Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise Review — Always Trust the Pizza, Zach
Deadly Premonition 2 marks the return of Francis York Morgan and his brand of weirdness. He can also skateboard now. It's rad.
To call the first Deadly Premonition a cult classic feels like a bit of an understatement. Swery65 and the team at Access Games created one of the most intriguing, yet technically terrible games in recent memory. In 2010, the game felt like a modern-era version of Shenmue’s “gameplay” mixed with an oddball murder mystery like Twin Peaks.
Fans of the original release will be happy to know that the trademark weirdness is still alive and well in 2020. In fact, this prequel/sequel, Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise, feels like it was entirely designed back in 2010, and then Swery just held onto it for 10 years.
As such, this makes it a very difficult game to give you a clean-cut review score. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if several people just read the score and skip my text in their haste to take to the comments section to complain. Your enjoyment of Deadly Premonition 2 mostly comes down to what you value most in your video games.
In short, if you like wacky casts and a harebrained plot that barely makes sense, Deadly Premonition is probably worth a try. However, if you need your games to play at a consistent framerate or want precise control over your actions, maybe look elsewhere.
That dichotomy between two thoughts of game design is represented in nearly every aspect of Deadly Premonition 2. It might be tough to fully explain all of my thoughts on my favorite game outside of NieR: Automata or the Yakuza series over the last half-decade while also feeling hard-pressed to call it good. That said, I’ll do my best while going into some spoilers, so fair warning.
Let’s start with the most important aspect of Deadly Premonition 2, which is the characters. This cast of misfits is often hilarious, always compelling, and sometimes full of more emotion than you previously thought possible. Obviously, the star of the show is Francis York Morgan and his alter ego, Zach. York is, perhaps, my favorite protagonist in gaming history. His encyclopedic knowledge of B-movies and his willingness to explore anything in the search of truth make him the kind of guy you’d love to have on your side.
At times, he might seem to not really understand normal humans, but then you realize that he’s just on another plane from the rest of us. Sure, he refuses to call Arnold Schwarzenegger anything but Arnold S. And, I’ll grant you that mentally hopping out of conversations to talk to what some would call an imaginary friend is probably not the best way to handle an investigation, but York is always there to surprise you with his deep understanding of how people work. He’s able to assess situations in ways that other characters can’t because his worldview is so different from the norm.
York isn’t the only character worth talking about. There’s David, whose four separate personalities fulfill the roles of your hotel’s chef, concierge, bellboy, and owner. There’s also Mrs. Carpenter, the bowling granny. Or maybe, like me, you love the always-cursing crawdaddy farmer Chuck. The man might have a short temper, but when he goes off on you in his heavy Louisanna accent, it’s a thing of beauty. You haven’t seen a better putdown wordsmith in video games.
And, it would be a mistake to not also talk about York’s young assistant, Patti. As a foil to York’s oddball behavior, Patti is sublime. She refuses to put up with his crap and even takes a few Jim from The Office-like moments to look at the camera, asking “is this guy for real?” with her blue eyes.
Unfortunately, while all the characters in the game are memorable (yes, even you, The Mirror), when you actually start playing the game, it all starts to fall apart.
I’m no frame rate expert. Frankly, as long as it’s consistent, I don’t really care for most games. That said, calling Deadly Premonition 2’s framerate smooth is like calling games with randomized loot boxes a fun form of “surprise mechanics.” It’s just an outright lie.
In the main overworld, the game chugs like a stay-at-home mom whose son just dropped out of college and has taken up binge-drinking boxed wine. I can make that joke because I dropped out for a year before going back to finish. Except, I was the one drinking, not my mom.
Anyways, don’t expect technical brilliance. Even expecting technical competency is a big ask. But, does any of that matter when you can skate around the beautiful town of Le Carre in 15fps or less?
The answer is absolutely not. See, Deadly Premonition 2 might not understand what framerate is, but it does understand fun. And, to that end, Swery and his team have replaced the boring driving from the original game with skateboarding.
That’s right, friends. York’s rented hybrid car was stolen during his trip to Le Carre and, in its place, he’s become a true “Sk8er Boi.” At first, all he can do is ride around, but, once you meet your very own Mr. Miyagi in Emma, you’ll quickly learn the “FORBIDDEN ARTS” of skateboarding. Basically, you’re going to become an impossible-landing machine. It’s super rad.
