By MooseyMcMan 13 Comments
Ten years ago, my good friend Larry and I were talking about this weird game we'd heard about, this odd game that seemed like it was so bad and strange that it was worth experiencing with our own eyes. Plus, it was only $20 for a newly released game, so of course we decided we'd play it through together, sort of Endurance Run style. Unlike Larry, at the time I wasn't that deep into Giant Bomb, so it could very well be he partially got the idea from them, I'm not sure if I ever asked him about it. Or if he'd even remember now.
I'm sure I've told this story before, but I'll go through the motions again. We played the game, on and off, for months, whenever we had the time. Usually on breaks from college. This game, that we started because we thought it'd be so bad it was funny, and it certainly was funny, but at some point it took a turn. We went from a combination of laughing at and with it, to being genuinely interested in the story.
Eventually, I became so enraptured with the story that, and I still feel a little bad about this Larry, I finished the game on my own, over summer break. We had to use the chapter select feature to replay stuff for Larry to experience the "end" (by which I mean at least the last third) of the game.
So many games have stuck with me over the years, have impacted me in so many ways, but I can't stress enough how 2010 was the year of Deadly Premonition for me. Not just playing it with (and without) my friend, but watching both Endurance Runs, having it generate interest in me to go watch its primary influence (Twin Peaks) for the first time, to it even inspiring me, years later to write my own murder mystery in the same vein. Said mystery is still in the editing phase, so again, years later, that game still has its hooks in me.
I even went so far as to bring my copy with me to PAX East 2015, with the sole purpose of getting Swery to sign it. Which he did, and me being the nervous wreck of a human being I am, I was just about overcome at actually meeting the man. And to this day, years after I put my 360 games away in a box somewhere, I still keep that copy of Deadly Premonition out. On a shelf, where I can see it, every day. Heck, I'm looking at it right now, as I type this!
That was five years ago, and the game itself a full decade. That game still holds a special place in my heart, even as the more time passes, there's certain parts that I wish were different. Particularly everything around Thomas, but that's getting ahead of myself.
Because here I am, in the middle of 2020, having just finished the follow-up I never thought would be made: Dead2y Premonition: A Blessing in Disguise. And yes, having so much preamble about the first game is important, because I needed to set the stage here for this game. With so much swirling around this game online, I wouldn't have even played it if the first game hadn't left such a big, lasting impact on me.
Now though, I'm not sure where to start on DP2, because I have so many thoughts about so many aspects of the game. I guess then, I'll start with the biggest topic of discussion:
Dead2y Premonition: The Technical Issues.
DP 2is a mess. The framerate is bad. Probably the worst in any game I've played. Yes, ever. That, or maybe BroForce on PS4, but even then, it wasn't until very late into that game that it got horrible, whereas DP 2 does not wait to unleash its paltry number of frames.
But here's the thing, the low framerate is, ironically, low on my list of things that made playing this game a hassle. I'm sure that won't be the case for everyone, or even most people. My eyes, my brain, just seem adept at adapting to very low framerates. No, I mean that seriously. I'd get out into the world, where it really drops, have a few seconds of, "Oh, whoof," before I adjusted, and "fine" probably is too generous, but it was playable. It helps that the majority of the time spent in the world is riding along the skateboard on entirely flat, straight streets, where you don't need to interact with the game at all.
My biggest hindrance to playing the game was the fact that there's no option to invert the camera. Despite there being a screen in the help menus saying that's an option, there is no way to do that. So, despite my decades of playing with inverted Y-Axis (and please, no jokes about that, those were never funny, they're old at this point, and I already had to endure one from the same Larry as mentioned above, it's 2020, it's a basic accessibility feature), because everyone online obsessed over the framerate and I didn't read any of the few reviews that mentioned the lack of this feature, I didn't really have much choice. Aside from just sitting on something I spent fifty bucks on, hoping that would be patched sooner, rather than later.
As an addendum, since writing the first draft of this, the first "post day-one" patch was released. I have no idea how much it does or doesn't address technical issues, because after the patch I only turned the game on long enough to see there still was no option to invert.
I got by, largely because the game is very easy, and very flat. Not much need to look up and down in most cases. Still a lot of fumbling through, especially during combat, but again, getting ahead of myself. I'm still in the technical issues section, which also includes the game crashing (once when I interacted with a phone to save!), staying on black screens forever when it's supposed to load a new scene (apparently hitting X during these sometimes helps, it did for me), frequent and fairly long loading screens, and one instance where interacting with an NPC sent me flying into another area. An area I wasn't supposed to be able to get yet, one completely locked, meaning that had I used the phone in there to save, I could have completely broken the game and left myself trapped. Luckily I thought ahead.
