How’s Anna? – Deadly Premonition Origins

The following is not so much a review as a picking apart because it’s a game that left me with a lot of questions. It includes spoilers though I’ve tried to keep details to a minimum.

Also, content warning at the very end for a flashing image.

I think I was about 11 when it happened. It was late one night, I was alone in my room, struggling to sleep, so I carefully turned on my TV and put the volume down to the lowest I could still manage to hear it at. There were only 4 channels in the UK at the time so not a huge selection. I distinctly remember turning to one channel and seeing a man in blue pajamas, lying in bed, with two police officers standing around him, looking concerned.

The blue-clad man stood up and went to the bathroom, wasted a lot of toothpaste and then slammed his head into the bathroom mirror, which cracked. There was some blood on the glass, and looking back at the giggling man with a head injury, was a reflection not his own. Instead it was a scruffy looking and sinister older man.

Something about this scene really unsettled me and I decided that was quite enough television. However, I’d be sleeping with the lights on that night… if I slept at all.

That was the final scene of the final episode of Twin Peaks season 2, and it really stayed with me. When I was older, I bought a (fairly) complete VHS box set of the show and watched it over and over, especially any episodes in the red room, or where things were most strange. Twin Peaks did creeping, weird, discomfort, set in a seemingly simple and mundane setting in a way I was deeply drawn to.

Over the last nine years, I’ve kept hearing the name Deadly Premonition over and over. It’s always come up as “very you, Jane”.

Some time ago, I purchased it on Steam, but then completely forgot about it (Probably because I saw something shiny and got distracted). When I found it again I spent most of two days trying to get the damn thing to work, without success and so it was forgotten, and I was fairly sure then that I’d never get to play it.

However, a recent Nintendo Direct showed that not only was it getting a sequel, but that it was being re-released on Switch as Deadly Premonition Origins. So finally, I’ve got the chance to play. It’s safe to say, that the Switch version can definitely be completed without the game breaking crashes of the old PC version.

Now DP has been released on consoles, then re-released as a directors cut and now this. As such, I think it’s reasonable to assume that however it is now, is how it is “supposed” to be. Especially as this release has taken some of those things back out from the Directors Cut (apparently the director had a change of heart on some of the changes). At this point, everything can be considered intentional (and yes, I would say the same about Skyrim and it’s curious glitches. If that wasn’t their artistic vision, they’d have fixed it by now).

Francis York Morgan (call him York, everybody does) is an FBI detective with a number of dangerous habits. He smokes cigarettes like he’s chewing a lollipop, while on the phone, while using his laptop, while driving at high speed, at night, in heavy rain. Also he eats smoked salmon he finds in lockers in abandoned lumber mills. He is – to put it simply – a reckless dickhead.

Understandably, the game begins with York flipping his car, and finding himself in the woods, somehow alive (although, who knows, this game could all be a Silent Hill, moment of death hallucination), while his car starts to slowly burn. Suddenly, theres all these people, looking dead, broken. They bend over backwards lumbering and flickering towards him like ghosts from a Japanese horror film. Moving in a way that I find deeply and wonderfully unsettling.

In some ways, it’s fitting that the game opens with York flipping the car, because the driving in this game is some of the most frustrating I’ve ever encountered. Steering is so sensitive that the first few times I was charged with driving a vehicle myself, I was weaving side to side and into trees like I was also smoking, making a call and using my laptop. Again, I have to believe that this was deliberate, as they definitely could have dialed it down by now if they wanted. This then is York being an appalling driver and a danger to himself and others (run sheriff, run deputy, run while you still can! Don’t dare to get in this car with York, he’s a fucking liablity).

To look at, you’d be forgiven for thinking Deadly Premonition was late PS2/Dreamcast era game, but it came out the same year as Fallout: New Vegas and Mass Effect 2 so there’s really no reason it had to look like this. The character models are ok, but goodness, the first time you see York smile, you’ll be sleeping with the lights on.

DP has some quite interesting little management aspects. If you don’t change and wash your clothes, they’ll become increasingly creased and dirty. If you don’t shave, you’ll start to grow a beard. York also needs to eat, sleep, keep his pulse within a reasonable window. It’s like the game is trying to be part life sim, part police procedural, part people management, and drunk driving simulator.

