Unabashed enjoyment of something shouldn't be at odds with an unflinching assessment of its faults. I believe that's something that diehard fans of the original Deadly Premonition understand well. Lampooned by some upon its release, the budget survival horror title from the minds of director Hidetaka "Swery" Suehiro and co-writer Kenji Goda nonetheless managed to win over many players. Ultimately, in spite of its many technical flaws and design oddities, its shameless cribbing of Twin Peaks combined with some unique touches of humor and melodrama resulted in something memorable.
Sadly, the sequel Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing In Disguise largely feels like the opposite of its subtitle. The magic is largely gone, and it's a truth the game's mystery does little to obscure or excuse. Things are notably off—and not in the counterintuitively pleasing way of the first game—from the moment FBI Agent Francis York Morgan sets foot in Le Carre, Louisiana.
Deadly Premonition 2 is both a sequel and a prequel to the original. The story picks up in 2019, nearly a decade after the conclusion of the Greenvale, Washington case from the first game. Two FBI agents, Aaliyah Davis and Simon Jones, go to Boston to interrogate a now retired, sickly Agent Morgan about a case that took place 14 years earlier. Flashing back to 2005, not long before Hurricane Katrina brought ruin to the Gulf Coast, York happens to be vacationing in Le Carre when he hears of a murder in the small, quiet town. Upon discovering a connection to a designer drug he's been investigating, Morgan elects to take on the murder case himself and begins unraveling the sordid tale behind it.
Most of Deadly Premonition 2 follows York in 2005 as he crisscrosses Le Carre trying to piece together evidence while soaking up the local atmosphere. Deadly Premonition 2 tries to transplant York's bizarre curiosity and enthusiasm, itself a pattern of quirks largely lifted from Special Agent Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks, to a setting worlds apart from Greenvale and the misty Pacific Northwest. In concept, the idea is commendable, presenting a chance for Deadly Premonition 2 to expand on the less derivative traits of its leading man while making up a strange town all its own. In practice, it ends up squandering nearly all of its potential.
York's first moments out in Le Carre reveal the most grating, persistent issue with Deadly Premonition 2: terrible technical performance. The open-world of the original Deadly Premonition may not be that well-optimized, but the dreary fog of Greenvale helped it a ton. Out in sunny Le Carre, the sequel's frame rate often drops to a crawl in both docked and undocked play, turning most activities not happening inside of a building into borderline unplayable affairs. The slideshow effect while skateboarding through town (yes, that replaces driving, and no, it doesn't control well) is further pronounced thanks to egregious pop-in.
I also had Deadly Premonition 2 crash on me a handful of times, at times costing me mission progress. Ultimately, the two things that help most with scraping through the bulk of Deadly Premonition 2 are generous auto saves and the fact that there's not much populating the town. Most of what York does out in Le Carre is travel from point A to B, encountering little of interest along the way. It's not long until a cheap method of fast travel eliminates the need for much of that (and for lengthy repeat treks after a crash).
Like the original, Deadly Premonition 2 accounts for time passing and tasks players with managing York's health, hunger, hygiene, and wakefulness while trying to complete story quests and fulfill the wishes of various townsfolk. This upkeep amounts to little more than busy work, though, as it's easy to passively earn enough money to keep York fed, clean, and sheltered at the local hotel while sticking to the main questline. Sidequests are also where players will most commonly run headlong into Deadly Premonition 2's shoddy performance and intentionally vexing mission design. Often, sidequests don't provide a waypoint or detailed instructions on what to do, and even after being completed, may prove difficult to even turn in, as people in town keep to their own schedules.
Case in point: one of the very first side missions available in Le Carre asks players to exterminate 30 killer bees. Not yet familiar enough with the town to know where to go, I let the first few days pass without following this mission up. Later, I discovered a bunch of hives at the town graveyard and spent about half an hour lazily making laps to take out swarms with York's pistol—busy work, handled in an appropriately blunt Deadly Premonition way, that was still made frustrating by the awful frame rate. Then, after all that, I realized that I couldn't turn the quest into the town's sheriff because he wasn't at the station. Later, I saw him walking near the hotel, but there was no option for turning in the quest to him there.
Another day or two passed in-game before I finally caught the sheriff at his post in the station. The reward for finishing the bee extermination? Another step in the quest asking York to go shoot 30 wild dogs. Dull quest design may not be new to Deadly Premonition, but compared to the original's 2010 budget ambitions, what's here in the sequel feels just as, if not more dated and tedious in the here and now.
