The Lord HUNGERS!
There was a part in Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise that boldly sticks in my mind. In order to continue the story, I had to collect three items for a character. This led to a long stretch of busywork where I scoured the open world for an entire hour. When I got back, that exact same character then sent me on another fetch quest for three more items. If this was any other game, I would have been turned off. Instead, I ended up laughing for five minutes straight after seeing the fruits of my labor. It's a perfect encapsulation of what to expect from this sequel to one of Swery's most infamous titles: You never really know what's going to happen next.
Isn't That Right, My Fairy?
The game opens on an apartment building in Boston in the year 2019. FBI Agent Aaliyah Davis has discovered a body linked to a series of murders that happened 14 years ago in the small town of Le Carre, Louisiana. But when Aaliyah opens up the original case file, it is patchy and full of holes. To get answers, she questions the man behind that investigation: retired FBI Special Agent Francis York Morgan. But it seems that Agent Morgan has been obsessing over the case as well. He tries to tie it to the infamous Greenvale case he handled years ago, although his mental state is deteriorating due to an incurable disease. What really happened in these small towns? Has Agent Morgan gone crazy or did the supernatural play a key role in the case? Would Aaliyah even believe him if it did?
It is in this effective opening that Deadly Premonition 2 wears its inspiration on its sleeve as well as sets the tone for the story. While the first game was a surreal Twin Peaks-inspired affair with its central mystery slowly unraveling as Agent York puts the pieces together, the sequel borrows the style and structure from the first season of the HBO series, True Detective. The plot rolls out in a non-linear fashion with Aaliyah questioning Agent Morgan's story and methods in 2019 as a framing device, while the extended flashback sequences to 2005 have our hero playing out the investigation.
Thematically, Aaliyah is presented as a no-nonsense type that does things by the book – a classic lawful type, which clashes harshly with the esoteric weirdness that Morgan openly embraces to get to the same conclusions she does. There are also a lot of narrative ellipses that occur where characters just jump right to conclusions rather than go through the minute detective work to keep things quick and compelling.
However, that is where the comparisons to the gritty crime drama end. Deadly Premonition 2 juggles genre and tone like chainsaws. Within the first ten minutes of Agent Morgan's first flashback, I was introduced to spectral skeleton men giving cryptic hints, a guy with multiple personalities all of which take up roles managing a hotel, and a slow-talking jazz-playing bar owner who wears nothing but underwear everywhere because it is his right as an American. It's a mind-boggling spectacle to behold.
The glue holding this cacophony together is Agent Morgan himself. His attitude towards the odd situations he finds himself in gives the story stakes and foundation, while also adding his own tongue-in-cheek campiness. For example, Morgan just casually mentions why he uses a skateboard to get around. In this case, his car was stolen while staying at a hotel, so he just rolled with it. The same thing occurs when his arm turns into an off-putting mix of bone and tree branches that shoots magical bullets during the game's action sections. He thinks it's odd, but also kind of cool.
However, when it comes to discovering motives and history for the major characters in the murder mystery, he shifts to a straight-shooting detective. It's an extremely delicate needle to thread, especially with a hero who loves to talk about bad movies and gruesome murders he investigated in the past to child sidekicks. But Morgan manages to keep the central plot engaging even while it indulges in absurd tangents.
Welcome to The Deep South
As for central gameplay, Deadly Premonition 2 continues Swery's tradition of being scattershot yet strangely coherent. There are investigation sequences where you walk around a crime scene and examine key details. They're mostly present to move the plot along since there isn't a lot in terms of "missable" clues or dialogue options for suspects, it's just another way to deliver exposition.
As for action sequences, there are sections where Agent Morgan warps into a haunting otherworld and must fight his way out against horrendous monsters. It is here that Deadly Premonition 2 becomes an arcade-like third-person shooter where you'll move through repeating rooms and corridors, blasting away. There's even a homing shot ability and bonuses you get for hitting multiple enemies or catching them with explosive barrels.
Ostensibly these parts are the most challenging... but they're not that difficult. There's an entire light RPG mechanic where you can craft special charms to power up Agent Morgan's gun, even give it alternate fire modes like an assault rifle or a shotgun, but I never felt the need to use any of them. There are even status effects that certain enemies can inflict on Morgan such as paralysis or poison, the only way to cure them coming from consumables you can pick up, but aside from part near the very end I hardly used any of them. The levels themselves are also bland interchangeable mixes of generic disheveled corridors and giant rooms full of the same three or four enemy types.