Everything about the sound in this game is too dramatic. All sorts of mundane actions or events – even entering the pause menu- causes dramatic, discordant, instrumental hits, that somehow still disquieted me hours into the game.

Then there’s the music, and this is where a good few minutes of hysterical laughter first started. Very near the beginning of the game, there’s a scene where York has breakfast with the hotel owner. They sit at opposite ends of a long banquet table, in the otherwise empty hotel restraunt. Each time York asks a new question a loud, jaunty piece of music starts. It’s out of place with the scene, and almost completely drowns out the dialogue. I’m convinced this is deliberate, because after nearly a decade I can’t believe that they wouldn’t have corrected the default audio balance if it wasn’t intentional.

Consequently I ask myself: why is this the case? Why did SWERY want to drown out the conversation? My only conclusion so far is that York places so little value in it that he’s half in his mind just thinking of a jaunty tune. This would sit with the fact he’s a massive douchecanoe (the Director’s Cut, did change the sound balance in this scene and it was nowhere near as hilarious. Besides, they didn’t re-release the DC, they released this).

It’s not just the music that’s bizarre, there’s a scene at one point where the tension is high, you’re running all over town on foot, desperate to get to your goal, but the game insists on stopping every hundred yards to chat about something unrelated or just cutting to another scene entirely. Once again, the ridiculousness of this moment had me laughing my arse off.

There’s also the question of York’s state of mind (or possibly state within the

multiverse). York frequently puts fingers to the side of his head and speaks to someone named Zach. He’s not wearing an earpiece, so the question of who he’s actually talking to remains a mystery. One of the menus describes Zach as York’s other personality, so the answer could be as simple as that. But… then there’s the way that York will ask a Zach a question and you, the player, will have to answer, using on-screen prompts. Have I been designated Zach for the purpose of the game? (more on this later.)

I’m reminded of how Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks would talk to his dictaphone, to the possibly non-existent (until Twin Peaks The Return, 26 years after the last episode was shown) Diane.

It’s not just Zach though, there’s also the matter of the otherworldly sections, where strange, red weeds block doors; where odd red mist blocks paths or objects; and where strange beings emerge from black marks on the walls and floor to assault you.

Early on, there’s a scene were York goes to the hospital to recover a coroner’s report. The path down is simple, a brief, simple word puzzle and then following a marker downstairs and into the morgue. Having annoyed the local sheriff, the deputy, and the coroner by being an arrogant jackass, York states he’s going for a smoke.

However, the moment he steps into the corridor, the world is changed again. It’s sinister, as the woods had been. There’s that red weed again. There’s those black marks. There’s the strangely moving assailants, juddering and twisting to attack him (frankly I think this is deserved). Having worked his way back upstairs – by finding key cards and getting past enemies – and into the hospital lobby, all is suddenly normal again. This lobby which was full of red weeds and shambling monsters which I was spraying with bullets is back to normal.

This is a mechanic that repeats throughout the game and leads me to question, is York seeing things, or slipping between realities, like someone trapped in Silent Hill? Truth be told, there’s a lot about the enemy movement and the way they emerge from the dark patches on the walls that makes me think of Silent Hills 2 and 4 (and I’m so here for that, because those are two of my favourite horror games).

A scene at the art gallery sees a York and three police officers trying to find a way in as the front door is locked. It’s late at night and raining heavily and the clouds are doing that purple thing they do when he enters the other worldly sections. The officers wander around the front of the building but only York will head around the sides. Here there are endlessly respawning enemies which will attack you. However, they never come near the police and don’t go to the front of the building. So are they real, hallucinations, or do they exist in a place outside Greenvale, outside the reality usually perceived here?

For an FBI agent, York doesn’t mess around when it comes to weaponry. You start the game your standard issue 9mm pistol and a knife. Soon enough he’ll locate the standard issue survival horror steel pipe which will grant you a little more room.

While the pistol thankfully comes with unlimited ammo, the melee weapons break after a few uses (meaning that you don’t want to get into a fight with more than one enemy unless your weapon has decent health, otherwise you’ll likely get attacked in the few seconds it takes York to swap to a fresh weapon.

