This is York Morgan—he'll be our Agent Dale Cooper for the remainder of the running time. That's not to say he's entirely derivative of Twin Peaks' hero—while it's true that the basic idea of the character (lone FBI Agent sent to solve a brutal crime who's unafraid of using metaphysical reasoning when faced with mysteries) owes its existence to Twin Peaks, his specifics, and the degree to which he embraces the bizarre demonstrate clearly that the game's writer was also a fan of the X-Files. Over the course of the game we'll definitely bear witness to some of Fox Mulder's characteristic glibness in the face of the bizarre and obscene, as well as Albert Rosenfeld's famous lack of social niceties.
All this is my roundabout way of saying that, in his own way, York Morgan is the ultimate 90s TV detective.
Now, before we get to York, let me offer a quick "your mileage may vary" disclaimer. My game of the year for 2008 was Operation Darkness, primarily because it featured British Werewolves shooting rocket launchers at Nazi Dragons. So it's entirely possible that my love of Deadly Premonition is due, at least in part, to my status as a Twin Peaks superfan. I've seen every episode numerous times, dressed up as Dale Cooper for Halloween more than once (and not just because it's the easiest costume imaginable), and one of my great regrets in life is missing out on the opportunity to be Kyle McLaughlin's camera double in a movie.
But we're not here to discuss Dale Cooper, as fascinating as he may be—let's meet York Morgan. He first appears in a quick tutorial dream, allowing players to learn the game's controls while exploring a mysterious red room, populated by angelic versions of the twins who found the corpse.
Also notable in the room is a map of the united states, with a few fat little dolls placed on it:
After collecting the above trading card and leaving the room, a movie begins, providing York with a proper introduction:
Maybe proper isn't the right term there—I'm thinking more along the lines of "the best introduction a videogame's main character has ever received". He's driving a classic car, talking on a cell phone, working on his laptop, and trying to light his cigarette with this:
While the surface trappings of the scene are certainly fun to observe—the crime scene photos offer tantalizing clues as to the purpose of York's trip, and take a look at these little guys:
Sitting there with their real-time shadows, scurrying away from a rolling car—there aren't any other squirrels in the game. These were designed and animated solely for this single shot in the opening movie.
But looking at the cute details, or picking apart the little flaws (York seems pretty spry for a fella that just went through a car accident without a seatbelt) can lead us to overlook just what an impressively dense introduction this whole sequence is. First off, there's the plot stuff—we're getting all sorts of hints about the scope of York's case, as well as the nature of the crime, and York's isolation from his superiors at the FBI. Far more interesting, though, is how much we learn about York's personality in just three minutes.
The little aside about Tom and Jerry, while amusing, is far more important than the average "character has funny theory about pop culture" scene that audiences are familiar with. Take, for example, Quentin Tarantino's extended Madonna monologue from Reservoir Dogs—it's funny enough, but doesn't really illustrate anything about the characters or further the plot. It's just there because Tarantino wanted to have something funny to say. York's cartoon commentary, while not nearly as profane, actually serves to inform us about York Morgan's worldview. This is a man who experiences everything clinically—every person, every situation, even every cartoon is looked at as something to be categorized and labeled and set into preconceived role according to his training as a psychologist.
There's another, more important thing to be learned about York Morgan in this scene, however: That he's actively engaged in self-delusion. While discussing his "last case" with Zach, he remarks on his new scars.
While those scratches on his cheek might well be new additions, the defining feature of York's face is an unusual smooth patch of skin interrupting his eyebrow and extending into his hairline—and it's clearly some kind of a scar, and not a new one. So right away we're presented with a mystery central to York's character: what is the significance of that wound, and why can't he be honest with himself about it?
This movie, along with the opening cinema, provide an amazing one-two punch to the player. First they're shown a disturbing crime scene, and then immediately they meet the fascinating man who's going to get to the bottom of it. By the time I got to the actual gameplay I was determined to find out everything I could about this "York Morgan", and the case that's brought him out to the wilds of Washington state from wherever it is that he lives.
Luckily, the game would in no way disappoint me on any level where York Morgan's story was concerned.
If you'd like to join me in not being disappointed, you can do so by simply heading over to Amazon and ordering a copy of it. For less than twenty dollars. That's for a new game. So you have no excuse to not buy it.
In fact, I'd suggest you do it as soon as possible, especially because next time we'll be talking about the game's first unforgivable design mistake.
That's right, there's more than one of them.
(Oh, and if anyone out there is looking to surprise me this Christmas, a "No Smoking" logo Zippo lighter would be a great idea. Just FYI)