Even the boss battles feel undercooked. They have great visual designs, a mix of body horror, and demonic imagery that makes each one distinct. Better still, each one of them has special tactics like teleporting or making illusory copies of themselves to mess with you. However, they always seem to go down right when the battle gets interesting, their health bars getting blasted away by simple shots with the starting weapon.
What stops this from being disappointing is how the rest of A Blessing in Disguise feels. The controls are responsive and the sections never overstay their welcome. Puzzle or investigation sections break up the shooting galleries regularly, with health and ammo kits plentiful throughout. The closest thing to frustrating design I felt came with the final boss battle. I ran out of bullets and my standard melee attack just wouldn't connect. The only thing that stopped me from resetting my save file was that the boss occasionally triggered a quick-time event sequence where I could reflect attacks back at it.
This same flabby design ethos continues throughout Deadly Premonition 2. There's a brand new detective vision that can highlight important items in the world, anything from a collectible to a crucial clue can be helpfully highlighted with this. However, given how linear the investigation sections are I never felt the need to use it. The only reason why I remembered to keep the meter filled is that it doubles as the energy bar for the homing attack power during the combat sections.
The personal health system from the original game returns. If you don't stay well-fed, get a good amount of sleep, shave and shower regularly, and keep your business suits clean, your overall health and stamina will be affected. Much like the original game, you can keep these needs satisfied by just munching donuts, downing coffee, and spraying gallons of perfume on yourself.
The gangliest of all of these elements lies in the overall structure. The town of Le Carre is an open-world environment where you can skateboard anywhere to your heart's content. You can go bowling, skip rocks across a river, and even unlock a riverboat ride mini-game where you speed along shooting targets and alligators for points. There are even unlockable racetracks where Agent Morgan can learn new tricks to get around faster. It is a town you will get acquainted with quickly because most of the gameplay that forwards the plot amounts to talking to supporting characters at work, dialogue-heavy cutscenes, and fetch quests. The investigation and combat sections are few and far between.
Sadly, this is where comparisons need to be made to the original. I don't recall the first Deadly Premonition feeling this unbalanced with its action, mostly by it juggling more balls in the air. Otherworld sections popped up there, but they weren't just shooting galleries. There were key-hunting puzzles, crucial visual storytelling was sprinkled throughout, and there were full-on survival horror elements such as chase sequences with the killer and nail-biting stealth sections. It helped make each chapter in the story stand out more.
This doesn't mean that Deadly Premonition 2 isn't an improvement. In many ways, it's a more focused, accessible experience. The central mystery and dual timeline story make for a more compelling drama regarding Aaliyah's skepticism and Agent Morgan's more metaphysical approach to things. Changing the setting to the deep south helps give the game a more fleshed out visual identity where its predecessor leaned a little too hard on Lynchian visual shorthand. There are welcome quality of life elements like a fast-travel system and custom waypoint markers to make exploring Le Carre feel rewarding. The various optional activities have an almost Yakuza quality to them where everything from the rock skipping to the bowling is fun to master even if it doesn't forward the story.
Above all, this game is just mesmerizing with what it gets away with. As I alluded to in the beginning, Deadly Premonition 2 can start out with something derivative and plain, but then present it with such farcical absurdity or novelty that it becomes compelling. Even when it drones on with dialogue and investigative minutia, the characters involved are so imaginative and unconventional you pay attention. Even when combat can feel rote, you want to get through it to see what gets revealed next. Even if you've done something before, you haven't exactly seen how this game does it.
Deadly Premonition 2 Review | Final Thoughts
Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise is a great sequel, keeping the characters and story elements that made the original such a beloved cult classic. Fans of Swery and White Owls' work will find plenty to love, and new players can get absorbed into the unfolding mystery. But compared to its predecessor and other titles out there, it doesn't push nearly as many envelopes in the gameplay department to stand out as something groundbreaking. If you can adjust your expectations and go in with an open mind, this is one trip to the deep south you won't forget.
TechRaptor reviewed Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise on Nintendo Switch with a copy provided by the publisher.
- Intriguing Murder Mystery Story
- Quirky But Entertaining Open-World Activities
- Eccentric Mix of Horror, Comedy, and Drama
- Inconsistent Framerate
- Easy Repetitive Combat
- Less Creative Gameplay, More Cutscenes