Deadly Premonition takes its cues from the survival/horror genre and the 90s television show Twin Peaks, which aired for two seasons on ABC. Twin Peaks has become a primary example of a serial drama turned into a cult favorite. There are obvious similarities between the show and Deadly Premonition, even after developers chose to scale back references after a demonstration at the Tokyo Game Show in 2007. However, despite some minor character adjustments, the premise of Deadly Premonition has an unmistakable correlation to Twin Peaks. For instance, the game’s protagonist is a big-city FBI agent who comes to a rural Washington State town to investigate a murder. FBI agent Francis York Morgan – who prefers to be called York – is a protagonist with an interest in murders of young women. The fictional town of Greenvale – a logging town modeled off of the one in Twin Peaks – has recently borne witness to a gruesome murder, and it is York’s job to investigate the crime scene. However, subsequent murders during his investigation open up Deadly Premonition‘s narrative to explore the hearts and minds of the game’s characters. If anything, it is the emotional punch of York and other characters which draw favorable reviews from critics.
Jim Sterling of Destructoid, who reviewed Deadly Premonition, has inadvertently sparked a debate about which game is better: Deadly Premonition or Heavy Rain. He opts for Deadly Premonition because of its narrative ingenuity and plot integrity. While Heavy Rain loses much of its immersive effect by trying to get players to do too much at the expense of telling a story, Deadly Premonition focuses on narrative depth and emotional insight. In order to focus these objectives, the game relies on long cut-scenes to tell a thrilling story. Therefore, the game is less about interactive cut-scenes – a central occupation in Heavy Rain – and more about linear gameplay and open-world exploration which leads to cinematic expression. Finally, Deadly Premonition shows that if a game is to affect emotional perception in players, then character development and backstory are necessary ingredients for cut-scenes. Indeed, Kristine Jørgensen – Associate professor at the University of Bergen in Norway – argues that character design directs narrative gameplay. Jørgensen cites game designer David Freeman by arguing for “the use of characters as the driving narrative force [in video games].” Furthermore, according to both Freeman and Jørgensen,“characters can work as tools to create emotions in games.” In order to do this, characters must be deep and interesting. In this case, depth refers to character complexity in terms of psychology and emotion, and interesting refers to the uniqueness, originality and imaginativeness of the character. Despite its cheesy humor and farcical dialogue, Deadly Premonition does not superficially gloss over its characters mental states like Heavy Rain has a tendency of doing. Deadly Premonition does, in fact, have serious moments of pathos, and takes into consideration the role of past experiences in shaping characters personalities.
York is an eccentric character with a confusing psychology. Before the player even watches the first cut-scene with York, he or she will inhabit the “Red Room;” a game-space of York’s dreams and unconscious memories, which are revealed one-by-one throughout the game. After this sequence, a cut-scene of York driving through pouring rain towards his destination shows York speaking to someone from the Bureau on a satellite phone. Discussing a co-agent’s case with presumably York’s superior, York profiles a pair of killers who are dependent on each other in order to carry out their crimes. York says, “They both need each other. It’s called ‘Inter-dependency’.” No sooner does York hang up the phone that he begins to talk to an imaginary friend in the car named “Zach.” Zach is basically a dialogue partner that bridges the gap between the character on screen and the player. This is Deadly Premonition‘s central conceit, and it works to great effect. York only springs to life through the decisions of Zach (the player). In this sense,protagonist and player are interdependent. This is a unique immersion technique, and the true identity of Zach is built into the game’s backstory. It becomes painfully clear later in the game that Agent York has a multiple-personality disorder which resulted from a childhood trauma. This trauma has led him unconsciously to Greenvale.
In terms of the tangled rhizome, Murray explains that this is a theoretical concept in hypertext fiction that can be applied to game narratives as well. This is where a player’s agency in a game can affect the game’s narrative storyline. Deadly Premonition‘s open-world environment gives the player a choice to explore the town and approach the citizens of Greenvale; either choosing to observe them or talk with them. Depending on the character York approaches, the interchange may be brief, or it may signal a cut-scene that provides important clues. In this way, Deadly Premonition exhibits Murray’s tangled rhizome, or the branching narrative which may result depending on players actions. However, in terms of the main quest-line, the scope of the player’s agency is limited. For example, after you complete a chapter, the game will showcase an interactive cut-scene. York will have the option to go back to the hotel to sleep, or enjoy some down-time with the deputies he is working with. Therefore, aside from open-world exploration, the agency in the game is based on a dual choice system. Of course, if the player chooses to be sociable, they will get a lot more of the lengthy cut-scenes which will make the overall game experience more enriching.