Not helping matters is that the mechanics have also been pared back. Combat is a bit different between the normal and otherworld segments, but throughout it all York uses a single upgradeable sidearm, and the notion of York hiding or avoiding detection has been ditched completely. Combat against animals in the real world is basic as can be. Likewise, story-tied encounters with otherworldly shadow enemies are arduous but not challenging, adding up to little more than hours spent traversing identical red-root covered hallways and rooms popping easy shots at three enemy types. There are also rote minigames and skateboarding courses to complete, but again, these suffer from seriously unfavorable performance issues and none of them dangle enticing rewards upfront.
Given where it's lacking as an open-world game, the hope for Deadly Premonition 2 would be that the story and atmosphere still amount to something novel and entertaining enough to warrant the sequel. The original told a fairly complete story, and in revisiting York, introducing a town full of new characters, and seeing what happened after Greenvale, there are certainly plenty of ways that Swery and Goda try to expand upon the oddball style and lore that resonated with fans. Unfortunately, I don't think they really succeed.
How much the original Deadly Premonition owes to Twin Peaks can't be understated, and in starting from that inspiration, Swery and Goda drew on how David Lynch, Mark Frost, and the series's other writers twisted and deconstructed soap opera tropes, in the process creating new tropes all their own. But whatever research was undertaken for Deadly Premonition 2, in moving away from the starting point of a lauded (and flawed) TV portrayal of small-town America, Swery and Goda have assembled a simplified take on the "Deep South" that feels like it lifts most of its touchstones from a travel brochure.
It's nice that many of the Le Carre residents York encounters are Black, reflecting the reality of the region around and including New Orleans, but engagement with the local culture hardly goes further than the difference between Creole and Cajun cuisine—information that could've been pulled from an encyclopedia. Deadly Premonition 2 also flirts with insensitive racial tropes and puts a toe over the line in at least one instance: within the first half hour spent in Le Carre, York sees a vision of a witch doctor, a prospect that that would be dicey enough given the tendency of outsiders to flatten Louisiana Voodoo, Haitian Vodou, and other distinct beliefs into a smattering of pop culture stereotypes. What's more, this imagery serves as theming for upgrading York's weapon and physical traits at altars. On more than one occasion, York's voice actor Jeff Kramer (who does an admirable job reviving the peculiar role) also affects the witch doctor's accent as York.
Deadly Premonition 2 also includes a prominent transgender character, a point which I don't consider to be a spoiler as treating the nature of a person's gender identity as a secret to be uncovered is, in itself, an easy way for a story to veer into transphobic territory. This character's backstory does prove intertwined with Deadly Premonition 2's arc, and others (including York) use the character's abandoned birth name and pronouns at times along the way. I do not know whether the developers consulted with a transgender person in crafting this character, and as a cisgender person I feel its not my place to judge whether this depiction is ultimately harmful, but nevertheless, the character's portrayal hasn't sat right with me since finishing the game. With regards to race and its depiction of transgender people, Deadly Premonition still seems to share missteps with Twin Peaks.
With a thinly sketched southern setting, a dearth of striking characters (like the Sinner's Sandwich-devouring Harry Stewart), and representational pitfalls bogging down Deadly Premonition 2 on top of its performance and gameplay, it's still up to the core story to justify the need for a sequel in the first place. Toward the end of the main quest line, Deadly Premonition 2 does pick up some steam, strengthening links between Le Carre, Greenvale, and the events of 2019.
But even near the end, Deadly Premonition 2 endeavors to get in its own way, essentially playing up its presumed status as a "good bad game" to a fault. Missions where you have to slowly traverse Le Carre, more lengthy and repetitive otherworld combat sequences, and some uninspiring boss fights space out the scenes where Deadly Premonition 2 tries to formulate a point—where it really grapples with who and what Francis York Morgan is given the events of Le Carre and Greenvale.
If there's deeper meaning or more enjoyable moments to be found by exploring every corner of Deadly Premonition 2, then maybe the original's most ardent fans will endure the poor performance and the mechanical steps backward in order to find all that. For me, having seen the events in Boston and Le Carre from start to finish, I have no desire to return.
It's funny that Deadly Premonition is back after Twin Peaks itself had a revival, one with a devastating ending that invites meditation and reflection on the passage of time. Deadly Premonition 2 leaves me asking what year it is to an altogether different end. In 2010, the original challenged expectations of what a "budget title" could be, but the sequel just raises questions of how something like it sees the light of day in 2020.
Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing In Disguise is hard to love, even by the standards set by its predecessor. In leaving Greenvale behind for a style of prequel and sequel storytelling split across Louisiana and Boston, Deadly Premonition 2 jettisons the much of what made the original charming (along with some interesting mechanics and variety) in favor of an empty town and a story that serves up tropes and bits of lore that do little to enhance or build upon what made the original fascinating. All the while, terrible performance makes it more of a slog than its uninspired ideas and pacing do on their own.