Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise review

Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise is almost as awkward to review as Deadly Premonition must have been to follow up. So let me just get this part out of the way: Deadly Premonition fans, by which I mean people who genuinely, unironically liked Deadly Premonition, may well dig this game. It is delirious in most of the same ways as its predecessor, from the surreal writing to the endlessly twisting plot.

Should anyone else play it? Well, no.

One reason is simple. Another is more complex. The simple reason is that anyone who didn’t play Deadly Premonition will have no idea what is going on in this game, which serves as both a sequel and prequel while making no attempt to explain itself to newcomers. But the thornier problem is that Deadly Premonition 2 is, by any reasonable standard, a deeply flawed game to an even greater degree than its predecessor, and uninitiated players are unlikely to be as forgiving a decade on.

The original Deadly Premonition found an unusual path to Western fandom. While it was a full-priced release in Japan under the name Red Seeds Profile, the US version got a new title and a $20 price point that reflected its low budget and less than impressive production values. The critical response was mixed, to say the least — IGN famously gave it a 2/10 — but word soon spread about this bizarre Twin Peaks-influenced survival horror game from Japan. It’s now considered a true cult classic.

I often hear the phrase “so bad it’s good” or comparisons to The Room thrown around in reference to Deadly Premonition, and I think that’s way off. The Room is a terrible movie made by someone who had too much money and no self-awareness, which is what ultimately makes it watchable. Deadly Premonition, however, is a great game at its core. It had terrible graphics, awful voice acting, and clumsy combat, sure, but most of its flaws were a consequence of its budget. The writer and director, Hidetaka “Swery” Suehiro, knew exactly what he was going for. There is nothing like Deadly Premonition’s unhinged blend of horror, comedy, and pop-culture references, and for many, the technical flaws only added to the B-movie charm.

Deadly Premonition 2 doesn’t get let off so easily. This is a Switch-exclusive release, and no one ever expected a sequel to happen, so it is fair to say that Nintendo’s backing for the project probably exceeds whatever collection of shoestrings was used to fund the original. Despite this, Deadly Premonition 2 is a technical disaster. It adopts a new semi-cel-shaded art style reminiscent of Swery’s Xbox One game D4, and it does look relatively sharp on the Switch’s screen. But the overall aesthetic is a visual mess, and the performance often drops well below 20 frames per second.

Judging by reactions I’ve seen to previews of Deadly Premonition 2, fans of the original may well argue that this is exactly what they’d expect or even hope for. Swery himself has publicly dismissed concerns about the frame rate. And I admit it would have been a little weird to see a Deadly Premonition sequel out of nowhere with photorealistic graphics at 4K / 60fps. But I would argue that it’s even weirder to see a console-exclusive game in 2020 that looks and runs like this. It made me nauseous at times. The total lack of an invert-look option did not help matters.

I’m reminded of my time reporting a Polygon feature on the history of the low-budget Earth Defense Force series, which is notorious for its inversely proportional relationship between frames per second and giant alien bugs on-screen. “From my perspective, if I asked the player if they want a very stable and conservative gameplay experience, or something extraordinary with some technical issues, which game would they prefer?” director Takehiro Homma asked me. “I think the latter is more appealing.”

Deadly Premonition 2 is not showing me anything extraordinary. Often, it’s just showing a dude talking to himself at a dinner table with admittedly witty dialogue, and the frame rate still somehow suffers. Things get even worse when he steps outside on his skateboard. If anything, the original Deadly Premonition had better performance.

Deadly Premonition 2’s core conceit is essentially a direct lift from the first season of True Detective, where you follow a young sleuth in the past and catch up with his ragged, world-weary form in the present for another perspective on the main story. (The past scenes are also set in Louisiana, just to drive the reference home.)

The game plays out in an open world of sorts, letting you explore a small town and gather information on a murder — although the detective elements are more about finding things on the map than using any actual brainwork. There is also combat, as with the first game, and unsurprisingly, it isn’t very good here either.

I could tell you more about how Deadly Premonition 2 plays, but really the answer is just “badly,” and that won’t — and shouldn’t — put off anyone who wants to play it anyway. I do enjoy the characters and the world and the overwhelming sense that everything has been scooped directly out of Swery’s id with a shovel. I don’t think any of that is an excuse for releasing a game that feels like it’s running on a PS2 emulator, but I know there are people who won’t mind. As some guy once said, time is a flat circle. This game repeats what came before it — for better and worse.

Deadly Premonition 2 reminds me of last year’s Shenmue III. That was a similarly unlikely sequel that played on nostalgia; the overall visuals were updated, but the simple character models and knowingly cheesy voice acting felt of a part with the decades-old predecessors. Deadly Premonition 2, in turn, certainly does what it can to re-create the experience of playing the original game.

But the difference with Shenmue is that those games were technical marvels at the time, so deliberately evoking that Dreamcast-era vibe makes a certain degree of sense today. Deadly Premonition was great despite its technical issues, not because of them. I’m not asking for a AAA-standard sequel, but it would have been nice if Deadly Premonition 2 felt fit for purpose as a Switch game.

Still, as a Deadly Premonition game, I have to say that A Blessing In Disguise hits the spot. If you liked what was actually good about the predecessor — the writing, the sense of humor, and the multilayered plot — this is a reasonable sequel. I just wish it had improved on the things that weren’t so great instead of leaning into them.

Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise is available now on the Nintendo Switch.

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