Review: Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise

Released back in 2010, Japanese game developer SWERY made his mark as an auteur with Deadly Premonition and what a mark it was. His little survival horror game turned out to be a bizarre beast, a being that was madness incarnate, one that had some critics calling it genius and others calling it other crap. The divide was so big that actually earned a Guinness World Record for “Most Critically Polarizing Survival Horror Game,” the type of extremely odd honor that only an extremely odd game like it could earn. But because of its oddities, Deadly Premonition developed a huge cult following and now that following has led us to a sequel, Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise. This is a tricky sell, though, since the original game is such a bizarre case a of capturing lighting in a bottle that it almost seems impossible to replicate (like how Birdemic 2 failed to match the level of lovable bad that was Birdemic). But is it truly impossible? Is Deadly Premonition 2 also just as enjoyable?

The setup of Deadly Premonition 2 is that — and my apologies in advance, as knowledge of the original game and its ending is kind of needed for this — in 2019, two FBI agents investigate a grizzled Francis Zach Morgan a decade after the events of the original game. The body of Lise Clarkson, a victim of a murder that resulted in an even earlier case of his, was finally found, and they have questions. So in between parts where you play as one the agents — Aaliyah — as you question Zach, the game flashes back to 2005 where you play as Zach’s split personality, Francis York Morgan, as he arrives in the small Louisiana town of Le Carré while tracking down a deadly drug called Saint Rouge, coming across the murder and investigating it, as there may be a connection. Needless to say, things quickly spiral out of control from that point onward.

Describing how York’s journey through Le Carré plays, though, is a different thing entirely. Honestly, picking the genre for this game is tricky. Going by the first game’s honors, you would think it’s a survival horror game, but the elements related to survival horror only occur if you’re outside between midnight or six AM or when you enter certain areas related to the main story missions. And even then, it’s not particularly deep survival horror, basically just third-person combat akin to Resident Evil 4 or Dead Space. It’s simple stuff that isn’t really challenging (then again, the first game was apparently never even supposed to have combat), but enjoyable, even if the enemy AI isn’t exactly genius and only seems to score notable hits when foes cheaply spawn behind you.

The rest of the game, in comparison, is spent traveling around Le Carré, completing quests and hunting for items. A lot of collectable items are microscopic, though, so you need to use York’s concentration mechanic to spot them. Just hold down a button, and suddenly a bunch of items in your line of sight are highlighted on your mini-map, plain and simple. These items are used for voodoo charms at a store, and placed on an altar to grant boosts for several different abilities, be it a more powerful gun, a larger amount of life, mini-game perks, or boosted skateboarding skills. Standard crafting stuff, but it works. Oh, right, the skateboarding thing. Due to certain circumstances, York’s only mode of transportation when it comes to getting around Le Carré is a skateboard. Aside from being able to speed around all around the open world on it, you can also unlock different tricks, which you can perform in certain areas. You can also unlock parts where York goes bowling, skips stores or engages in a shooting gallery on a boat tour. It’s fun stuff (I could easily spend hours with the bowling mini-game) and adds a lot to the charm, even if it isn’t a visual masterpiece.

Actually, that last part may be an understatement. The game does have a cool cel-shaded style, but the technical bits are straight out of the early seventh generation, maybe even the sixth. During later moments of the game, the framerate chugs along at times, seemingly dropping to even twenty frames per second or less. Animations can also be stiff as well, with one lowlight being how there seems to be a small freeze before and after every combat section. Of course, for many fans, this is actually part of the charm when it comes to a game like Deadly Premonition 2. Heck, there’s at least a small chance they may be intentional. Deadly Premonition 2 has notable graphical issues, but also has some decent combat with a couple of flaws, some nifty mechanics and customization options, and a nice open world with a ton of mini-games and other little bits to enjoy. But let’s be honest, if you’re playing a Deadly Premonition game, only one thing matters: Just how freaking insane the story, world and characters are.

What kind of story are you in for, exactly? Well, it’s one where our hero begins by enjoying a cup of coffee in a hotel while talking to his imaginary friend, them goes on a lengthy discussion with the chef about the how the hyperrealism in the 1982 version of Cat People makes it a work of art, then receives tips where to go for clues about the murder he’s just heard of from a Baron Samedi-like figure seen only in reflections, which leads him to purchase an alligator figure from a man named “The Mirror” who runs a voodoo shop, all while being assisted by a sheriff who peppers his speech with Dan LaFontaine-style quotes and his adopted kid daughter who watches CSI and becomes York’s sidekick, then York goes into a jazz bar operated by a man clad only in his underwear, where…actually, I don’t think I can say much more without spoiling things.

And that only covers a portion of the first quarter of the game. And doesn’t even get into the actual murder and its bizarre oddities. Oh, and the clown monsters, of course. Yes, much like its predecessor, Deadly Premonition 2 heavily draws inspiration from the likes of Twin Peaks. That means a ton of surreal characters and over-the-top dialogue, the vast majority of which I can’t mention here without spoiling that best parts. Le Carré is filled with an eclectic, cracked-out and just overall lovable cast. There’s rarely a moment where York and company don’t keep you captivated whenever they talk, even if it’s just York rambling on about the massive amount of ’80s films that he’s obsessed with and his bizarre opinions and interpretations of them.

