of odd humour, his worship of the sheriff’s assistant’s homemade biscuits. Every character is beautifully eccentric, taken over the top in a way that reveals excellent writing. York, at the centre of it all, is living through his own private noir movie. You are also responsible for ensuring that he shaves, washes and dresses in good order, or the locals will get suspicious of him.
I don’t know what to make of the story yet. This game was clearly designed by some creature with an incredible flair for writing but tiny, hyper-sensitive tentacles instead of hands. An alien with no understanding of gaming mechanics, or no need for them. This game sits right in that back corner, neatly straddling madness and genius.