Deadly Premonition 2 gleefully expands the world of a cult classic, but it has major shortcomings.
Back in the Eighties if you made a gloriously bad B-movie, it'd likely be largely forgotten after a brief period in the bargain section of Blockbuster video. The age of the internet has changed all of that, however: it's made ironic stars out of the likes of Tommy Wiseau, and allowed classic schlock like Rambo knock-off Deadly Prey receive kickstarted sequels filmed with modern technology.
The same sort of phenomenon can be glimpsed in games here and there, and that's how we get to Deadly Premonition 2. The first game was objectively a pretty bad experience however you approached it, but it was also a game that one couldn't help but appreciate. Sure, it controlled poorly, had bizarre direction and had rough visuals even for the time and hardware, but what it lacked more or less everywhere else it made up for in charm.
You see, Deadly Premonition is the creation of Japanese designer Hidetaka Suehiro, also known as Swery. Swery is probably best described as a dollar store Hideo Kojima; he's ambitious, with a deep love of cinema and a clearly in-depth knowledge of game design and mechanics. This is a man who has studied games, and builds his own design around conclusions from said studies. But he also makes games with next to no money.
This is proven in much of his catalog, like the PlayStation 2 game Spy Fiction, a stealth game that owes as much to Metal Gear Solid as it does to cinematic espionage. Deadly Premonition is the premiere example, however. Its narrative is essentially a spin on Twin Peaks, while the video game side of things is an low-budget open-ended Grand Theft Auto open world mixed with Resident Evil 4 style horror creature blasting and a surprising amount of detail within the world.
Deadly Premonition ended up a cult hit, but it earned that status. It's a strange-yet-wonderful experience carried on charm. The strangeness makes you laugh, but Deadly Premonition is also full of surprisingly intricate level of detail and endearing, memorable characters you'll likely end up caring about more than the casts of some of its meticulously animated, performance-captured triple-A rivals.
I hate kicking off impressions of a new game with a history lesson, but it's vitally important to understand what made Deadly Premonition special before talking about the sequel.
The risk with any sequel to a so-bad-it's-good guilty pleasure is the creator becoming too self-aware. This has been seen a lot with those crowd-sourced sequels to eighties B-movies; there's a big difference between something bad that was made earnestly and something deliberately made to exude a slightly-rubbish energy.
In many ways Deadly Premonition 2 is successful, an ideal continuation of the original game. That Swery weirdness is clearly still intact, and it feels like a natural evolution of the ideas of the first game structurally. You can also see strands of some of Swery's games in the interim such as D4 and The Missing. Crucially, I can't quite tell if Swery is truly in on 'the joke' of what made Deadly Premonition so good in the first place - which means this isn't tainted by him playing up to and leaning into those things heavily for a laugh.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that while the game's Deep South setting is largely showcased in sweeping generalizations and well-trodden cliche, the Twin Peaks style surrealism is also coupled with a desire to also look at the real. One of the first major characters you meet is a cop who knows just how tenuous his position of authority is as a black man in a southern town.
It's also a curious way to continue from the definitive ending of its predecessor. Part prequel, part sequel and with duel storylines, Deadly Premonition 2 is a typically ambitious idea from Swery, who attacks the idea with gusto. This is Swery's Godfather Part 2. It's as brilliant and as tackily naff as that description suggests.
Except there comes a time then where you actually have to play the game - and in many places, it's honestly a disgrace. Step out onto the streets of the city of Le Carré and you'll be assaulted with a frame rate that slides into the twenties and even the tens. Sometimes the game just hitches up, seemingly at random. Hop on your skateboard to get around more quickly and matters just become worse.
This sort of performance isn't across the board, but it's frequent. Enter a building for a story sequence and you'll often find little puzzles and smatterings of combat that are superior to the first game - but every journey between these missions is a miserable slog across a slideshow of an open world that doesn't even justify its performance through being bustling - like the first game, it's more or less a wasteland.
It's not often a game's frame rate is so poor that I actually exclaim a disbelieving "fuckin' hell" out loud, but Deadly Premonition 2 managed it.
Given Deadly Premonition's status as a slightly-crap cult classic with a lot of charm, one has to wonder about this. Did the developer and publisher simply think they could get away with this performance because people expected the game to be no masterpiece? This isn't just bad in a way the first game was - it's vastly inferior, and often borders on actively unplayable.
What the hell happened? No matter how charming the core, a game that runs in this way is impossible to recommend - and had the original Deadly Premonition been this way, it never would've become a cult classic in the first place. There is no excuse for a game running like this, and there is no reason to recommend it to anyone because of that. Hopefully a patch, or ports to other platforms, might make giving Swery's latest story another chance to charm - as it is, it isn't worth your time.