When I reviewed the re-release of Deadly Premonition on Nintendo Switch, dubbed Deadly Premonition: Origins, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. While I knew that the game’s legacy preceded it, I did not know that said legacy was built around the general idea that while Deadly Premonition is far from a good game, it is also far from a bad game. The original Deadly Premonition exists in an incredibly niche line of video games beloved in spite of their seemingly objective shortcomings, living in the uncanny territory between good and bad game design to the point that it’s hard to argue with the few that perceive it as a genuine masterpiece.
While my review of the Nintendo Switch version is very critical of elements such as the game’s poor technical performance and storytelling that is in parts derivative of the 1990s television series Twin Peaks, I absolutely loved my time in Greenvale with Francis York Morgan and his buddy, Zack. I say all this because, as somebody who has since played through most of director Hidetaka ‘SWERY’ Suehiro’s back-catalogue in the 9 months since my review of Deadly Premonition: Origins, I couldn’t be happier to say that Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise is as deeply flawed as the original, if not more so.
Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise comes to us just a little over 10 years after the release of Deadly Premonition (known in Japan as Red Seeds Profile) and takes us to modern day Boston, Massachusetts, in which Francis Zack Morgan, the retired FBI special agent protagonist of the previous title, is being interrogated by the FBI for the strange circumstances surrounding his solving of two cases taking place in Greenvale, Washington (the case from the original game) and Le Carré, Louisiana, a case referenced tangentially in the first game. Following this, the game is split into two sections, one in which the player follows FBI Special Agent Aaliyah Davis as she interrogates Morgan and another in which the player takes control of FBI Special Agent Francis York Morgan in 2005 as he attempts to track down the origins of a drug known as Saint Rouge, which leads him to the town of Le Carré.
Let’s get this out of the way first, in terms of story, Deadly Premonition 2 completely surpasses the original, building off of its predecessor wonderfully while simultaneously enhancing it as all great sequels should. From the opening, the way the narrative cleverly ties into events from the first game while almost acting as a deconstruction of sorts is a direction nobody expected, but it is nonetheless welcome. Following this, the central mystery itself is genuinely gripping, taking many silly, supernatural turns just as the original did. One of the most satisfying elements of Deadly Premonition 2 is that the game’s tone and setting feel incredibly distinct from the original’s, ditching the Lynchian horror aesthetic almost entirely in preference for a more True Detective-inspired aesthetic, which the opening cinematic establishes very successfully. The soundtrack from Satoshi Okubo, composer of the criminally underrated Hotel Dusk: Room 215, emphasizes this loudly, with a perfect blend of both catchy and genuinely gorgeous tracks. The setting of Louisiana also blends perfectly around the narrative, as do the instantly memorable cast of locals, with a particular standout being Patricia Woods, a young girl whom York slowly grows an attachment to over time.
None of this is to say that Deadly Premonition 2 is some masterpiece of storytelling, it isn’t even writer/director Hidetake Suehiro’s best work (the storytelling is still a ways off from the nuance and emotional high points of The Missing: J.J. MacField and the Island of Memories), but as a sequel to the 2010 original, Deadly Premonition 2 goes above and beyond all expectations for a sequel to a game that, in all honesty, wasn’t even in need of one. The through-line that holds all of Deadly Premonition 2’s crazy ideas together is the game’s dedication to never taking itself too seriously; this is still the same cheesy, B-movie-style storytelling from the original, but almost all of Deadly Premonition 2’s ideas are its own, and it helps the game feel far more distinct in the long run. If the original Deadly Premonition is a loving homage to Twin Peaks, Deadly Premonition 2 is a loving homage to the original Deadly Premonition.
Just as the original did, Deadly Premonition 2 features a full open world with a Shenmue-style in-game clock mechanic in which the player must work around certain characters’ schedules and some locations’ opening hours by either sleeping, camping, or partaking in some mini-games, such as bowling and skipping stones. Instead of the clunky driving from the original title, this time around York is equipped with a skateboard to traverse Le Carré, and while this is definitely no Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, this form of traversal is definitely an improvement on the original’s terrible driving implementation. The main hindrance behind Deadly Premonition 2’s open world is, as you’ve probably heard by now, the game’s absolutely terrible frame-rate when traversing it. Frames can sometimes dip into the low tens while traversing Le Carré, and while it never takes control away enough to feel unplayable, it certainly is a sight to behold.
Breaking up these open-world sequences are third-person shooting sequences not unlike the original’s, in which Francis York Morgan traverses ‘Singularities’, otherworldly portals that bring him closer to solving his case at pivotal moments in the story. Unfortunately, while these sections start strong and thankfully don’t run as poorly as the open-world sections, they quickly lose all of their momentum as, while there are only a handful featured in the game’s 15-hour runtime, they quickly grow painfully monotonous as the gun combat feels very underdeveloped. This is especially disappointing considering that while the original game’s combat wasn’t exactly great, it was at the very least effective in maintaining and projecting the game’s atmosphere.
While Deadly Premonition 2’s technical performance has been been drilled into the ground at this point, it’s as if some players who experienced the first game on systems such as the PC, Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 3 almost see poor frame-rate as a feature of the series this time around. It is worth mentioning that the team at White Owls has stated that it is dedicated to fixing these issues. This doesn’t change the fact that in its current form, Deadly Premonition 2 is a very inconsistent game to play. In the same vein, the visuals of Deadly Premonition 2 also feel like somewhat of a continuation of the original game’s low-budget art style, a-la Shenmue III, with this entry being built on the lower-end game engine Unity. While Deadly Premonition 2 certainly isn’t a flattering game to look at in a manner of ways, at this point making it look any better would rob it of the distinct visual style of Deadly Premonition. Likewise, while the performance given by Jeff Kramer is genuinely brilliant at times, taking away the cheesy, B-movie style acting would also be removing a part of the game’s identity. Simply put, Deadly Premonition 2 is a deeply ironic game.
Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise manages to simultaneously walk the line of both a terrible game and a true successor to the original at the same time. A game in equal parts everything what fans of the original game could have wanted, while also a completely tone deaf piece of media, uninterested in the polished production of AAA titles or the safety of lower-risk low-budget titles. Just like the original, almost every facet of Deadly Premonition 2 is punching above its weight to deliver an experience that, while never really ‘fun’, per se, offers an experience you simply will not find anywhere else.
Developer: Toybox Inc., White Owls Inc.
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 10th July 2020
Gaming Respawn’s copy of Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise was supplied by the publisher.