Over the last few weeks, I’ve really been taking my time to get to know Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise. Its predecessor, an obscure Xbox 360 survival horror title, was jam-packed with idiosyncrasies and hidden features which took months, even years, for its fans to uncover and whilst the first entry in the series appears at first glance to be a borderline non-functional mess, underneath its rough surface of iffy controls, weird glitches and general strangeness, lies some of the most unapologetically brilliant storytelling and character building I’ve ever seen in a videogame. Thus, I wanted to make sure I was offering a complete evaluation of the sequel, taking into account everything it has to offer, rather than just basing this article upon any potentially deceiving first impressions.
Past and present
Beginning in the modern day, the prologue of Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise lets players experience see for the first time the profound effect the events of the first game have had on the now series’ protagonist, Francis York Morgan. Despite his retirement, the now elderly York begrudgingly finds himself at the centre of a new FBI investigation headed by two fresh faces, the no-nonsense Agent Davis and her comedic pizza-loving sidekick Agent Jones. Despite appearing initially uncooperative, York becomes intrigued when he learns about the appearance of a mysterious red tree in New Orleans and the sudden discovery of a young girl’s dismembered body frozen in a block of ice.
It soon becomes clear that Davis’ current investigation is deeply intertwined with a case worked by York almost fifteen years prior. This takes the plot back into the past, where players meet a refreshingly young Agent York who has, by pure coincidence, stumbled across the news of a brutal murder in the town of Le Carré at the heart of the deep south. Intrigued, York swiftly travels to Le Carré and assumes control of the case. Conducting his own investigation, aided by the Le Carré sheriff and his young daughter Patricia, York is soon thrust into a bizarre world of brutal killings, strange drugs and paranormal entities.
Whilst the almost surrealist writing makes the game’s atmosphere particularly hard to engage with at first, players who persevere are rewarded with an engaging and smartly-written three-part mystery filled with unpredictable twists, a lovable cast of characters and a jaw-dropping finale. It’s also worth noting that a knowledge of the previous game in the series, now marketed as Deadly Premonition Origins, is required to fully appreciate the plot. Whilst first-time players will probably still have some vague idea of what is going on at any given time, much of the nuance will be lost.
Please, just call me York
Much like the plot, gameplay is decidedly split between both the past and the present. In the present day, the player controls Agent Davis as she interrogates York and listens to his story. As Davis in the modern day, players are confined to a fixed position from which they can select from a number of items in the environment to initiate conversations with York. These sections are short, and found at the beginning of each segment, with the rest of the episode leaving players free to explore the open-world of Le Carré at Agent York in 2005.
Much like the original Deadly Premonition, life in Le Carré operates on a week-long schedule with named NPCs having detailed daily routines. You often catch characters driving around the map to go to work or completing various chores around town. Interacting with characters during certain parts of their routines or in specific episodes gives the player access to the game’s side quests. Although these side quests are often just a generic fetch-quest, they each provide a unique insight into the life of their associated character. In addition to solving side quests, players can entertain themselves with a variety of minigames; including bowling and stone-skipping. Both the mastery of minigames and the competition of side quests provide unique rewards like special suits to wear or unlocking new fast-travel locations.
Players also have to maintain various aspects of York’s wellbeing. Skateboarding around town in the sweltering Louisiana sun is quite a sweaty task, and the player needs to make sure showers or changes his clothes daily. There is also a hunger bar, with low hunger depleting stamina and health, which can be filled by dining at local restaurants or picking up snacks from the plethora of vending machines that are littered around town. You can also pick up temporary debuffs from catching a cold, drinking too much or even staying in the sun long enough to become sunburnt! Although many of these features seem pretty mundane on paper, they make the world of Deadly Premonition 2 far more immersive than most and kept me eager to explore the open world even into the late-game.
The main story quests also offer a fantastic variety of gameplay. With access to profiling mode which involves examining reconstructed crime scenes, gathering evidence at crimes scenes and the routine solving of riddle-like clues provided by a skeletal oracle; this is certainly an investigation like no other. York also frequently enters the distorted ‘otherworld’ throughout the course of the investigation by entering portals known as ‘singularities’. The otherworld sections comprise of fighting off waves of creepy monsters in addition to some very light puzzle solving. They always close with a memorable boss-fight and shocking plot revelations.
This barely scratches the surface of many of the game’s features, but if this large number of mechanics already seems a little overwhelming; fear not! Players can always access a handy bank of tutorial guides via the pause menu at any point in the game.
A blessing in disguise
Despite all of its charm, Deadly Premonition 2 does still have its fair share of issues. The most apparent problem is the game’s absolutely abysmal framerate which often dips below ten frames-per-second seemingly randomly. Whilst closing and reopening the game frequently does seem to alleviate this problem somewhat performance is still inexcusably poor. On top of this, certain cutscenes often result in soft-locks and black screens. Although the game does have an autosave feature, I would still recommend saving frequently just to be safe.
I also found certain animations, particularly the shooting animations and even some parts of cutscenes, seem stiff an oddly unnatural. There are also a number of eerily stationary, almost dead-looking nameless NPCs spattered around Le Carré, presumably for decoration, which I felt were a completely unnecessary addition and just detracted from the otherwise good-looking locale. The game also has its fair share of general glitches, with falling through the floor, floating NPCs and enemies stuck in walls not a particularly uncommon occurrence.
Once you get past the initial teething phase, it’s still alarmingly easy to become enthralled by the incredibly gripping storyline. Perhaps the biggest compliment that I can give to Deadly Premonition 2 is that, in spite of all its glaring issues, I never wanted to put the game down. if you’re still put-off by the poor performance though, the developers have thankfully already confirmed the fact that there is a complete patch in the works – although no release date has been given.
It may a be a little rough around the edges but the game provides series fans with exactly what they would want from a sequel whilst still, almost incredibly, wholly subverting expectations. It supersedes the original in some respects whilst simultaneously significantly lacking in others but nevertheless provides a suitable vessel for Agent Francis York Morgan, one of the most brilliantly written characters in videogame history, to make a triumphant return. I’ve never known a game to have a more fitting tagline than Deadly Premonition 2 which, on the whole, can rightfully be described as nothing short of “a blessing in disguise”.