Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing In Disguise Review
It feels odd to “review” Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing In Disguise. Those familiar with the 2010 original will know what I mean. Deadly Premonition developed a cult following around its mysterious construction: a whole lot of strange, incomprehensible design decisions pulling together into a game that ended up as more than the sum of its parts. Or, depending on who you ask, a mess that was exactly the sum of its parts. It saw enough success and enough love though to spawn a half dozen ports and now, a Switch exclusive sequel, which stays very very true to the Deadly Premonition vibe – and throws a huge spanner into the debate on what makes a video game “good”. Expect a whole of contradiction and confusion up ahead, folks.
A warning before we proceed – this review contains heavy, end of game plot spoilers for Deadly Premonition about the identity of specific characters, so if you want to enjoy that to the fullest… don’t read on, and definitely don’t play Deadly Premonition 2 first as literally the opening line will ruin it for you. Warning over.
The marketing for A Blessing In Disguise bills it as both a prequel and sequel to the first – I think this description is a little bit overly fluffy. Much like an Assassin’s Creed title, the story has a modern-day framing in which you play as FBI agent Aaliyah Davis, interrogating former agent Francis Zach Morgan about his case history. The bulk of the game has you play as Zach’s old alternate personality, Francis York Morgan (please call him York, it’s what everybody calls him) as he investigates a murder case in small Louisiana town Le Carre in 2005, the focus of Agent Davis’ interrogation. It’s a great framing for the story, with the modern-day sections acting as intermissions of sorts between key events in 2005, giving little hints and foreshadowing for the compelling tale of supernatural murder, family rivalry and small-town community in Le Carre. It’s not literary material by any means, but remains interesting with plenty of twists the way through. It’s the glue that holds Deadly Premonition together – and by that I don’t mean ‘the story is the most important thing’, but rather ‘this game is a mess and I can’t believe it even functions, thank god the story is good’.
I think the easiest comparison to help you understand what Deadly Premonition 2 is would be Ace Attorney: a defence lawyer (aided by his young assistant) must cross examine quirky, overblown people – and sometimes animals – to solve a murder. You’re never intended to take the characters seriously, but somehow still manage to develop emotional connections to them – whether you want to see them succeed or see them taken down in court. A Blessing In Disguise takes this general concept and dials it to 11… no, 17, delivering dialogue and characters that are completely off the wall, and even more challenging in a game that attempts to present itself with a degree of realism. Xavier, the bartender, wears only underwear and a cowboy hat, plays saxophone in a jazz band and delivers an overextended ‘yeeeeahhhh’ after every sentence. The bellboy, chef and concierge of the hotel are all the same person refusing to admit they’re the same person. York continually relates everything he sees and experiences to various films, listing the director, year of release and main stars every time. But, just like in Ace Attorney, all this nonsense is endearing and even memorable – I’ve forgotten every line of dialogue in Breath of the Wild but I will never forget York telling Chef Jawara why he rides a skateboard.
Yes, you heard me. Federal Investigative Bureau Agent Francis York Morgan investigates the central murder of this case using a skateboard as his primary method of transport. You can even learn cool skateboard tricks! Which would be fun, if skateboarding obeyed the laws of physics a little bit and didn’t tank the framerate into a slideshow. But, you gotta have something to get around the giant, empty open world with! The streets are wide and the NPCs nearly nonexistent – well, key NPCs have full routines and travel around the town, so you can never find them when you need them, but otherwise there’s no-one here – and locations don’t become interactable until the story demands it. It’s a good thing it’s so big though, because you’ve got a lot of time to waste – that’s right, there’s a painfully lengthy day-night cycle in the world, and some story events require you to do things at particular times on a particular day of the week. So get ready to pass some time by sleeping in your hotel bed (mandatory, or you die) but don’t forget to eat (also mandatory) and do the dry cleaning (yep). Might as well use some spare time to go bowling, or skip stones in the pond, or go an airboat ride, because those are all the other activities.
There are plenty of obtuse sidequests with little to no guidance or information if you’re really desperate, like fixing your shower in your hotel room or hunting down 30 nests of killer bees. I’m not exaggerating when I say that every single system and game design idea here is absolutely busted beyond belief. Barely anything functions, everything is constantly breaking and reforming around you. Then there’s combat, which while not as awful as the first game’s tank controls, is fairly standard third person shooter fare against two or three enemy types with the most common making a horrendous noise upon death, which you’ll hear every ten seconds. That said, combat sections are fairly short and fairly uncommon, so… hooray? You can always seek them out by staying out between midnight and 6am, when horrific enemies emerge from the pavement in a mechanic that isn’t explained by the plot.
So that’s a rundown of what is actually physically the gameplay in Deadly Premonition 2. What it doesn’t include though is that it’s good, actually? There’s something about it that feels not broken but foreign – like it’s a puzzle to solve that you’ve never seen anything like before. Many people called the first title ‘so bad it’s good’, which I don’t necessarily agree with – I don’t think anyone is incompetent or ignorant enough to fund the promotion or development of a game that did this accidentally. For the most part, it’s a deliberate artistic choice, and for me, it recalled the wondrous naivete I experienced playing games as a kid, where everything was new and exciting and something for me to learn. For you, it might recall sawing off your own arm, as James Franco did in 127 Hours, 2010, directed by Danny Boyle. It’s certainly not ‘good’, and I can’t say that it never felt tedious, like when I had to kill a full week to advance the story. I can’t say it wasn’t irritating hearing characters from 2005 describe their “predictions for the future” like ridesharing apps in excruciating, unnecessary detail. I can’t say it’s technically alright, as I experienced a bug that prevented me from interacting with anything on multiple occasions and had to reset the game. Somehow, though, it all comes together to be so weird, and buggy, and broken that I couldn’t help but be fascinated. Which is the idea, really. It’s not The Room, it’s a Tim and Eric sketch. I won’t be surprised to see a thousand videos of this on the internet days after launch.
Ultimately, Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing In Disguise is not about what you can tolerate but what you can accept. If you think you can look past the broken in service of a great story, this might not be for you. If you can embrace and enjoy the tedium, the bugs, the weird tone, the absurdity – you may have a new favourite title. I’ll remember this one for a while.
+ Captivating story
+ Memorable characters
+ Memorable game mechanics
- Completely broken
- Barely makes sense