Swery, what the hell did I just play?
My first words after clocking Deadly Premonition 2, muttered to myself as I placed down the controller, baffled. A panoply of emotions skidded through my brain. Confusion. Delight. Irritation. Glee. ‘What the hell…’ I said aloud, ‘was that shit?’
But what else did I expect? Because it’s exactly how I reacted a decade ago when I finished the first Deadly Premonition. And I’m beginning to suspect that many gamers, and reviewers, have genuinely forgotten that’s how they felt the first time around.
Ever have a really difficult holiday? A litany of traumas in a fantastical place? Years later, you’ll look back and find that your stories about that series of ordeals have smoothed out. You talk about the absolute shitshow that was getting through customs, the third-degree sunburn. The monkey who stole your glasses and shit in your hat. The comically bad things become the axels upon which dinner party anecdotes balance. Plus, the trip was so charming. The food was incredible, the weather was sublime, and you’ll frankly never forgot it for the rest of your life. But if you were to go back and do it all again, you’d complain. You’d not consider that the quirks, the foibles, the mishaps were a large part of what made it memorable.
You got soft. You forget how to travel. You forget how to have fun in spite of the nonsense.
Deadly Premonition 2 is the sequel nobody expected. But what made Swery, the esoteric and utterly delightful creator of Deadly Premonition, want to take another swing at the adventures of Francis York Morgan?
“After Deadly Premonition was released,” he told me, “the series continued with the Director’s Cut and the Collector’s Edition. But due to things like market trends and such, it took a while for the sequel project to get off the ground. When I went independent in 2016, the producer, Mr Kanazawa, said: “Now that you’re independent, why not do another DP?” His invitation there was where it all began. I was SUPER happy.”
Deadly Premonition was a truly distinct game, in that it didn’t care where it put its focus. The cars had blinkers and windscreen wipers, but bad guys had the same two constantly repeated catchphrases that played every time they died. The town was a huge, accurate, scale recreation of a small Twin Peaks-style town, but this meant you spent a lot of time just… driving around a town, confused. Animation problems, bizarre dialogue.
But it didn’t matter, because beneath it all was an obsessive, passionate, almost lusty focus on genre, on creating an explosively loving tribute to Twin Peaks. Greenvale, where the game was set, feels to fans like an actual place. I’ve been to Snoqualmie, the town Twin Peaks is filmed in and based on, and Greenvale is the closest I’ll get to going back there without leaving my house. It feels janky and sprawling, sure. But Swery did the impossible: he made it feel real. In Deadly Premonition 2, he’s created another fictional town: Le Carre, in the deep south.
“Why Louisiana,” I asked?
“My experiences doing research in Louisiana, as well as my own life experiences since 2010. I could speak a little more English compared to when I made Deadly Premonition 1, so I was able to go to a lot more American towns, make a lot more friends, eat a lot of new delicious food I hadn’t known about, drink a lot of liquor, and got more opportunities to come face to face with the various problems America faces. Wealth gap, race issues, gender issues, drugs, illnesses, etc. After that, I myself suffered through a serious illness and stopped making games for a while. Those various experiences all appear in the game in different forms.”
Swery is right – Deadly Premonition 2 deals with a lot more than the first. The storyline bounces back and forth in time between Francis in the present, where he appears to have gone somewhat mad in a mashup of True Detective’s future version of Rust Cohle, and Jeffrey Lebowski. He’s clearly sick, he’s surrounded by movies, and he’s smoking lots of weed to help the pain. These portions of the game are among my favourite. Since D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die, Swery has become adept at telling legitimately tangled and intriguing detective stories, and these interrogations at the hands of a new agent, Aaliyah, really let him flex his writing muscles. But Swery is clearly obsessed with the South, where the bulk of the game takes place. It’s a younger Francis York Morgan who we play as in Le Carre; the Agent Cooper-esque weirdo we loved in the first game.
“I went on my research trip in October 2017. A hurricane had just hit the area, so when I crossed the straight bridge over Lake Pontchartrain, I could only see about five meters ahead of me while I was driving. The cars around me kept passing me, and I was really scared. I’m pretty sure York talks about that while he’s on his skateboard in the game.”
Ahh, yes. The skateboard Swery is referring to is how our hero navigates Le Carre. Because… well, why not? Tony Hawk’s True Detective ain’t a bad way to spend lockdown. Just like the odd but brazen choices on where to pour his time and energy in the first game, Swery has taken some big swings at some odd things here. But the reason fans came back?
Francis York Morgan.
“I think that Deadly Premonition’s charm is its ‘ambivalence,’ and York is the character who represents that. He can be serious,” says Swery, “but he can also be funny, and strong or weak depending on the circumstance. I think it’s also difficult to tell whether he’s serious or not sometimes. I laughed and cried as I wrote the script, so I think he might also just have natural charm as a human being.”
He does. Even the most critical reviewers and players have said that the writing of Deadly Premonition 2 is great, specifically the story of Francis investigating a grisly string of murders in this small sunburnt town. Whilst Francis York Morgan started as an Agent Cooper homage, he’s become something more in this game: an allegory for all of Swery’s tastes, flaws, love and guile. He’s a big, weird idiot with a thirst for justice. He’s a genius, but his genius manifests in ways that alienate people. He has a vision, but those around him don’t often see it until the curtain falls.
I ask Swery what he wants to say to people who might be thrown by the somewhat impenetrable façade presented by the game. “Deadly Premonition is a very unique game,” he tells me. “Just like a food that’s difficult to eat, it may seem at times like it’s trying to prevent you from eating it. But please don’t worry. It may not look very nice, but it’s absolutely delicious. And once you take a bite, I’m sure you’ll get addicted to it.”
He pauses before continuing, “Even though the game has been released, the team is going to continue to fix the performance and parts of the script, along with bugs. So, why not set aside your picky eating habits and try giving it a bite?”
Having finished Deadly Premonition 2, I can safely say that it’s frankly as good a story as the first. The game is housed in a very strange open-world environment which feels equal parts thriving and empty, with side quests that range from hilarious and infuriating to mundane. But when the tale being told is this good… who gives a shit?
Swery manages to land a truly bonkers tale with utter panache, and I’ll certainly be revisiting Le Carre sometime soon. But what comes next? Would Swery turn out an even battier, more magical sequel? I ask him if he’d consider bringing Mr Morgan to his hometown of Osaka.
“Solving a crime in Osaka is an interesting idea. It’s a city that definitely has enough unique characters to rival Louisiana. But here’s my idea for the next entry to the series! Remember when Zach left his house as an old man in the Director’s Cut ending? He was dragging his old, withered body along, can’t see very well, has a bad back, he’s out of breath, he can’t hear very well, he has to go pee a lot…but he has to go on an investigation while battling with his failing memory. Instead of having to maintain your suits, I imagine you’ll need to clean your false teeth and switch out your adult diapers. What do you think?”
I think you might be a genius, Swery. Now get to work on part three.
Thanks to Suehiro Hidetaka for his time.