This isn’t to say that the plot mainly focuses on the bizarre stuff. It does that, if only because everyone and everything in the world of Deadly Premonition 2 is bizarre in some way or another, but it’s still a great murder mystery, with several insane twists and turns that head into the supernatural territory, with the present-day bits adding an extra layer of intrigue (even if, again, knowledge of the first game is likely required for certain moments to hit). I found myself constantly engrossed with just how deep the Lise Clarkson murder seemed to go, and found myself wanting more

Deadly Premonition 2 is arguably worth it alone for the consistently enjoyable writing and characters, but it doesn’t mean it’s without flaws. For one, York’s dialogue when skating around town tends to constantly repeat after a while, getting to the point where I was ordering a taxi at every point just to skip it. But the bigger flaw, and arguably one of the biggest flaws overall, is that much like the first game, you can only encounter certain characters in certain places at certain times of the day. And depending on the circumstances, they may have special dialogue over even side quests to provide, so you have to figure out when those parts are. But sadly, the problem is that I just wasn’t invested.

I was invested in the characters — they were still a gleefully insane bunch — but it was the process of meeting up with these characters that kept me from getting invested. Deadly Premonition 2 actually has some survival and management elements to it. The hotel you stay at has a daily fee to pay, you need to maintain your hygiene in order to make sure people talk with you, you have hunger and sleep to deal with, and other stuff you need money for. Plus, you can also hunt for crafting supplies or earn them. Thus we have the foundation for this open world: you’re encouraged to explore Le Carré, talk with every character possible at different times, run quests for them, play mini-games and poke around, all so you can earn the money and items needed to survive.

It’s a solid foundation, but there’s just one problem (aside from one or two main quests seemingly forcing exploration upon you). As is it turns out, surviving in this game is rather easy. Money and items just seemed to frequently fall into my lap in Deadly Premotion 2. Instant cash bonuses for killing rare animals, bonuses for being a good shot, bonuses for completing certain parts of the story, and most notable, huge cash bonuses simply for just for traveling a certain amount of miles. Have you traveled thirty miles so far? Great, here’s three hundred dollars. Thirty-five miles overall? Here’s another three hundred and fifty smackeroos! So just skating around for a while is honestly enough to have you set for the rest of the game. In fact I ended up finishing with over eight thousand dollars still in York’s bank and I didn’t even need to sell a single item to any of the vendors. It isn’t helped that, as mentioned, the combat sections are rather easy and provide tons of item drops.

The less I needed to head out and check every inch of the town, coming across new side quests or encounters felt less organic. The only way to come across them was to outright hunt for them, and I just didn’t feel the need to so since they didn’t have any bearing on the main plot. Granted, choosing to blaze through the main plot instead still provides a quirky adventure with an interesting story and some decent-but-flawed combat, but it felt like I was missing out on a significant portion of the game. When the credits rolled, I think I actually saw one character listed in the cast that I never encountered. Businesses had signs up saying there were discounts for sunburned customers, yet I never even got tanned once. And once I had enough voodoo charms needed to deal a good chunk of damage, I just gave up on any side quests that felt like more work than needed in order to gain certain bonuses.

Granted, there are likely some of you out there more than willing to explore every inch of Le Carré, create as much of a challenge for you as possible, and uncover every bit of dialogue. And if that’s what you want, then you’ll probably have a ball figuring everything it out. After all, it isn’t not fun, it’s just that the game felt structured in such a way that these optional bits didn’t truly feel essential, entertaining as they may be. Still, this is a flaw that’s more tied into how you decide to approach the game.

Unfortunately, a type of flaw that isn’t up for debate is how buggy the game can get at times. Yes, you could argue that the frame rate issues, limited animations and clipping are supposed to be part of the charm. What isn’t part of the charm, though, are moments where York is suddenly unable to draw and fire his gun in the middle of combat, moments where he permanently freezes in place, parts where the screen turns pitch black until a certain button is pushed and times upon entering the room where the game just outright crashed and sent me back to the Switch’s home page due to a sudden error. All of these happened to me at least once, and while a numerical score is arguably meaningless when it comes to these games, these were the moments in Deadly Premonition 2 when I knew it was getting some points docked.

Closing Comments:

In the end, a traditional review may be rather pointless, since the Deadly Premonition games operate on the same level as a film such as The Return of Captain Invincible (possibly the lone cult ’80s film that York shockingly doesn’t reference): something that operates on a completely different plane of reality than the rest of us, one where the mere notions of “good” and “bad” don’t really apply. So the better question would simply be “is this just an entertaining game overall?” And in that case, the answer would be yes, Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise is an entertaining game. How one derives entertainment from it is up to each individual, mind you, but despite technical hiccups and awkward moments, the gleefully bizarre characters, twisted and intriguing story, quirky dialogue and loads of fun content to fiddle around with in Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise provides an experience worth checking out, albeit one you may find yourself questioning at certain points.