The first game had some issues, including some very easily repeatable crash bugs, but this is so much worse. This game is a textbook example of why consoles need stricter requirements on what can and can't get certified for release. This game has the "Official Nintendo Seal" of quality on the back of the box. And yet the framerate is so abysmal it'll be well below playable for most people, and it lacks at least one basic accessibility feature that should be mandated be in every applicable game!
I'm not saying only Nintendo is guilty of stuff like this, plenty of games ship in conditions they shouldn't, across all the consoles. I played (and really enjoyed!) Control last year, but even having played it in a patched state where some of that stuff was "better," I still think that game should have been delayed a year and a launch game for the new consoles. Would that be realistic? Probably not, I don't know the business end of that, and neither do I know what happened with DP 2 to see it release exclusively on Switch, and in this sorry state.
But like I said, I adapted to the low framerate, I adapted to the stick going the opposite of how my brain feels it should, these were hindrances, but I still was able to play, and finish it. Meaning I'm indeed part of the problem for buying this mess, but enough about the technical shortcomings.
Dead2y Premonition: The Video Game.
Dead2y Premonition, like its predecessor, has a time of day system. Unlike the original, this one even keeps track of the day of the week. York's investigation in the small Louisiana town of Le Carré begins on a Monday. Before enough game time passes for a full day to have passed, his investigation leads him to something he must do at dawn, meaning he has to go sleep, move on to the next day, etc. Anyway, more stuff happens, and soon after York is led to a fetch quest for a variety of food items.
One of which the only way to acquire is ordering a dish from the owner of the local diner/bowling lane (singular lane), Alexus. But she only cooks that dish on Mondays. No if, ands, or buts, only on Mondays. Meaning early in this game, it gives you something that can only be done on a Monday, but not until after Monday has passed. I got this quest on Wednesday, but in the (now mysteriously missing) Quick Look, Ben said he got it on Tuesday.
In another context, I could appreciate this game's wacky charm for doing something like this, for making me spend almost an entire week just passing time because the other story thread I could go along at that moment was quite short, but DP 2 doesn't have that many ways to spend time. At least not in game time. See, you can go bowling, but bowling doesn't pass in game time. Time freezes when inside buildings. You could go to the alley, spend hours of your real time bowling, but not a minute would pass in game. At least not so far as I could tell.
Of course, you could always go down to the scene of the crime and skip stones in the river right next to where a sixteen year old girl was found brutally murdered and dismembered, that should spend in game time. But even though time does technically move faster in DP 2 than the original, it still moves so slowly that I spent most of this week either smoking cigarettes to pass time (remember, don't smoke in real life), or sleeping (sleeping in real life is good). By the end of that week, I had run out of side quests I could do, and was literally sleeping in 24 hour intervals.
Deadly Premonition had its oddities, but I don't remember that game ever forcing me to spend that much time just doing literally nothing, because I literally couldn't advance the story. Some instances of having to wait for a specific time, but usually they made sense, and were never this ridiculous. Being asked to meet someone behind the diner after they close up for the evening is reasonable, this wasn't. All I could do was wait, wait to finish something York even calls out as a fetch quest!
But when I'm not sleeping away the days, is DP 2 a fun game? Well, honestly, for most of the game, I was enjoying it. I mock it for pulling the "bad game design and then saying it's bad game design" shtick, but for the most part, I think when the game tries to be funny, it's really funny. I laughed a lot at the game, or with the game, more precisely. Whether it was seeing a strange voodoo salesman pull out an alligator statue wearing a top hat, meeting another of Le Carré's cartoonish (mostly in a good way) townspeople, or seeing standout new character Patricia's reactions to York's peculiar mannerisms and especially his increasingly baffling movie opinions, this game brought out a lot of genuine laughs.
And those are its best moments, looking back at it all now. For all its faults, some of which I have mentioned, and some I have yet to get to, if DP 2 gets anything right, it's the humor. Swery seems intent on continuing to make games with pretty serious stories, but without getting to my thoughts on DP2's story yet, now I'm thinking he should just focus on the comedy in the future. Or at the very least write a main story that's much more lighthearted, and have that goofy humor be the main focus, instead of the comic relief.
