The original cult classic Deadly Premonition featured terrible combat, graphics that were dated on arrival in 2010, and an erratic audio mix that rendered much of its dialogue unintelligible, but it was easy to look past or even embrace its low-budget shortcomings because its eccentric cast of characters and utterly bonkers story was like no other game that many of us had ever played. Sadly its sequel, Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise, does not enjoy that same saving grace. It inherits many of the technical flaws of its now decade-old predecessor, but its story never manages to disturb or captivate to quite the same extent, making for a much more forgettable follow-up.
Director Hidetaka ‘Swery’ Suehiro has apparently shelved his Twin Peaks box set in favour of binge-watching season one of True Detective, because Deadly Premonition 2’s story structure is highly reminiscent of that of the HBO series; flitting back and forth between a videotaped interrogation with Francis “Zach” Morgan in 2019, and his 2005 investigation of a series of murders as his split-personality counterpart Francis “York” Morgan in the fictional deep south small town of Le Carré.
It’s an interesting way to frame Deadly Premonition 2’s roughly 20-hour plot, and the episodes set in 2019 allow you to play as new character Aaliyah Davis, who’s charged with interviewing the sickly, disheveled modern-day Zach (whose pot-smoking is hilariously and repeatedly referred to as his “stinking indulgence”). However, these interrogation scenes drag on for far too long, and I never really warmed to Davis, whose po-faced disposition and penchant for Nietzsche quotes quickly become a bore compared to the younger York’s childlike enthusiasm and endless spouting of pop culture fun facts.
The cast that’s introduced in the 2005 Le Carré setting is thankfully a lot more kooky. David Jawara is a hotel owner who poses as a chef, concierge, and bellboy like some kind of bayou-born Basil Fawlty. Melvin Woods operates a local food truck and also happens to be the town sheriff. Crawfish farmer Chuck Thompson is short in stature but disgustingly long in nasal hair. Then there’s the pint-sized Patricia Woods, who acts as the eye-rolling foil to York’s more indulgent anecdotes.
These characters each facilitate some hilariously bizarre exchanges with York, but it soon becomes glaringly obvious that there just aren’t as many residents to meet in Le Carré as there were in the original Deadly Premonition’s Greenvale. As a result, there are considerably fewer potential suspects in Deadly Premonition 2’s central whodunnit plot, which means the mystery has less room to swerve in as many unexpected directions and thus feels more predictable.
The bulk of the story may take place in 2005, but Deadly Premonition 2’s visuals appear to be set a few years prior to that. Although there’s a subtle cel-shading technique employed that helps the character models pop, reflections look like they’re being rendered on a Nokia N-Gage and the majority of the environmental textures feature all the definition of a coffee stain on a tablecloth.
[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=However%2C%20it%E2%80%99s%20the%20stuttering%20frame%20rate%20that%E2%80%99s%20the%20real%20serial%20killer%20in%20Deadly%20Premonition%202%2C”]However, it’s the stuttering frame rate that’s the real serial killer in Deadly Premonition 2, routinely snuffing out any enjoyment to be found exploring its New Orleans-inspired setting. Things are pretty tolerable inside any one of its interiors, but the minute you step out onto the streets of Le Carré you become the star in what feels like the world’s sloppiest attempt at stop-motion animation. It’s honestly choppier than an overcaffeinated lumberjack and genuinely uncomfortable to watch for long periods, and performance is poor whether you have the Switch docked or in handheld mode. I went into Deadly Premonition 2 hoping to have my mind blown, but all I got was a mild headache.
As a result, once I’d unlocked the ability to teleport around the map using an in-game Uber-style service early on I basically ceased to explore Le Carré either on foot or via York’s skateboard, and nor did I bother to spend much time on Deadly Premonition 2’s side activities like stone-skipping or the shooting gallery aboard an airboat. Almost all of it is made a bit too hard to enjoy by a game engine that drops more frames than a drunken optometrist.
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Unfortunately, ignoring Deadly Premonition 2’s optional side quests and sticking to its main story path does not completely shield you from having to stutter-step your way to all corners of its overly expansive map, since so many of its main story missions are built around tedious scavenger hunts (one particularly aggravating task involved visiting every vending machine in town in an effort to find the only one that sold tins of spinach). During one such search Morgan actually utters that “this is nothing but a shameless fetch quest,” which is cute, but just because Deadly Premonition 2 is self-aware enough to acknowledge its own monotonous mechanics that doesn’t make them any easier to endure.
I was also disappointed with the near complete lack of control and interactivity afforded to you during the crime scene investigation sections. While it’s true that you didn’t really have to deduce much in the original game either, at least you were given a modicum of input by shooting birds’ nests out of trees to find missing evidence, for example. By contrast, in every single one of Deadly Premonition 2’s profiling sections, you merely wander around a reconstructed diorama of the crime and click on all the prompts until it’s complete.
When York enters one of the nightmarish ‘otherworld’ areas of Deadly Premonition 2, his pistol fuses with his arm to become a ‘gunhand’ not unlike the one James Woods’ character wields in the 1983 horror movie Videodrome. And that’s about as interesting as the combat gets, because Deadly Premonition 2’s shooting is otherwise offensively dull. These otherworld sections, which typically unlock at the end of each of the four main episodes, are repeated sets of identical hallways full of slow-moving enemies that lack the quirky mix of creepiness and comic relief that the Shadows provided in the previous game, and they never manage to pose any real threat. They’re just there for you to mindlessly mow down before moving onto the next room full of demonic dimwits. It doesn’t feel like Deadly Premonition, just dreadful repetition.
[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=It%20doesn%E2%80%99t%20feel%20like%20Deadly%20Premonition%2C%20just%20dreadful%20repetition.”]The fact that I found the combat so mindlessly simple is particularly remarkable when you consider that there is no option in Deadly Premonition 2’s menus to invert the Y-axis of its aiming or camera, and my personal preference is to play inverted. This option was a feature of the Deadly Premonition Origins port that was released for the Switch in 2019, not to mention the vast majority of third-person shooters released on any platform in the past couple of decades, so it seems particularly galling that it’s absent from Deadly Premonition 2.
The ease with which enemies and bosses are dispatched also renders the upgrade system entirely unnecessary. What good are voodoo charms that increase your pistol’s range and power, or unlock alternate fire modes such as incendiary rounds when every enemy already expires with a halfhearted handful of standard shots? There’s no option to increase the difficulty, either.
Instead, the only charm that actually matters is the quirky charm possessed by Francis York Morgan, and the experience of playing Deadly Premonition 2 through to completion was only redeemed by the chance to spend another 20-odd hours with this series’ leading man, who is every bit as unpredictable and peculiar as I’d remembered. I love that he insists on referring to his skateboard as his “darling”. I love that he debates at length with the other half of his split-personality, Zach, exactly which Charles Bronson movie is definitively the best. I especially love that he occasionally hums the insanely catchy ‘whistle theme’ from the original game as he skates around town. At least I think he was humming it; I could never quite hear it over the obnoxiously loud skateboarding sound effect.