Deadly Premonition Thoughts Part 3: Problems, Real and Imagined

This is part three of a series of posts about Deadly Premonition. You should read part 1 and part 2 first.


Most of the technical issues with Deadly Premonition are not true problems, just systems that seem to be too simple compared to the modern state of the art. The textures and animation, for example, are pretty low quality. The aiming system is unwieldy, and for some infuriating reason the targeting reticle vanishes once you start to fire. The collision detection is pretty strict and angular. The movement of the enemies makes for challenging gameplay until a certain weapon is acquired, after which the combat is trivially easy (with the exception of one truly annoying enemy that took me five minutes to kill each time). The camera seems jumpy because it always aligns itself with the angle of the floor. These are the sorts of technical issues that crop up in Deadly Premonition; not really bugs so much as areas lacking in the polish we’ve come to expect from modern games. There’s nothing here that really gets in the way of the game play either–no fatal flaws or deal-breaking mechanics. Just technical roughness.

There is, however, a real problem that is worth mentioning. Deadly Premonition swings wildly between closed-off linear game play modes and open world, free form modes. Both are interesting in their own right, but the free form mode in particular has a lot of fascinating features, specifically, the way it manages time. The town of Greenvale is tied to a clock that controls when stores open, how characters move around, when the sun rises and sets, and there’s a huge amount of content here. You can sneak up to a character’s house and look in the window to see what they are up to at any given time. If they are home, they’ll be moving around, doing chores or watching TV. The town feels alive.

But the progression between these two modes is unpredictable. Most of the game is fixed and linear (though sometimes occurring within the open world), but at a few points the player finds himself with no immediate goal and is free to explore. The timing and frequency of these undirected sections is off. The first open world segment appears early in the game, before the player has had a change to grasp how the whole time-of-day system works yet. The player must be at a certain location at a certain time, and indeed, can choose to simply sleep in the hotel until that time approaches if they wish. I think most players are excited to get out and drive around.

Only, there’s not much to do at first; many of the shops open at odd times, and time in the open world mode progresses extremely slowly. Shenmue had a similar system and users complained enough that in Shenmue 2 they added a way for the player to accelerate time while they wait for a specific appointment. This first open world section seems to go on forever–I spent several hours of play driving around the city, running errands, finding items, and talking to characters. There are a few side missions that you can accomplish, but there’s no way to get anywhere close to beating all of them in this early section. Instead, the mode seems to drag on until finally, thankfully, the meeting time approaches and you can get on with the story. And as it turns out, that moment is the only time in the game where the player is given such freedom; every other open world segment is tied to a specific goal, or a short time limit. After spending so much time in the open world mode, I wasn’t excited to go back to it–I wanted to see the story progress, find the killer of the beautiful young girl. When I had a chance to do open world stuff again, I instead opted to beeline for the next obvious goal so that i could see what was going to happen next. Nothing forced me to do this, but since everything is tied to a clock, missing the next deadline would mean a whole ‘nother 24 hour cycle in the open world. That didn’t seem acceptable to me–I was hot on the trail of a serial killer and goddamn it, I’m going to catch him. There was just no time to waste.

I think that the long initial open world section, combined with the subsequent velocity of the plot, sucks a lot of the life out of Deadly Premonition’s dual mode design. I probably only experienced 1/5th of the total content available in the game (though it still took me close to 25 hours to complete) because I was more interested in advancing the story than driving around completing side missions. Perhaps that was the goal–to allow me to select the type of game play mode that I prefer–but it was still annoying.

But that’s the only real complaint I have with Deadly Premonition. The technical flaws were not a problem for me (though I do have a bone or two to pick with the aiming system and instant-failure quick timer events), and the rest of the content was so good that other minor flaws are easy to forgive. And really, when discussing the mechanical parts of the game design, Deadly Premonition gets much more right than it gets wrong.

