“So bad it’s good” is an idiom you no doubt have heard in regards to Deadly Premonition. It’s been uttered ad nauseam, effectively hijacking any discussion surrounding this game. As someone who’s played Deadly Premonition several times, I find it to be highly reductive and says nothing about the experience within. Deadly Premonition, while it has some rough edges, is a carefully and lovingly crafted game. My intent here is to bring to light some of what makes this game special that is often overlooked in discussion.
Open-world With a Purpose
Deadly Premonition is an open-world, horror-adventure game set in the fictional small town of Greenvale, Washington. From the outset, this game does not appear to do anything special, but there’s a world of depth beneath the surface.
“[…] Only with there being life, can one fully depict something that threatens this life”
A quote from Swery himself, and I believe this is a quote that best represents the design philosophy of this game. While it may not be the most graphically impressive open world game of its time, it’s certainly one of the most ambitious. It goes out of its way to simulate small town life through a carefully crafted world and characters. It’s one of the few open world games that genuinely feels lived in.
Deadly Premonition operates on a real-time day/night system, by which, Greenvale’s NPCs (of which there are over 30) will act according to their own schedules. NPCs will attend their jobs, stay home, run errands, or stroll about the town, all in accordance with the time of day and weather. Their schedules will tell you everything you need to know about them as people, and depending on when you choose to interact with them, you can get unique interactions.
Every NPC in Greenvale has a name, a story, their own personality and quirks. No two characters are the same (not even the twins). Through your interactions with these characters, you’ll even get the opportunity to do sidequests for them. These sidequests can admittedly be fetch quests, but your reward for completing them is almost always a further look into a character’s history, their personality, or lore about the town of Greenvale itself.
Let’s take a look at Emily Wyatt, one of the main cast. Her daily schedule is fairly simple, it consists of her going to work during the day and taking a trip to the local diner in the evening before going home. Early on, she is established to be a horrible cook, which is why she frequents the diner. Her quest-line involves York helping her learn to cook various meals. She only chooses to cook in the evening on rainy nights, because the local diner is closed and she has no choice (Please take note of the number of system interactions at play here).
Upon entering her home, you can see her scorch-marked kitchen as further indication that she’s a poor cook. The dialogue she shares with York shows her frustration at her ineptitude. With York’s help, she eventually learns to cook Eggs Benedict and Emily opens up about her relationship with her father to York.
Sidequests provide windows into the story outside of the main story, they explain character motivations and actions taken during the course of the main story. They also lead to some very shocking “aha!” moments as you get closer to solving the mystery. Swery’s love for his characters and the town he created is present at every turn.
I’ve played very few open world games that try so hard to simulate life, to build the supporting cast, or foreshadow plot through setting. And it’s all done in the most subtle way, none of these things are explicitly told to you in-game. The vast majority of players will breeze through the game without experiencing a single sidequest. You are guided purely by your own curiosity. The town of Greenvale will continue to turn regardless of if you decide to explore it or not, and that’s really the beauty of this game.
It Wasn’t Always This “Bad”
Surrounding Deadly Premonition is the prevailing idea that Swery and his games are defined by their horrible frame-rates and glitches. People who haven’t been fans of his for long may be shocked to find out that these issues aren’t actually a part of the experience. The original Deadly Premonition released for Xbox 360 actually ran at a consistent 30fps. It was a solidly made game with little in the way of glitches and other hiccups. Even Swery’s other works such as D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die, and The MISSING don’t have these kinds of issues.
So when did things change? It was when the Director’s Cut of Deadly Premonition released for PS3. It was by all accounts an inferior product to the original in terms of performance. For many, the PS3 release of Deadly Premonition: DC was their first outing with the series and it was then that the seeds of “glitches are a feature” were sown. As time went on, Deadly Premonition: DC was ported to more platforms, and the problems only seemed to get worse or stay the same.
The most recent release of Deadly Premonition on Switch was not free from these issues on release either, but thankfully after some patch fixes, you can play the game relatively comfortably. While it’s not the consistent 30fps experience you can get in the 360 release, it is very solid compared to most other ports of the game.
This is a very long-winded post, but I say all of this to say that Deadly Premonition is a great game. It deserves far more recognition in the gaming space for its ambition. “So bad it’s good” gets thrown around a lot where this game is involved, but the good of Deadly Premonition far outweighs the bad.