Which isn't to say some of that can't be grating either. In the original, York's musings on his favorite movies, bands, etc were typically conversations had whilst driving. The A button prompt to talk appears, and York treats the audience to some thoughts on cinematic classics like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. I jest, but I totally watched that movie because of that game, and it's got some decent moments in it. I enjoyed it, despite a few In Bad Taste jokes.
Here, York's movie thoughts (and they seem to be exclusively about movies, no new musings on punk bands that I recall) are pushed more into story dialog, or occasionally optional dialog with Patricia, in side quests, etc. So while skateboarding (also York rides a skateboard instead of driving) York still talks, this time without even needing a button prompt. Sometimes about movies in relation to events in the story.
See, the thing is, in the original, York never repeated these stories. If he ran out of things to say, the talk prompt would just prompt him to whistle for a few seconds, or say something else short. Here, York doesn't need prompting. And he repeats himself.
This is the Deep South, Zach. I feel it every time that molten sun pours down over me.
One lollipop, two lollipops, three lollipops. Oh, never mind me Zach, this is just how I wake myself up.
You're a coffee person, right Zach?
You're thinking about him, aren't you Zach?
You thinking about Galena too, Zach?
I'm thinking about bridges again, Zach.
These stories, asides, etc, are fun and interesting once, sometimes even twice. But I don't need to hear York talk about the molten sun pouring over him twice in the span of a single minute. Especially not at night, WHEN THE SUN ISN'T OUT.
Thankfully these can be avoided by fast traveling, and unlike DP 1, fast travel is unlocked somewhat early (though it could've been earlier) in the story, rather than as a reward for a side quest most people probably didn't even know existed. It is a shame though, because prior to playing the game, I was hoping (in retrospect, these hopes were very unrealistic) that the skateboard would mean York was doing tricks around town, grinding on stuff, etc. Whereas in game, the only trick you ever need to use is a simple ollie off a ramp, and the other tricks aren't useful at all. Kinda fun to just do them for no reason, but again, there's nothing to do with them aside going through the same obstacle courses you need to complete to unlock the moves in the first place.
Just like in the original, along with the passage of time, York needs to eat, sleep, and change his clothes. Plus the option to shave. Additionally he needs to shower, otherwise after a couple days he'll be swarmed with flies, and he'll be fined about a hundred bucks every time he's near an NPC whilst stinky. This is all fine, even if the quest to fix the shower in York's hotel room was a bit frustrating (particularly trying to figure out the time of day the hotel's chef was around to talk to, because for whatever reason you can't summon him with the bell and talk to him about anything other than ordering food!).
My issue with this stuff is the original game let you buy some fun suits, like a pink one, blue one, etc. I couldn't find any stores in DP 2 that sold suits, but I did find a pseudo-Achievement system in one of the menus that unlocked a new suit for me at one point. But that only happened once, and the new suit wasn't that good, certainly not as good as York's stylish brown plaid one.
That was mildly disappointing, but this is a real bummer. York's beard still grows over time, and I had it going pretty well after that week of waiting, but then it just disappeared! And not like, a glitch and it returned later, it was like the game just decided that he shaved, and I had to go back to zero beard and wait for it to regrow. Sadly, it didn't grow back even to what it had reached before, so I don't know what maximum beard in this game is like. I don't think I had hit it, it didn't look as beardly as York could get in the first game, but I guess I'll never know. Unless I look it up online.
The last piece of the game part of this game is the combat. DP 1 was a bad survivor horror game at some level, and DP 2 maintains some of those elements, but makes it all so easy that it begs the question of why even include it in the first place. The enemies might be more interesting visually than the zombies of the first game, but what's the point of fighting giant scissor clowns, or guys strapped to tombstones that drop exploding crabs if they're all just boring to fight?
The real issue, is that while there's only a few instances of it in the game, the majority of the combat takes place in the same generic corridors, moving between the same few rooms. Yes, there's wild animals to fight in the world, and a few instances of fighting the spectral enemies there too (and they roam the town after midnight every night), but so far as the story goes, it's those same corridors and same rooms, just positioned differently. Almost like it's a procedurally generated thing, just without even the bare minimum level of room parts.
The combat sequences in DP 1 were tiresome, but at least those were moving through otherworldly versions of the real world locations. I keep repeating myself, but not as much as the game did! Just the same corridors, and then you get to a room where some story stuff happens, more corridors, and eventually a boss fight. And the bosses are all so laughably easy that it again begs the question of why any of this was included in the first place.
