Review: Deadly Premonition 2 - Rely on Horror

Review: Deadly Premonition 2

I remember a day back in early 2010 when I first heard buzz online about a new budget-priced horror game for the Xbox 360. No one had heard much about it before its sudden release, and I was intrigued enough by the idea of a new horror game alone that I went to pre-order it to make sure I got a copy. After taking the game home and starting it up for myself, I found myself in a world of strangeness, wonder, and familiarity — all at the same time. The original Deadly Premonition soon became one of the most talked-about games that year for its vastly polarizing reception from reviewers. It took the industry by storm in the ten years that followed, becoming an instant cult-classic, spawning a Director’s Cut re-release for three other platforms.

The original Deadly Premonition wrapped up many of my interests in one package: horror, mystery, bizarre and deep storytelling, a cohesive and immersive game world, production values that seem out of place and time, Twin Peaks and film references galore, and so much more. I went on to 100% complete every version of the game, and it still holds one of the highest places in the pantheon of all-time great games for me.

When the announcement of Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise came out of nowhere in early 2020, I was as shocked as everyone else but also a little bit apprehensive. I questioned if there should be a sequel at all to a game that’s reached such legendary cult status. The setting was completely different, the story was primarily a prequel instead of a sequel, the art design looked a bit off, and a few other strange circumstances surrounded the initial announcements. As time went on and more details emerged, however, the game started shaping up to be worth a look.

Now the time has come. I’ve finished everything Deadly Premonition 2 has to offer and can talk about it in full. I’m going to generally avoid most spoilers that aren’t already available online, as the story should be experienced first-hand and players should go in as fresh as possible.

Deadly Premonition 2’s story starts in the “sequel” timeline set in 2019. Two FBI agents in the home of the old, sick, and retired Francis Zach Morgan question him about a case from 2005 in Louisiana. First-person interrogations/observations scenes are introduced to Deadly Premonition 2, designed similarly to Swery’s previous game, D4.

While these scenes do lend an interesting new mechanic to play with and a new way to build on some of the characters and world, they negatively impact the game’s pacing. If you want to learn about everything in the world, you’ll have to click on each point of interest in a room (sometimes multiple times) to hear all the lore or comments about a particular item, and they’re often not all that interesting.

After the initial interrogation scene (which can last around 45 minutes to an hour if you want to hear all the dialogue), the game jumps to Le Carre, Louisiana circa 2005, introducing a much younger Francis York Morgan. Unfortunately, the introduction to Le Carre quickly leads into another 30-45 minutes of dialogue before you’re able to start exploring the town and experience the real meat of the game.

One of the biggest downfalls of Deadly Premonition 2 is the pacing. There’s a laundry list of issues that serve to make the game a chore to play at many points, far more than there should have been, and far more than its predecessor. The introductory stage of the game lasts somewhere between 3-5 hours before the first real combat encounter and before the story moves forward in any meaningful way. I’m guessing this section was meant to be a time for world-building and to act as an introduction to the many new characters, but it drags slowly, so much so that it was difficult to muster up the drive to continue in the early hours. Later on in the middle of the game, several larger-scale fetch quests appear that also serve to slow down the pace to a grinding halt. The game even breaks the fourth wall and York says, “Oh no, not another fetch quest!” yet it makes you do them anyway (instead of cleverly subverting that sentiment).

One of the quests makes you wait around one week of in-game time before you can obtain an item needed to progress, which takes about 1-2 hours of real-world time. I spent this time wandering aimlessly around town and sleeping the hours away. Moments like this cause an abrupt stop to the momentum of the story and also require that you spend lots of resources to maintain your stats. It’s a very strange choice, but unfortunately, it’s only one in a sea of bizarre and fairly reckless decisions made with Deadly Premonition 2’s pacing, many of which will be discussed in greater detail later.

The storytelling itself in Deadly Premonition 2 is easily one of the best parts of the game, though it never comes close to the complexity and richness of the tale told in its predecessor. It introduces many new characters while also referencing past events from the real world and the first Deadly Premonition game, and wraps it all together fairly tightly, with a lot to say. There are several new characters featured in Deadly Premonition 2 who are extremely interesting or amusing. There are several characters like Simon, Daniel, Patti, Chuck, Lena, and a few others who generally have interesting things to say most of the time and even have pretty big character arcs (despite not always being main players to the larger narrative). This shows strength in the character writing not seen in too many open world-style games, and I certainly appreciated the attention to detail.