As you move through the game, you’ll start to find more useful weapons like the assalt rifle and shotgun. While I was initially cautious about using my big guns in favour of my trusty pistol, I found that as long as I wasn’t just spraying bullets everywhere like a penis owner meat spin pissising in a public toilet, I was getting sufficient drops from downed enemies to keep myself in shooty things.

The game allows you to auto target an enemy by pressing a shoulder button. This is reasonably effective and if you nudge the stick slightly upwards, you’re usually good for a headshot.

There is one enemy however which cannot be fought in the usual manner. That being the dreaded Raincoat Killer. Clad in a long red raincoat, their features as indiscernible as a nazgul save for a pair of glowing eyes. When they appear, it’s usually a sign you’re going to have to engage with some QTE nonsense.

Maybe it’s just me as someone who plays on a lot of different systems and has coordination issues, but I find the amount of time you get to hit the buttons isn’t really long enough to read, process, and react. One section in particular had me enter a room, get attacked, fail the QTE, restart, and pass the first event, only to miss a second prompt and have to start again, this happened almost every time of the 5 or so parts to this section. Every attempt getting me a little further, but becoming less dramatic tension and more needless frustration. This may be a Switch issue, as I find it much easier to remember the positions of colours and shapes that just the letters alone.

If you’re trans and reading this, you’ve probably had someone warn you about an aspect of this game. I too was warned before I started (and several times thereafter by concerned friends) that there is a gender non-conforming character in this and they’re not well handled (I’m not sure if we’d call them trans as we don’t get much chance to speak to them or find out what their deal is. Only that, like the murder victims, they’re wearing that long red dress and heels).

I knew it was coming and still I felt very squicked out when the person who could bake beautifully, acts bashfully, and is seen skipping around in a childlike fashion early on in the game, is found to have a large collection of makeup and a wig at their apartment.

While I was impressed that this reveal wasn’t played for laughs and the voice actor didn’t just go for a ridiculous falsetto for the character, it does still fall into that trope of “unhinged, violent trans person” that we’ve come to know and hate.

It’s around this part of the game that you get a chance to play as someone other than York (because he’s tied to a chair with a blindfold on). Upon entering a building, as this other character, you’re faced with those red vines and the twisted assailants. Which means, they’re real(?) This completely confused me as everything so far seemed to suggest it was just a York thing.

Right near the end, there is some additional information about Zach, but you’re very much left to decide for yourself what this actually means. Whether they’re a repressed part of the characters’s personality, a splinter caused during childhood trauma or a parallel being who came to save them. I’m leaning towards the possibility of some parallel being since the primary antagonist mentions Zach being in the White Room

Deadly Premonition feels so much like it wants to be an homage to Twin Peaks. An FBI agent is called to investigate the curious death of a young, local woman; it’s set in Washington state; the diner could not be more like the RR (right down to the aggy husband of the owner); the bar on the edge of town is reminiscent of the Roadhouse; Sigorny is like a lively version of the Log Lady; York is very into his coffee; he gets accurate information from unusual, seemingly random sources; the waterfall up by Harry’s mansion look very much look very much like those seen in the opening shots of Twin Peaks’ opening credits; Anna’s mother falls apart in a very odd way following her daughter’s death (is Anna Graham a reference to Annie being played by Heather Graham?); there’s versions of the Black and White Lodges in the form of the Red and White Rooms, where spirits of the dead can commune with the living and the occupants of this space can take the forms of those still living. It’s like a love letter to the show and I’m so here for that.

There are parts of this game I loved and others I found utterly frustrating or awful. I’ve played objectively bad games before (check out my review for Overgrowth for example) and put them down without actually finishing due to awful controls or wonky plots. I didn’t do that here, and not because I was hooked on an addictive gameplay loop, but because I was genuinely engaged with the story, the side quests, and the world(s?) in which the game takes place. I’m left with a desire to pick over the story and ponder over its world after I’ve finished playing and I want to play the sequel to explore more of this world.

That said, there are parts of the game that I would ordinarily award it a flat zero score, and I can’t ignore that.