The same is true of being able to explore the town. I know I love having spaces to inhabit, especially fairly mundane ones that you get accustomed to over time. It's part of the charm of Kamurocho in the Yakuza series, it's part of what endeared Persona 5 Royal to me this year, and even to some extent I felt that in DP 1. At the very least, that felt like it could have been a real place, at least in the sense that it's spread out and haphazard in the way that a lot of small towns are.
Le Carré, like the French name suggests, is just a square. And there's nothing interesting there. Frankly, this would have been a better game if all that was removed in favor of either smaller locations you load between, or even just going full visual novel. If the dialog is the best part of the game, and the rest varies between "fine" and borderline broken, it just makes me wonder why they went the route that they did. It made some amount of sense back in 2010, I doubt most people then had even the slightest clue what a visual novel was, but now I'm pretty confident that anyone reading this at least knows what I'm talking about, and there's a reasonable chance they've played one. Or at least something close to one.
I feel like I've exhausted everything I have to say about this game mechanically. Which brings me to a couple different things. First, the music, which I'll keep short. It's good, some pretty good stuff in there, but nothing in it rises to the level of the first game's. The main theme, the one from that trailer (which is in the game) made me hope it'd hit the same, but it doesn't. If anything, the moments where the music hit the hardest were when songs from the original played. Like a moment very near the end of DP 2 when the main theme of DP 1 started playing.
So, music aside, that leaves the story. There are two things I want to tackle. One being the story as a whole, but the other, if you've paid attention to The Discourse® and know the sorts of things I care about, is the handling of the game's transgender character. I'm going to tackle that next.
Dead2y Premonition: Professor R's bungled arc.
What I gathered from seeing bits and pieces of people talking about it online, is that DP 2 featured a trans character in a prominent role, but the game dropped the ball on some things around her. Going by what I saw in The Discourse®, the biggest issue seemed to be York deadnaming (the act of referring to someone who changed their name by a previous "dead name") and misgendering (referring to someone with the wrong pronouns/gender) her moments after going on some long spiel about trans rights.
And let me be up front, I'm openly nonbinary, genderfluid if I had to be more specific than that, which is at least trans-adjacent. It's complicated, but also not, anyway, that's not the point. The point is that these sorts of topics in games matter to me, and I feel pretty well qualified to discuss them. Obviously my opinions and feelings are my own, and I can't speak for anyone else.
So, having played the game, I have two primary thoughts about that Discourse®. The first is that I think people complaining about the deadnaming and misgendering were over-blowing it, just a little. It happens, but by and large York does refer to Professor R by her new chosen name (either her normal name Lena or the more mysterious Professor R), and with the right pronouns. He doesn't, I don't think, really go on a trans rights spiel so much as a generic "everyone should be treated equal, regardless of gender, race, etc." Which is fine, that part is fine. And even when he does use the dead name, or wrong pronouns, it's in the context of him referring to Professor R prior to her transitioning.
Let me be clear again, I know that's not the thing to do. Someone comes out as trans, nonbinary, etc, changes their name, pronouns, whatever, you use whatever they want you to use, past, present, future, whenever. Even if you knew that person their whole life, remember them prior to any of this, and want to talk about the old days, you use what they currently want you to use. Telling a story to someone else about this friend? Use their current pronouns, name, etc. And if they change that stuff again (which can happen, I've done it more than once!), you change again, respect their wishes, as York himself even says.
So, this brings me to Swery's statement regarding the general reaction to this stuff, and his promise to go back over certain parts of the game along with some other people, rewrite some scenes, and patch the game to update them. If all it was were these instances of the wrong name and pronouns, that'd be fine, and I assume a relatively easy fix. Sure it'd take time to do all that, re-record the lines with the actors, but it could be done.
None of that covers my problems with the character, and I don't think those problems can be fixed, or re-written without completely re-designing a large portion of the game. Well, one of them could be, namely that like literally every other game I've played with a trans character, she is voiced by a cisgender actor instead of a trans one. This always frustrates me, even when the performance in the game itself is fine, and doesn't seem to be intentionally playing into any negative stereotypes. If this performance was exactly the same but the person playing the role was trans (and yes, I went and looked this up to be as sure as I can, he's not), I wouldn't be complaining.
I'm just saying that when the credits roll and a typically male name appears as the listed actor for a woman, even though I know not every trans person changes their name to match their gender, I still think it sends the wrong message. Never mind the fact that there are trans voice actors out there that could be playing roles like this, but aren't.
