Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise sees developer Toybox Inc. returning to its cult-classic detective tale, bringing a new installment of a game that had critics, and gamers, firmly split down the middle when it launched in 2010.
Deadly Premonition 2 follows largely the same story as its predecessor. FBI agent Francis York ends up in a small town in the American Deep South, where he needs to solve the murder of a young woman. The crime has had an intricate impact on the town, as the murdered woman was a member of the most powerful family in the area.
York is aided by his invisible friend Zach, a soundboard for his investigative ideas and a constant companion in his obsession with cinema. Narratively, the game sits in a very interesting spot, acting as both a sequel and a prequel to the original investigation covered in the first game. The murder mystery quickly becomes supernatural in nature, and York is the perfect man to get to the murky truth.
The elephant in the room
One of the most pressing things to mention about Deadly Premonition 2 is how it actually runs on the Nintendo Switch. Since the game is set in a town, you spend a lot of time traveling from place to place on your trusty skateboard. Unfortunately, there is little to report here that would be considered good. Obvious sacrifices have been made to get these open-world sections to work. The draw distance is extremely low, the shadow quality is invariably poor, and the frame rates can be quite punishing. There were numerous times during the game where it felt like the Switch was giving me single-digit frames, even in docked mode.
The end result is not just a displeasing visual experience, but it can make skateboarding around town awkward. Truthfully, it doesn’t matter too much as the majority of Deadly Premonition 2 is exploring and investigating, having conversations with people, and trying to discover the truth about a cruel and brutal murder. The action, when it arrives, is generally slow-paced, and it’s largely restricted to smaller environments, which have improved frame rates.
Loading times can also feel a little cruel, especially when loading into the open world. This will happen often, as each building you enter has a loading screen both on the way in and out. Graphically, things can sometimes look rough, though there is some impressive detail on boss characters. The original Deadly Premonition was a somewhat dated-looking game, and the follow up is no different in this regard.
The good stuff
The easiest way to sum up Deadly Premonition 2 is that if you liked the first one, you will like this one too. The story is interesting, the characters are as crazy and overblown as in the original, and Agent York is an interesting and largely unapologetic protagonist.
York oozes confidence, to the point where he is happy to talk about his friend Zach in front of other people and is constantly bringing up the eldritch horrors and dark magics that they simply cannot witness. Rather than try to hide his ability to see and interact with the paranormal, York constantly uses it to imply that he knows exactly what he is doing, and why. This gets some shaking heads and looks of disbelief from other characters, but few seem to openly question his sanity.
The game is once again steeped in the television-influenced concept of Americana, that strange things happen in the cultural melting pot of New Orleans, and that a plane of existence and influence exists beyond what normal people can see. York interacts with ghosts, living memories, echoes of past actions, and even apparent gods, piecing all the clues together to move beyond the impact of a terrible crime in our world and finding a rich vein of evil running beneath the town. The game is clearly influenced by the likes of Twin Peaks and other surrealist shows and movies, digging deep for an almost constant flow of references to the very things that inspired it.
Because the major attraction of the game will be the story, we won’t spoil anything in the review, but we will say that despite various issues with the technical aspects of the game and some rather frustrating design decisions, we couldn’t stop playing it. The murder mystery that plays out in the game, and the characters that strut the stage upon which it unfolds, more than reeled us in.
Finding clues—and the game’s various investigative mechanics feel great—and finding the true face of evil behind the human mask is a rewarding experience. There are various ways to customize your character, make upgrades to your skateboard, and play plenty of mini-games, but they all feel decidedly secondary to the story that unfolds.
Death by design
Much like the original, there are some questionable design decisions that some people will find frustrating and others will find charming. The constant need to traverse the map is somewhat improved by a fast travel system. Combat is nothing to write home about, serving the purpose of establishing a threat rather than giving you a system you can truly enjoy. Boss fights tend to veer between simplicity and outright frustration.
You can often find yourself needing to wait until a specific time of day to progress the story forward. If you don’t have cigarettes, which cost you in-game money, then you can’t move time forward easily and you will need to either purchase some or go to the hotel and sleep. It feels like a simpler system to pass the time could have been put in place. The game is filled with minor issues like these, but based on the reception to the first game, it can be hard to dismiss them as being entirely bad.
Even our own time spent in the game softened our stance on some of these issues, and like some sort of video game Stockholm-Syndrome, we began to feel protective of the game’s various foibles.
If you enjoyed the first Deadly Premonition, or if you loathed it, there is little here that will swing you away from how you feel. In many ways, it feels like Toybox intentionally made a janky, challenging follow-up as a way to preserve the experience of the original for the people who loved it. While it might seem strange to say that a team of professional developers opted into design decisions that are almost objectively bad and could have been avoided, it honestly wouldn’t surprise us if this is exactly what happened.
If you have fond memories of the first game, then Deadly Premonition 2 will give you more of the same, for good and for bad. If you bounced off the original, then there is little here that will cause you to fall in love. Deadly Premonition 2 is, in many ways, an intensely enjoyable experience, but technical issues and some design decisions make it a tough game to recommend unless you are a true fan of the first.
Disclaimer: This review was written using a game code provided by Nintendo.