Deadly Premonition: The Director's Cut feels like a relic of the PlayStation 2 era, as if it was long forgotten and recently recovered from an old box within a developer's dusty archives. It's decidedly lo-fi, with a framerate that frequently sputters for dear life, regular pop-in, droning, repetitive sound effects, enemies that shuffle forward with little in the way of strategy while yowling out the same horrifying death wails again and again. After years of PlayStation 3 prettiness, and as we creep ever closer to the lovelies promised by the PlayStation 4, it's hard to imagine such a title gaining any kind of a following.
But of course, if you've ever heard of Deadly Premonition before, you'll know that, somehow, it did just that when it was originally released in 2010. Despite its flaws, stiffness and low tech approach it was swathed in admirers; its willing to mix the absurd with the downright cheesy, to swerve between mirth and murder within moments, to burst into light-hearted jazz music at inappropriate moments, has earned it cult classic status to many. Now, finally, PS3 owners in the West can discover the appeal of the strange little town of Greenvale for themselves.
When a young girl meets a particularly grisly end in a small American town, skilled FBI special agent Francis York Morgan – please, call him York – is sent to investigate the bizarre incident and figure out who's caught the murder-bug – as well as how to deal with the slightly-odd-at-best locals. With his own collection of quirks, York seems well-equipped to take on the mystery and the people around it: he seemingly has an imaginary friend that he speaks to regularly and openly, he sometimes sees visions in coffee, and is unfazed when thrown into alternate worlds filled with shambling ghouls.
To say that Deadly Premonition's plot is not straightforward is an understatement; it begins unusually and by the end resembles that of a direct-to-DVD horror movie, all delivered through television-style episodes which regularly remind you of previous events during the investigation. It's difficult not to think of Twin Peaks due to the FBI-agent-visits-small-town slant and the oddities that flood throughout it, mixed with a little pinch of Silent Hill.
It's the writing that actually saves Deadly Premonition, and likely what has earned it so much goodwill among gamers. Divorced from its somewhat camp, tongue-in-cheek script — filled with off-kilter asides, persistent surges of strangeness, and, in one of the best moments, some hilariously wooden facial movements — Deadly Premonition would likely be viewed as little more than a rather lacking open world horror game. Technical issues diminish its presentation, for one thing, while some sections drag out for far too long, such as a tailing section that's little more than a full five minutes of slow driving, or a block puzzle where pieces can only be moved one painstaking space at a time.
The overall structure isn't the most inspiring we've ever come across either. Typically you drive across town, watch a cutscene, and then plunge into either an investigation sequence – an egg hunt for clues – or the alternate dimension, in which you fight the undead, and, again, seek out clues. As with many elements of the gameplay, the combat is fine without being exceptional: it apes earlier Resident Evil titles in that you can only shoot while rooted to the spot, though you can auto-target enemies.
It's far more beneficial to aim manually, however, as auto-aim tends to go for the chest or stomach region rather than the cranium. Not that it matters too much until you trek deeper in and the enemy swarms grow thicker, as your opponents are unintelligent and easy to destroy with little effort. There's also a fair emphasis on melee weapons – there's nothing quite like beating the pus out of a bunch of zombies with a war-ready guitar.
The unquestionable highlight of the game – the plot aside, naturally – does come within these alternate world sections, however. In some segments you come face to face with the almighty killer, and the only way to avoid death is to run away or hide. In the case of the latter, you have to tuck yourself away in a quiet corner, trying to hold your breath, as your foe stalks closer, smashing open cupboards and muttering angrily. While this is going on the screen splits to show both your own and the killer's view, which adds an extra layer of tension. These parts feel reminiscent of the Clock Tower series – you're utterly powerless and all you can do is hope to survive.
In between story missions, Deadly Premonition is packed with side quests that extend the game by a good amount – and considering that the main storyline takes around 20 hours, it offers a lot of value for money. You can search for trading cards, interact with the townsfolk to unlock new missions or mini-games, and take part in driving challenges. Some of these side missions give you immensely helpful items too: you can obtain a radio by completing a couple of them, which then lets you warp around the map to any locations that you've previously visited – far preferential to driving around everywhere manually, though by hopping in a car you do get the chance to hear York spout all manner of entertaining movie trivia.
The Director's Cut brings with it surprising additions such as PlayStation Move and 3DTV support. Unfortunately, neither is particularly essential: looking about with Move feels slightly more awkward than using the DualShock 3 here, and aiming during combat particularly suffered in our experience. The 3D effect, meanwhile, isn't aided by the fact that this isn't the most beautiful game around – there's terrible shimmering in the backgrounds, for instance, and it doesn't gel well with stereoscopic 3D at all.
Deadly Premonition: The Director's Cut isn't the most technically accomplished game by a long shot, but its devout dedication to its bizarre, twisting plotline, weird and wonderful cast of characters, and ridiculous dialogue makes it worthwhile for gamers that are even remotely interested in narrative in the medium. It's an acquired taste, and while there are fantastic moments we'd hesitate to call it an altogether great game, but if you like a story, it could be worth taking a good, hard look into the coffee – you might just like what you see.