But even that isn't the biggest issue. That would be Professor R's role in the story, to get into I'll have to veer into SPOILERS. Not big, end of game spoilers, but some nonetheless. So if you still want to play this game, just skip over the censored out words. You'll probably still get the gist.
Professor R is one of the central antagonists of the game. I'm not saying trans characters can't be villains, but I think the game's sole trans character (and also the sole queer character) being a villain already puts it in iffy territory. And when that trans villain is treated as a corrupting, outside force, I start to cringe. But I still went along with it, because she wasn't being treated as a villain for being trans, she was a villain for developing and distributing the very harmful drug Saint Rouge. As York says, being treated equally also applies when people commit crimes, and while that doesn't address systemic criminal "justice" issues that disproportionately affect certain groups of people... Not that I would expect a game that still treats the FBI as an unassailable stalwart of justice to even attempt to tackle things like that.
This is getting into deeper SPOILER territory, but as part of Professor R's arc, it is revealed that she had a sexual relationship with her sister. Incest is something that I never care for in fiction, not for any personal reason, it's just something that I find uncomfortable. But when it's specifically about a trans woman, when trans women are already stereotyped as "sexual deviants," having the one trans character in this story be in an incestuous relationship is just...so frustrating.
Especially when I think about THE MISSING: JJ MacField and the Island of Memories. Swery's previous game, and one that's been widely praised for its narrative about a trans woman. Through the game's direct story told via some text messages and a couple cutscenes (mostly toward the end), but more importantly through its mechanics, it tells a story about all the ways that it hurts to keep going in life. About all the pain, about how a lot of life can be suffering through bad times.
But it isn't really about the pain, it's about growing, about healing from the pain, and never giving up. The game still has some issues, mostly in the puzzle design, laborious movement, it's too long, still cast cis actors, etc. It doesn't drag the game down though, because the story it tells, and how it tells it is so strong that in retrospect, I'm shocked it exists at all.
I played THE MISSING earlier this year, but didn't write about it because I didn't feel like I had anything meaningful to add, or enough to fill out a "full" blog. It's hard not to think about it now though, when I felt so sure that game meant Swery had this stuff on lock, but really this is what he'd been working on since then. Now that I think about it, it's just in the same category of the stuff that made DP 1's handling of Thomas so bad too. Thomas was never directly stated to be trans, but all the pieces are there. And portrayed as a sexual deviant, even if the game didn't directly say that either. I just wasn't aware enough back in 2010 to know really anything transgender related, or more importantly think about it critically.
But back to Professor R, this isn't something that can just be re-written and patched out. The incest with her sister ends up being an important plot point, at least with regard to the child born from that relationship. I can't see a way to change that without a dramatic overhaul of the story for much of the back half of the game, and that simply isn't going to happen.
In DP 1, even as I think back pretty negatively about Thomas' character, and all that, the story of that game gripped me so tight, and still does that it feels more like one particularly thorny flaw in a game that otherwise still captivates me. Maybe captivate is too strong, and there's other things to take issue with (sure are a lot of women that die in that game) but the point is that the story is strong enough that even a decade later, I still love that game, and it's still amongst my all time favorites.
Dead2y Premonition: The story.
Which brings me to the most disappointing thing in DP 2: how the story wraps up. Or, stories, because there's two different levels that the game's story operates on, given it is both a prequel and a sequel. The prequel being the main thrust, and York's investigation into the murder of Lise Clarkson in Le Carré in 2005. The sequel is the framing for the story, as a pair of FBI agents investigate the sudden re-appearance of Lise's body in 2019, specifically by interrogating a now much older, and sickly Zach. The sequel segments are played from the perspective of FBI agent Aaliyah Davis, a character that I mostly like, and think deserved more time to be better fleshed out.
Anyway, before getting into spoilers, I think both parts of the story start out promising, and stay interesting throughout a large portion of the game. I found myself trying to figure stuff out, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, and really enjoying it. Until later in the game, when things start moving faster toward the conclusion, both in 2005 and 2019.
The short version is that I think despite this game feeling longer as a whole than the original, it's rushed. Rushed, and like a lot of that extra length was just from me doing side stuff, and a lot of the main stuff being filler. Such as waiting most of a week, being forced to hunt squirrels to grind for another step of the fetch quest, multiple instances of having to complete a minigame well enough (getting a strike in bowling), etc.
The story feels like it moves along at a slow, but reasonable pace, until suddenly things just happen, and before I knew it, the game was very clearly in the end game, stuff is getting serious phase. When I say rushed, what I really mean is that it feels like large portions of the story may have been cut that could have better fleshed out what was happening.