Next time: Part 4: Deadly Premonition’s Otherworld and Wrap Up

11 thoughts on “Deadly Premonition Thoughts Part 3: Problems, Real and Imagined

  1. Dude, awesome write-ups. I wholeheartedly agree with all your sentiments. I still should do that Alan Wake vs. Deadly Premonition article, but I realized I am a lover, not a writer. Or maybe I’m just lazy.

  2. Thanks, Casey. I totally bought Alan Wake while in the US last week, and it’s next on the list (after I finish the last 30 minutes of LIMBO).

  3. I actually stopped playing Deadly Premonition becuase I was stuck in the open world section for some long amount of time(also because I was playing it on a borrowed 360). I know you can sleep and skip ahead(as well as doing side-quests) but the map is a pain to use and driving is an absolute bore. It feels like a step up from the open world system implemented in the first No More Heroes(though I think it was used for parody there), it feels as though I use it just to go from point A to B, nothing else. Sure there is plenty of places to go but fetch quests and side missions really aren’t my bag.

    I even tried a side-mission so I could get around waiting for so long. I was interested becuase it opened as kind of an urban legend. When I got to the actual mission, its an arena of enemies. You kill the enemies, enter another arena with more enemies and that’s about it. The combat system “works” but its boring. If this is what the rest of the side missions consist of, well, fuck that.

    The story and characters are the best thing about DP so far of what I’ve played. I’m a huge Twin Peaks fan, which helps. I’ve liked what I played so far becuase the game kind of makes me feel a sense of nostalgia for older survival horror games thanks to mechanics it kind of emulates. That said–I had to start over once and that was no fun at all, the effect had worn off on the second start up and the game felt chorish. I loved the variation it through in with the Raincoat Killer hide and chase sequence(the q.t.e’s were generally annoying).

    All of my complaints are mostly what Chris pointed out: lack of polish. The story and characters ease the frustration immensely since its completely its own sort of weird(though it borrows some from TP). I look forward to finishing the game.

  4. I really hope I’m not missing some point that maybe the open world was designed to be be boring…

    On the nostalgic survival horror mechanics, the music in the game is at the top of the list and I fucking love it.

  5. A couple of things I would like to point out is that in addition to sleeping you can also use the cigarettes to advance the clock, just use them from your inventory. Also there is a simple side quest that snags you an item that allows instant teleports to any place you have previously visited, cutting down on driving time significantly. You can complete side quests waaay easier if you get that item and I believe you can get it on the first day of open world exploration.

  6. > Tesseracht

    That’s true about the cigarettes, but this is so early in the game that I suspect many players don’t figure that out. I never got the warp item. That would have been really nice.

  7. Having played this for over 30 hours on my first run through, I can safely say that I didn’t know about how the cigarettes worked until very late in the game.

    When the meeting at the community hall happens, I ended up arriving around two hours early and had to kill time randomly.

    I also missed most of the first day exploration because I didn’t have a proper grasp of the mechanics and assumed it was game over if I missed my destination time.

    What bothered me was just a lack of overall variety in monsters in the game. Even one or two more would have varied up parts of the game nicely. Also, does anyone know what was up with the size of the dogs at the end of the game? I feel like mentioning that doesn’t spoil anything and if anyone else has seen the same thing, they know what I’m talking about.

    Chris: One major flaw I have to throw out there is the driving in the rain. Textures and background just completely disappear at random times while driving. Bizarre and sometimes just frustrating for the length it happens.

  8. I’m interested in this game but I do not own an Xbox 360. I understand that all of the dialogue in the Asian PS3 version of the game (Red Seeds Profile) is in English but the text isn’t.

    Will it be easy enough to play this game with a walkthrough or is there a LOT of in-game text?

  9. A great review of a great game.

    I played the Asian Red Seeds Profile version of this, and it is absolutely playable from start to finish without understanding the text.
    A few (pretty easy) guesses are needed at points, but really the language barrier is nothing to prevent you from entering this strange and immersive mystery.
    However the side quests are nigh-on impossible without some kind of help- and the warp item is a genuine blighter to use- but there is enough content online to master both of these quibbles.

    My advice to UK.US PS3 owners- don’t hesitate!

    Keep up the good work, Chris!

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