Pros:

  • A really interesting and deep story
  • Scenes so bizarre you’ll be forced to laugh
  • Fascinating world full of curious characters

Cons:

  • Some Skyrim level glitches (floating fires, people flying along next to the car they’re driving, clipping through the odd door/floor)
  • Just horrible driving mechanics, especially in any of the police vehicles
  • Poor handling of a trans character (though not nearly as bad a some)

DPO Score.gif

Deadly Premonition Origins’ score exists within the other world.

Games For All… But Not All For You

Games For All… But Not All For You.

There’s a lot of noise in recent years about who is a “real” gamer. I’m used to this kind of rhetoric – as a trans person and a kinkster, I’ve spotted truescum in many communities. Gatekeep-ey fuckers that think there way is the best or only way to be or do a thing. Ultimately though, it’s all bullshit and the vast, silent majority just get on being how they chose to be and doing things their own way, without hurting anyone.

What can be harmful is when someone with a budding interest in gaming is beaten down and chased away by capital “G” Gamers. It doesn’t stop there though. There are people who love games and have played for years who walk away from what could be a fascinating community of vastly different people, united by their love of gaming because they didn’t meet some arbitrary standards.

I’ve been playing video games since I was about 8 years old, when (thanks to a few well-off uncles and a very generous granny) I saved up enough to get a Commodore 64 home computer.

If you’re under 35, the chances are that you’ve never experienced the glory that is the C64’s SID sound chip and the stunning tunes that musicians like Martin Galway, Rob Hubbard, Ben Daglish, et al managed to get out of it. You may not have tried the wonderful Dizzy games, the quirky Jet Set Willy, possibly the most strained and horrifying port of Street Fighter 2 to ever be shat out onto any system, the frustration of puzzling through Split Personalities, or whatever the fuck was going on with the odd little gnome that hosted in Trivial Pursuit.

I’ve heard tell of the Spectrum vs Commodore vs Amstrad rivalry which was apparently a thing back in the 80s, but I never personally encountered it. With the few people I talked to at school, it was very much “hey, you have a different system to me, you want to come try out my games and mebby I could come try yours some time”? That’s it. No hate. No rage. No arguing that someone wasn’t a real Gamer because they hadn’t broken at least two joysticks playing Daley Thompson’s Decathlon, or World Games. No one called “scrub” or “filthy casual” because they preferred Toobin’, to Ghosts ‘n Goblins. It was just “hey, different games, cool”, or “I’m not a fan of Maniac Mansion, but Mayhem in Monsterland rocks”.

A lot of games back in the 80s were nails hard. this was mostly due to the fact developers were locked in the mindset of arcade games which relied on people pumping tons of change into machines. As such ramping up the challenge to ridiculous levels made good, financial sense. The harder the game, the more money you can squeeze out of players (watch this space for news of Electronic ActiSoftWorks selling extra lives as microtransactions).

However, when arcade games were ported to home consoles, it often wasn’t as easy as pressing to add extra credits. Most games gave you a set number and basically told you to “git gud, scrub”. While this could lead to hours of honing your skills until you found those credits to be enough, a lot of games just went unfinished. And to be honest, that was probably for the best. A lot of end credits screens were little more than a freeze-frame with some text saying “well done”, or just looping back to the first level again (or even worse, they just made the game so difficult that it was impossible to reach the final level and therefore they never bothered coding it).

Gameplay design wasn’t always kind either. Even games I adored, like Treasure Island Dizzy, very often resorted to “you took a wrong step, in a way you couldn’t possibly have predicted, start again”. While this method of gentle progress, through exploration, trial and error (after error after error after error) was fun at first, the combination of a music track that loops every minute and a half and the idea that one misstep 40 minutes in could put you all the way back to the beginning, is horrendously frustrating (3 decades later and I can still hum that music pretty accurately). Then more frustration would arise at the last minute, when that guy was all “hey, I need 30 coins” and you realise that basically you should have been clicking on every rock, wooden railing, hut window, and plant in the hope of finding a hidden coin (what do you mean “bitter”, I’m not bitter. You’re bitter!) and the less said about that coin hidden at the bottom of an invisible maze that you get to by jumping through a box (or was that Fantasy World Dizzy… anyway, fuck that whole bit).