And the more I think about it, lots of this game feel like stuff was cut, and the whole production was rushed. Obviously the technical state is such that this game needed more time in the oven to get what's even there into an acceptable state, but I can't help but think that other stuff was cut.
For example, the cast of characters. I haven't counted, but there aren't nearly as many character in DP 2 as the original. DP 1 had what felt like a whole town's worth of people, even if obviously the cast wasn't that big. Here, it's just a small group of people, the majority of which might as well be cartoonish caricatures, as opposed to real people. I'm not saying the original game didn't have some purely cartoonish oddballs like Sigourney the pot lady, but most of the characters in that game felt like reasonable people with some quirks.
Here, there's about four characters that are fairly normal human beings. Aaliyah (the FBI agent), Patricia (York's kid sidekick), Alexus (the diner owner) and Emma (local skateboard enthusiast). No, I'm not counting York in there, obviously not. Danny Clarkson is close too, but most of the characters are either cartoonishly weird, or dead before they have any chance to do anything at all.
They range from the one guy managing the entirety of a hotel on his own, but changes his outfit and accent depending on whether he's acting as the chef, concierge, or bellboy, to a bartender who only ever wears a cowboy hat and underwear. Not even interesting underwear, just white briefs. Then there's the voodoo shop guy, who aside from being white and speaking in Shakespearean English is exactly what you think. The foul-mouthed dwarf-person (which I only mention because that aspect of him seems to exist in the game only to give him something unique) who runs sightseeing fan boat tours.
The old lady obsessed with bowling, and her bowling rituals ever since her husband died. Avery the very tall man the game describes as having a "child-like mind" (which I know cannot possibly be the respectful term for someone like that). The local preacher/doctor who sends York on ridiculous fetch quests for no good reason. And the lady running the local rideshare service who is close to normal too, aside from her name, Raven Yahoo. Apparently there's a grave keeper who I didn't realize existed until I saw his name in the credits, and I'll just say that after looking him up on YouTube, he isn't any more normal.
Oh, and lest I forget, Houngan, the "skeletal gentleman" (not actually a skeleton, but he has one painted on him) who is some otherworldly being that speaks to York through obscure riddles. Also he only ever appears in reflections.
There's not really many more characters besides them. There's P.J. Clarkson, and the local sheriff Melvin, but P.J. (who wears an eye patch and constantly chomps cigars) has barely any screen time, and Melvin is a total goofball who describes everything like it's the tagline for a B movie. And Aaliyah's FBI partner on the case, Simon, is more interested in pizza than anything else.
Most of these characters are fine on their own, often funny, and entertaining in one way or another. I think the preacher's fetch quest was bad, but I'd be lying if I said the bit at the end where he made a little drum and starting playing music on it didn't make me laugh.
The trouble is that a wacky cast of oddballs isn't enough to tell a compelling story. At least not this story, or made by these people. This is pure speculation on my part, but I can't help but feel like this game was cut down to the bones compared to whatever the original conception of it was, and in doing so cut it down to just the wackiest ones.
When I think about the cast of DP 1, I think about a bunch of characters who not only felt much more like real people, but were grieving for the loss of someone in the community. A community that felt like it had actual history too, like those side quests from Keith where he would tell a story about something tragic in the town's history.
Here the only history you get always revolves around the Clarksons running the town, and no one ever seems to care that much about the death of sixteen year old Lise Clarkson. And not in a "everyone secretly hated Lise" intentional sort of way.
Like, Emma Sanders, who was Lise's best friend. She's never seeing crying, or visibly upset in any way. That's never explored either, her role in the story is to teach York one skateboard trick so he can use a ramp to jump over a train car (as opposed to getting the sheriff to help move the train car, which I didn't think of until York himself brought it up). Once that's done, York can learn some more tricks from her, or have her repair the skateboard (also, the board breaks as a part of the story, and the game makes you get to her without being able to use the skateboard, so good luck if you didn't preemptively turn on the fast travel point near her house). But she's given no time, no space to be anything more, something that I feel like the best friend of the murder victim should have!
Not that the first DP was perfect at all this stuff. Speaking with Anna Graham's mother was completely optional, but at least she was in tremendous grief if you did. Most of the townsfolk (and again, there was MORE of them to boot) in Greenvale felt like they had been impacted in some way by Anna's death, and the ones that didn't were the cartoonish caricatures, like the couple that ran the gas station, or the old pot lady. Sure, it was cribbing a lot from Twin Peaks, but those mostly believable characters help string the game along until its own story picked up, and that was able to carry it along to the end.
