FBI special agent Francis York Morgan (call him York, everybody does) should not be a likable character. He’s eccentric. He’s self-absorbed. He holds lengthy, movie reference-filled conversations with a voice inside his head while the real people around him stare and shrug. Despite his many flaws, he’s one of the most engaging protagonists I’ve played. He completely carried the sloppy mess that was 2010’s Deadly Premonition, and now he’s doing it again in Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise for the Nintendo Switch.
The original Deadly Premonition is one of the most critically polarising open-world survival games ever created. It looks and plays like a budget game. The visuals are not great. The game runs slowly and the frame rate is inconsistent. Judged purely on its technical merits, it’s a borderline disaster. Hell, the Steam version is one of the worst PC ports I’ve ever attempted to play.
So why do people love that sloppy mess of an investigative horror adventure? It’s just so damn weird. There’s Agent York, the aloof hero. He talks to himself (or his unseen friend Zach) constantly, but the conversations are so interesting and the lines are delivered so well.The game balances realism and surrealism, mixing the two to create this engaging, Twin Peaks-eque hyper reality. The amazing soundtrack often doesn’t match the mood of a given scene, producing a wonderfully discordant vibe. It’s broken just right.
Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise serves as both a prequel and sequel to the 2010 game, and it’s just as broken as the original, if not moreso. The frame rate is atrocious. The loading times, especially going from inside a building into the open world, are incredibly long. I’ve had the screen go black switching between scenes and get stuck there for minutes at a time. There are quests in the game that say I need to investigate a site during nighttime, but list nighttime as six to eight in the morning. If you’re looking for a polished follow-up to the shoddy original, this is not it.
In the present day, FBI agent Aaliyah Davis reopens an old murder case and tracks down the agent who handled it initially, good old Francis York Morgan. From there we flash back to the town of Le Carré, Louisiana in 2005. Agent York finds himself stranded in the small town, his car stolen and replaced with a skateboard. While he’s there, he decides to investigate the ritualistic muder of a teenage girl. Not like he has anything else to do.
Well, except bowling.
Well, and skateboarding. Badly skateboarding. He gets better.
I promise you his number one priority — after skateboarding, skipping stones, bowling, shooting thieving squirrels, and having ridiculously long conversations with himself — is figuring out who murdered Lise Clarkston.
Providing backup to Agent York as he seeks the perpetrator of this heinous, bloody crime is a young teenage girl named Patti. Patti is the stepdaughter of the town sheriff who, after meeting Agent York briefly and witnessing a conversation with his invisible friend Zach first-hand, decides it’s perfectly ok for the pair to hang out. Patti tags along with York during daylight hours. When he speeds through town on his skateboard, she somehow keeps up on foot. When he grabs a ride using the game’s early version of Uber, she’s waiting for him at his destination. No matter how much of a dick York is to Patti, she’s always there.
At night Patti goes home and sleeps, as she should, because things get freaky in Le Carré after midnight. The world takes on a reddish hue, and spirits swarm Agent York. Perhaps they are his personal demons, taking advantage of the loneliness and feelings of isolation he normally keeps in check. Maybe they are a manifestation of the evil influence that caused someone in the town to murder an innocent girl. Maybe they are just things to shoot.
Whatever they are, they’re just another part of this weird hodge-podge of reality and the supernatural that Agent York must slog through in the course of his investigation. He has to keep himself fed in order to keep up his stamina. He needs to complete quests, play mini-games, and investigate crime scenes to earn money so he can keep staying at his posh hotel. He’s got to stop and talk to Zach about the best shower scenes in horror movies.
It’s the moments like that last one that keep me playing Deadly Premonition 2. I want to crawl inside Agent York’s head and explore the strange shit going on in there. There’s an undeniable charm to both our hero and the people that he meets while he’s skating through Le Carré’s streets that make me want to see where all of this is going.
From a technical standpoint, Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise is a mess, but Deadly Premonition isn’t about nailing the technical details. Game director Hidetaka “Swery” Suehiro makes games like Troma Entertainment’s Lloyd Kaufman makes movies. They’re messy, sloppy, and unmistakably low budget, but there’s a charm there that fosters a strong cult following and keeps fans coming back for more. Deadly Premonition 2’s got that trashy magic in spades.