Deadly Premonition: Atrocious and amazing

(this was written earlier in 2010, but I'm posting it here so it lives on somewhere other than my hard drive)

When attempting to vouch for the relative quality of an object or thing, a person will sometimes say "taken objectively, this thing is...." and go on to list a variety of reasons why you should believe them. This approach denotes that removing the context in which the object is experienced is somehow detrimental to the experience one would have with it. This is not a new idea nor should this kind of analysis be discouraged. Removing something from a particular environment can benefit your experience with that thing. For instance it is probably ideal to listen to the newest album from your favorite band at home with headphones and not while standing on the tarmac of an airport.

As is the case with Deadly Premonition, many seem to use the "taken objectively" cliche when attempting to explain why someone should play the game. Implying that its faults are so numerous and glaring that the only possible way to ignore them is to "take the game objectively". I find this opinion rather stilted and slightly arrogant. It reeks of an elitism that implies Deadly Premonition is an "objectively terrible" game; so alarmingly that it goes past the point of being simply bad into the territory of charmingly bad. The conclusion at the end of this thought-train is that games with larger budgets created by more “progressive” minds are immediately "not objectively bad" because they do not on the whole resemble any one part of Deadly Premonition.

Personally, I refuse to believe that SWERY (the producer behind Deadly Premonition) intentionally set about making almost every facet of this game "terrible" by modern-day gaming standards. Even if that is the case, I believe the end result is something truly special. Deadly Premonition is not a bad game, a so-bad-its-good game, or even an "objectively bad" game. It does not require that you play it with the mindset that no other videogames have or will ever exist.

Simply put, Deadly Premonition is the greatest PlayStation game ever made. It is a virtual shrine to the game design ethos of the mid to late 90s made prevalent on Sony's first platform. The controls are awkward and oftentimes as much if not more of an obstacle than the intentional ones inside the game world; the graphics resemble an upscaled 2nd-generation Dreamcast title and the overall presentation is not unlike a game from the Simple 2000 series. It is a new game that has already "not aged well"; a paradigm of dated game design.

The game's charm and ultimately its enjoyment lies inside this idea. In the year 2010 there have been at least a dozen games released to wide-acclaim for the advancement of their respective genre (Super Mario Galaxy 2), refinement of gameplay (Bayonetta), or even of the medium itself (Mass Effect 2). While I do not strive to unseat these titles from their places of adoration, for they deserve every word, at the same time it has become tiresome to continually move from "ground-breaking" title to "genre-defining release" to games that "set a new standard for all games to follow". Much like every blockbuster movie release is "this years biggest thrill-ride", it is easy to become exhausted with continually being told that our favorite method of entertainment is a constantly shifting bed of sand where great ideas are overwritten the following week and entire genres are "played out" within a few years. The next big thing in gaming is oftentimes the last thing we should be playing.

The direction taken by SWERY and his team has seemingly been so in order to provide a particular and focused experience for the player. The sprawling variety of side-quests for the townsfolk provides a deeper, richer back story than many of this generation's largest RPGs. The humble, plaintive and at times nuanced voice-acting coupled with a surprisingly (for the budget) well-written script connect with a player more directly than a growling bald space-marine with a rifle could ever hope to.

Deadly Premonition's particular use of "that font from terrible Japanese horror games" and repeated instances of Engrish translation are so obvious and placed throughout the game that one has to wonder if Access Games has studied the art of mediocrity. Charming yes, however this idea seems again to be a choice engineered to evoke a particular response in the player. It can be said the pursuit of providing a novel experience does not rely solely on the implementation of most advanced techniques available.

The outdated graphics engine does not demonstrate the limitations of the developer's competency, but rather acts as a translation for the "vision" of the game; much like a first generation PlayStation game would utilize a highly-compressed image of clouds for the sky. As a player, you were not seated at your television thinking, "Wow how terrible do those clouds look?". You were thinking, "Look at that sky! Its got clouds and it looks awesome ."

Simply because the industry has told you "cloud textures are out , sky boxes with dynamic weather and high-dynamic range lighting are in ," does not mean that purposely illustrating your vision with an "inferior" technique renders it an inferior result. "Taken objectively" the mangled perspective and discoloration of Picasso's later works are awful but are widely regarded as the highest of Cubist-era art. Is Deadly Premonition the harbinger of a new wave in purposely outdated game design? Probably not, but it does not mean that picture it paints was not done in an artistic and deliberate manner.

Deadly Premonition is everything that a big-budget, triple A title, should not be. It does not attempt to set new standards, refine or exemplify mechanics (although its implementation of time is rather novel), or even tell a very unique story. It is however, the end result when ideas long made obsolete attempt to reconcile themselves one last time into something greater than the sum of their parts. In this current climate of successive one-upmanship with every major release, perhaps the most novel experience of all lies within one that is the most mundane, the least risky, the most "objectively bad". 
 
Isn't that right, Zach?

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