Plus, even if they were optional scenes, DP 1 had moments where York went and just spent time with some of the others. Going to the diner with Emily, George and Thomas after a long day of investigating was a funny scene that helped bring a little more life to those characters, and flesh out how all their relationships were changing with each other. How York was getting more accustomed to working with them, and them with his bizarre ways. Here the closest you get are a few short/optional conversations with Patricia, and one instance of a proper cutscene where she tries to order a sundae, but York takes it from her, claiming it's unhealthy (only to drink (yes, drink) it himself, proclaiming it to be delicious). I think that scene was optional, but I don't remember offhand.
The original Deadly Premonition felt like it was building to something, and when it neared the end, it was a propelling force that couldn't be stopped. It had all this momentum built up, and it used it well. DP 2 has none of that. Both because it jumps between the past and the present, and because both sides of the story feel like they're missing so much to better explain what's going on, it's just a mess.
My feelings on the game's story really sank a lot in the last few hours of the game. The whole tone of this blog would've been different if those last few hours had been better. I'm serious.
But I feel like there's not much more I can say without getting into SPOILERS, so consider this your last warning. And I mean, SPOILERS for the whole game, especially the ending.
The first moment DP 2 actually surprised me with its story was when, early on, Lise's killer (her own mother) was caught, and then immediately killed while in a holding cell at the sheriff department. At the time I thought the game was going to be doing a lot with the story if that happened so soon, but again now I can't help but wonder if anything was cut. Anyway, this then leads to the introduction of other members of the Clarkson family, including Lise's father Danny, and grandfather P.J. I was really getting into it, thinking P.J. could be a great force of a man for York to go up against, but the two barely interact before Professor R becomes the focal point of the investigation.
This is where I started to feel some trepidation, but I've gone over all that stuff already. Anyway, the investigation continues, and I was again shocked at how fast things seemed to be going. Before I knew it, Professor R (not so secretly another of P.J.'s children) had stormed into the Clarkson family mansion (or more accurately plantation, though conveniently the game seems to mention the "100 years" of the Clarksons running the town as if to say they weren't built on slavery), armed with a gun and a bomb.
Then she blows herself and her father up!
And after this, was where my thoughts about the game moving so fast started to coalesce into wondering if stuff was cut, and my enjoyment began to wane as the incest not only got mentioned, but was clearly going to be important as Professor R's daughter was the very same Patricia that had been accompanying York all this time.
The thing that really made me turn around, and lose interest in the story was when it turned out Melvin was in on the bad stuff going on. First off, DP 2 also pulling the "the sheriff was in on it" like the first game felt like doing the same shtick again in a bad way (even if I'm sure most sheriffs in real life are bad for one reason or another, like all cops). But unlike DP 1 where it's pretty clear George is kind of an ass at best from the start, Melvin doesn't come off as anything but a lovable goof. There are ways for the "never see it coming/this character was really completely different from what you thought" thing to work, but this isn't it. It felt rushed, and like a twist just for the sake of having a twist.
Anyway, Melvin and his wife (who never gets any dialog aside from saying "Red Tree") die, York saves Patricia (or more accurately Melvin changes his mind and decides not to murder his adopted daughter), and hurricane Katrina comes in to "wash all the evidence away."
And the mention of Red Tree brings me to maybe the thing that irks me the most about the game's poor final hours. Granted, Melvin being involved in Professor's R plan (her plan being to wipe out the Clarkson bloodline (including herself) and bring about some unclear Goddess of Fertility (though really the plan later was for Patricia to survive and revitalize the bloodline (maybe Patricia was the Goddess? I don't know))) was already a weak and bad twist, but it was the game's usage of another returning character that really just got to me.
Forrest Kaysen. The jolly sapling salesman who was actually some sort of demon, alien, it was never made clear. For most of DP 1 he was just comic relief who had a knack for showing up in all the right places at all the wrong times, but in the end his reveal as the ultimate evil behind everything, going back at least decades to the events from fifty years prior, worked.
I had wondered what, if any role he would play in DP 2. He seemed to be pretty clearly dead at the end of DP 1, but that didn't preclude his appearance in the prequel portions of 2. Now, before I get into his role in 2, I first want to go over what I, in retrospect, think are the two ways Kaysen could have had a role in this game, and had it work.