Yet, at the same time, other characters can bore you to death or make you cringe with their strange ramblings and forcedly unnatural conversations. The feeling of fun campiness that was so ever-present in DP1 is often completely missing here, leading to feelings of unamusing awkwardness.

Deadly Premonition writer and director Swery mixes all his trademark movie references, philosophical ponderings, worldly observations, famous quotes, prose, funny 4th-wall-breaking moments, and investigative meanderings together here in a fashion similar to DP1. So it’s a shame that some of the game’s quirkiness falls rather flat or feels forced, making for a strangely lopsided experience. Even though many interactions and conversations are genuinely wonderful, entertaining, and meaningful, there is also a disproportionate amount of them that could be called uninteresting at best.

Many conversations and significant story beats are far more predictable than in the first game, yet Deadly Premonition 2 always presents them as revelatory. I experienced a strange sense of disconnect because I had already figured out many of the mysteries long before the game spelled them out for me. There were still a number of surprises around some of the story hooks, but many of those also fell flat and were disappointing.

Later in the game, Deadly Premonition 2 begins to cleverly tie into the story of DP1 in a very gratifying way that fans will undoubtedly appreciate. The sequel ties up some loose ends from the first game and makes for a pretty satisfying conclusion, for the time being. While these ties and references to the first game could be labeled as fan service (almost to a fault at certain points), they still put a smile on my face. And while the 2019 segments of the story all serve as a satisfactory sequel to the original game, those segments are probably only about 30% of the game overall. The 2005 sections mostly tell their own story with very little being related to the Greenvale and 2019 story segments until right near the end.

Many of the gameplay features and systems from the first Deadly Premonition return and are improved upon. New features are also added, but some of them feel needlessly complicated, whereas they could have remained straightforward as they were in the first DP. There’s a new crafting system to make upgrade charms that raise your stats, but it’s incredibly contrived and never satisfying. It also led to lots of searching to find trinkets and items to use in crafting, instead of discovering more rewarding items around the nooks and crannies of Le Carre.

Combat in Deadly Premonition 2 is also a bit of a double-edged sword. While several improvements to the game make weapons easier and more intuitive to wield, the combat also feels dumbed down and less intense and scary than it was in DP1. Standard gun accuracy is abysmal (to say the least), although you can now move while aiming and melee is implemented as a button press when aiming a gun, instead of having to switch weapons, which is a nice addition. On the other hand, you only get one weapon for the entire game, so there’s no versatility in how you approach combat encounters, making them start to feel far too routine after only a short amount of time.

There are only three types of enemies in the whole game aside from the four bosses, and even though they’re generally quite creepy, they’re primarily cannon fodder. I only took damage from enemies maybe 5-7 times throughout the campaign, and they usually all go down within 2-3 shots. As a result, once you encounter any enemy a few times, they’ll lose their fear factor and just become yet another obstacle to shoot through to get to the goal.

Tying back into the pacing again, it’s also worth mentioning that there are only four real horror/combat sequences throughout the entire game, and they severely lack the puzzles, tension, and unpredictability of the otherworld encounters from DP1. This makes the whole game feel very unbalanced and the combat sections look like an afterthought. If you go outside after midnight, you’ll also encounter endless “ghost” enemies in the streets, but even then, it’s still just the three main types of enemies with color swaps, and nothing more.

You can also hunt wild animals in the streets, of which there are also only three types, and some will fight back from time to time, but these are not combat encounters perse, just more of a distraction in the overworld. Wild animals only drop trinkets used for crafting — never anything more interesting.

The town of Le Carre is sadly about 1/3 or maybe even 1/4 the size of Greenvale from the original Deadly Premonition, which leads to a host of problems that drastically reduce the scale and content of the game. Because of this reduction in size, there’s a funny explanation that York’s car was stolen on the way to Le Carre, so he uses a skateboard now instead of a car, which fits the narrative and is rather funny whenever it’s brought up.