At least, it (and the rest of the game with it) is as long as it’s working. We talked about Deadly Premonition 2’s frame rate, but that was only the tip of the iceberg. Expect to run into several bugs. The game only hard crashed on me once, but, like a jealous former lover, it teased me all the time. Load times in Deadly Premonition 2 are apparently something the game thinks you should savor.
They’re incredibly long and sometimes you’re just looking at a black screen for 10 minutes wondering if you Switch exploded on the inside from running this Xbox 360-looking game. Additionally, I also ran into several soft locks during my playthrough. Basically, what happens is randomly your buttons stop working. You can’t shoot bad guys. You can’t run. Heck, you can’t even skate. Truly, it’s the worst timeline.
That first problem will really hurt you, though. If you can’t shoot, you can’t fight off bad guys in the game’s dungeons. This means you have no choice except to load back to a checkpoint.
Speaking of the dungeon, imagine you’re playing a Persona game. The only difference is that, in place of deep rock-paper-scissors RPG combat, you’re shooting enemies in the face. The best you can say about it is that it’s so easy, you barely have to think about it.
Seriously, I don’t think I used a health pack until the last boss. At the end of the game, I had well over 100 healing items, and it wasn’t because I was being stingy. Personally, I didn’t really mind. The story and characters were the reason to play. However, if you’re looking for good gameplay, this ain’t it.
Deadly Premonition 2’s often bonkers story is full of heart. If you asked me to tell you exactly what happens, I’d be hard-pressed to tell you. However, what I will say is that I was glued to the TV throughout the game. Like a good book, the story is a page-turner. I’m just not completely sure if the total tale makes sense or not.
To me, it’s an exploration of a man who lost everything and is trying to get it back. It’s also about a man who is willing to follow any possibility in his search for the truth. And lastly, it’s about RED TREES. I’m sure that last line means something to a small number of you.
But, while the main story is a bit of a wild one, I can say one thing with absolute certainty; In his time in Le Carre, York has developed an obsession with bridges. I know this because he’s told me that somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 times.
See, while the cutscenes are mostly great, York only has 15-20 stories that he tells while you’re exploring the town. And he’s going to tell them to you over and over again. If you wanted to hear York wax poetically about Charles Bronson’s name, you’re in luck. He’ll be doing that a lot.
Deadly Premonition 2 is a test of how much crap you can put up with for one of my favorite experiences in this generation of video games. It’s like if a chef brought you the finest crab in the world, but to eat it you have to crack open the shells with your toes while getting mud thrown at your face and being forced to listen to your least favorite song play over-and-over again. At some point, you have to ask yourself, is the crab really worth it?
For me, the answer is a resounding yes. I don’t know if Deadly Premonition 2 will end the year ranked as the best game of 2020 in the annals of DualShockers’ history, but it will probably be my favorite one.
The game actually provides one of the best analogies I think of to describe itself. York is a student of cinema. He can tell you the director and year of release for almost any film in existence. However, he’s never heard of E.T., a seminal movie in film history.
Only crazy people and children haven’t heard of E.T. You might not like it, but you’ve heard of it. You probably know the story. You’ve certainly heard about him phoning home. But York hasn’t. He’s too focused on Scatman Crothers’ performance in The Shining to pay attention to that popcorn movie. He doesn’t have time for your summer blockbusters.
Imagine a man who not only hasn’t seen a Marvel movie in 2020, but hasn’t even heard of them. That’s York. He’d see a poster for The Avengers and be like, “This masked man in red, white, and blue tights reminds me of Simon Wincer’s 1996 film The Phantom starring Billy Zane and Kristy Swanson.” And then you’d have to hear him talk about it lovingly for five minutes, while some great smooth jazz plays in the background. Did I mention the music rules? But, like every other aspect of Deadly Premonition 2, that has to come with a caveat. Because, just like the first game, the audio mixing is all over the place.
Anyways, Deadly Premonition 2 is exactly the same. It’s a game that feels like it has never played any games released after the original. It doesn’t care about frame rate or good controls. It’s made a few changes to the overall formula but mostly casts aside the advances game design has made in the last ten years. Deadly Premonition 2 just wants to tell its story, tell it well, and be its own weird, little self. Your ability to either live with that or not will determine how deeply you fall in love with the citizens of Le Carre.