The first, would be to hint at him, have little snippets here and there, but have that be that. At first, that's what DP 2 does. His dog, Willie appears in a (much too) long sequence where he leads York and Patricia around town, to various red trees before finding the true Red Tree. This comes along with Patricia mentioning that a "Civil War general" planted a Red Tree in the town, which really got me wondering. "Was that general Kaysen??" Then, later on, when going into how Professor R began developing the drug Saint Rouge, it's shown very briefly that Kaysen was involved here, and he's even seen walking out of town (along with Willie) once Katrina hit.
Now, my other idea, would be if Kaysen was brought back in a greater role, they would need to go deep on Kaysen lore. Explain what exactly he is. How long has he been spreading his evil trees? Does he control the trees, or do they control him? These sorts of deep lore reveals can often be bad, but those sorts of details can be intriguing too, when done right.
So, let me instead say what happens in Dead2y Premonition.
After rescuing Patricia, the game jumps exclusively to the sequel portion. At this point a variety of things have happened here, and they continue to happen as the other FBI agent helps keep Aaliyah at bay while Zach leaves to go rescue Patricia from Avery (and believe me I have more thoughts to share on that). Once he gets back to Le Carré, fights through more generic corridors, and eventually Avery, Kaysen appears, apparently not having actually died in the first game. Now instead of just being a creep who plants trees in women's stomachs, he has the ability to grant Zach the power to become a giant tree man?????
Some stuff happens, Aaliyah catches up, and Kaysen possesses her while York returns from the otherworld, and there's a boss fight where you have to shoot Kaysen while not shooting Aaliyah. It's pretty easy with the lock on/homing shot feature, because it won't lock onto Aaliyah. During this Kaysen floats and dances around in the air, which is a funny touch, the one part of all this that I liked. Anyway, York defeats Kaysen, he dies again, the game treats it like he's really dead this time, but he seemed really dead last time too!
Then the game ends, Patricia makes some promise with Zach that rejuvenates him so he's no longer dying from cancer (or a giant tree man), and everyone lives happily ever after.
Back to Kaysen. No explanation for any of that. How he survived, returned, what his goals are other than just causing chaos, I guess? That part is fine, I have no problems with him wanting to be evil just for the sake of being evil (even if it's not exactly the best motivation), but no explanation for anything else? Again, I would have been fine with that if he didn't make this sudden, end of game return as the true villain, but I just don't think the game can have it both ways. They either should have kept him to a minimum, or committed to him being a major, important part of this series and its lore, and gone into that in much more detail!
So, back to Avery, which if you recall, the game describes as having a "child-like mind," despite him being an adult. I'm not quite sure how to put this in words, but something about having a character with that sort of disability (I really apologize if I'm saying the wrong thing, I'm also not sure where I'd look up to figure out the right way to describe him) be one of the villains, in that way, and be a boss fight, it just didn't sit well with me.
And last thing. For most of the game, I thought Aaliyah was being set up as the successor to York and Zach. Zach would pass away, and she would inherit some of his connection to the otherworld, and maybe the game would end with her solving whatever was to be solved. Should there be a D3adly Premonition, she would be the lead.
Instead, she gets her agency removed, Zach goes off to solve it, and she just gets used as another pawn by Kaysen. At least she didn't die, I guess, but it's still disappointing. What was even the point of having all that stuff with the interrogation if she's just going to get cast off like that?
Honestly, all of this stuff with Le Carré could have been reframed as the case Zach did after Greenvale, and it could have been just the same.
A decade later I still love that first game, and now I'm thinking about how I'll remember DP 2. Part of me wants to remember it for the goofs. Remember Patricia and York bickering over movies. Remember Patricia trying desperately to think of a movie she liked without "Arnold S." (as York insists is the proper way to refer to Schwarzenegger), only to think of the Jackie Chan Around the World in 80 Days. Which, of course, York is delighted to inform her features "Arnold S." in a cameo.
Instead I think I'm just going to remember a mess of a game that feels like it's missing so much of what made the first game work.
You know, I bought a physical version of this game, mostly because that's what I generally do, even while so many others are content to move on to the all digital future. But partly, I thought about that time I had Swery sign my copy of the first, and maybe, should all the stars align, I could get him to sign this one.
But now? Even if there ever is another PAX, even if I go, and he's there in some sort of public capacity, I don't think I'd bother bringing my copy along, or even go talk to him like I did in 2015.
I don't think it'd be worth the effort.
Thank you for reading, especially if you made it all the way through all of that.