However, this reduction in size makes the world feel less immersive and also makes traversal less rewarding, with fewer things to stop and investigate on the side of the road as you move around. With the skateboard, you can get from one end of Le Carre to the other in about 4 or 5 minutes maximum, and then you’ll reach a point where the game turns you around automatically with no real reward of any kind for searching the outskirts of the city. In the first game, every road or path, even if it seemed like a dead-end at first, had something waiting at the end to be discovered.

Le Carre also does not feel fully populated and lived-in like Greenvale did in DP1, and instead, comes across more like a poor imitation of what was accomplished with the world-building and authenticity of Greenvale. You’re not able to enter most of the buildings, and even the ones you can are usually just one small room with one purpose. They rarely go beyond that. There’s also very little of the “talk to this person at this location at this time” mechanic that made Greenvale feel so unique and lively. Instead, most of the people you see in the streets are NPCs you can’t interact with at all or people who only go from one place to another with little to no variance.

Even within the smaller space that the world of Deadly Premonition 2 features, the developers managed to make Le Carre have less content and things to do within it than the original game. There are several empty fields, forests, and streets that ultimately don’t have anything significant to discover unless a main story mission brings you there much later in the game. The sense of exploration and discovery is far less present in Deadly Premonition 2.

On top of all the pacing and general gameplay issues, now it’s time to address the huge elephant in the room, which has spurred many concerns online when IGN shared gameplay footage that had a noticeably poor framerate. While the original Deadly Premonition (and all of Swery’s games to some degree) had some technical hiccups and shortcomings, Deadly Premonition 2’s performance issues legitimately interfere with the gameplay. As the screenshot above demonstrates, when in outdoor areas, the framerate slows down a considerable amount, and resolution, as well as draw distance, drop significantly. This results in many objects appearing like out-of-place shapes from a PlayStation 1 game. In-game models don’t appear on the screen at all until you’re within about 10 feet of them, with tons of texture and polygon pop-in throughout, which hinders navigation and exploration.

These issues can also make the controls feel more sluggish than they should when you’re constantly encountering slowdown and hiccups that make your inputs more jumpy and unresponsive. It’s a struggle just to get your inputs to appear on the screen sometimes, including in some combat encounters.

I also faced several game crashes and potentially game-breaking bugs, including one bug that nearly stopped my progress entirely until I eventually figured out a workaround that forced me to skip certain story cutscenes. The performance is lackluster whether you’re playing in docked or handheld mode on the Switch, and I’m hoping these issues will be patched sometime in the near future. As it stands currently, the game’s performance needs a lot of improvement. Fans of the first game might want to excuse these issues, as the first game was far from flawless, but hoping for a stable 30fps at a minimum is a reasonable request for a modern game release.

While Deadly Premonition 2′s running time is fairly similar to the original at around 25 hours (for a normal story playthrough), a lot of that time is spent watching plodding conversations drag on endlessly or doing repetitive and annoying fetch quests meant to pad the running time. There’s not enough going on to make you feel like a part of the world. Another 5-10 hours can be spent completing all of the side missions, though, most players will end up completing some of them during the course of a regular story playthrough.

While this sequel does have a number of successful elements, mainly its storytelling, it’s also rife with a host of issues that drag it down into the Mississippi River, and it fails to succeed as the original Deadly Premonition did. I’d also say this doesn’t live up to Swery’s more recent works like D4 or The Missing, either. It left me with no desire to play through the game again anytime soon, though it does make me want to play through all of his other games to see all the mishandled elements from Deadly Premonition 2 done better.

I’m certain that Deadly Premonition 2 will be divisive among critics and fans, just as the original game has been for the last 10 years, but as it stands, I could only recommend this to die-hard fans who just can’t get enough of Agent York, since he is the only strong link between both games. Even with that recommendation, I have a feeling a lot of people will come away from this game disappointed. I love Swery to death and think he’s one of the sweetest and most creative people in the games industry, but so much of Deadly Premonition 2 feels rushed and unfinished on many levels, and as much as I wanted to love it, these significant shortcomings are hard to ignore.

It’s a very hard task to follow up such an iconic cult classic as the original Deadly Premonition and satisfy the high-expectations by fans. Speaking as one of those fans, the sophomore slump hits pretty hard, even if there is a great story and immeasurable charm underneath all of Deadly Premonition 2’s issues.

5.5 out of 10 stars (5.5 / 10)

Average

Rely on Horror Review Score Guide

A Nintendo Switch review copy was provided by the publisher.

               
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