I am, and have always been, bad at video games. Of the many budget games I picked up from my local corner shop for a couple of quid each, as a child, I’m not sure I finished any of them (I don’t count Trivial Pursuit). That’s never stopped me though, and never made me love gaming any less.

When I first got a Sega Mega Drive (Genesis), I tried and tried for yeeeeearrrrrrs to get through the original Sonic The Hedgehog. It wasn’t until about a decade later I even managed to get past the Labyrinth Zone, without doing the level select cheat. That didn’t stop me playing Sonic 2, 3, & Knuckles, and 3D Blast (incidentally, I’ve still only ever finished 1 and 3). A lack of skill has never stopped me wanting to enjoy the experience and I don’t believe I’m alone in that camp.

Anyone who’s watched my Twitch streams (most Tuesdays and Thursdays, come say hi (plug plug plug)) knows that while I can get through a point and click with a little nudging, I’m very bad at anything that involves faster action. The truth is, I just struggle with a lot of fine motor control, and in the moment decision making. This basically means that I die… a lot. Like, a lot a lot. And while I do get frustrated, it’s never stopped me gaming on the whole. I have got better, but I never got gud.

Back in the 16-bit era, you’d often find that easy modes, were just a taste of the real game. A bite sized sample, that teased you then told you to get lost. You’d get maybe 4 levels in, only to have it greet you with a message like “game over, now play the real thing”. That’s it, no more game for you, and if you don’t get better at playing, you’ll never see the True Ending(tm). The alternative was perhaps an ending which didn’t include the whole epilogue. Sadly, this was before YouTube gaming was a big thing and those of us not deemed worthy of the full story could just look up a video online.

In recent years, more developers have started putting in a more fair difficulty selections, where difficulty is what you’re actually changing. It’s been nice to be told by friends that I don’t have to just play normal mode and give up half way through, I can play on easy and still experience everything. Every carefully animated enemy, each exciting level, every enticing world, every moment of the epilogue (which could hook me into a sequel).

From older gamers, I’ve heard a lot of talk about how games these days are too easy, that there’s no challenge, that younger gamers are coddled with their saves and checkpoints, and regenerating health, and difficulty settings, and meh-mehneh-menehmeh *devolves into childish whining sounds*. To these people I say, “Hush! If you like old games so much, play them, or, I dunno, I Wanna Be The Guy.” They still make games for people who want a hardcore challenge, Soulsborne games are a thing, but not everything has to be for you personally, and that’s ok.

From younger gamers, there’s a lot of talk about what games actually count as games. It’s too casual, it’s not a Real Game(TM). You’re not Real Gamers (please just imagine it in a really whiney voice).

Friends, when you’ve delivered papers, trapped enemies in bubbles you then pop, connected pipes before they leak everywhere, mowed lawns, jumped between travellators while beating people up, used warming Ready Brek to survive the cold of space, guided suicidally dozy rodents around Egyptian ruins, chowed down on every pill in sight, and been grilled by a weird little gnome about general knowledge, you get to realise that a game can be an awful lot of different things. Many fit into specific genres, some create new ones. Ultimately it doesn’t matter, if it’s called a game and people enjoy it, let them get on with that. It does you no harm.

No one has a right to say that Pat, who plays Black Ops 4 for over 100 hours a week is more of a gamer than Sam, who just *really* likes Animal Crossing and Tetris. Just as no one who’s played their Spectrum every day since the 80s is more of a gamer than someone who’s first system was a PS4. Sure, maybe you’ve played more games or for longer, or more difficult games, or more obscure games, but ultimately our hobby is about playing (together or alone) and enjoying an experience.

The angry tribalism of Gamers (capital “G”), has led to some truly horrific actions. Can we not just each enjoy what we enjoy, without bullying people who don’t do things quite the same way we do? There have been so many games made at this point that no one could play through them all in a lifetime. So many art styles, gameplay styles, so many ways of playing and experiencing and exploring, and so many yet to be explored. By making gaming more inclusive and welcoming, we can see amazing growth and innovation as new people come to the hobby. Games should be as diverse as those who play them. Not everything has to be for you, and that’s absolutely fine.