It's time to take a look at Deadly Premonition's claim of being the first true "open world" horror videogame. A claim that, while technically true, may mislead people about what kind of game they're going to be playing. You see, while Greenvale is a realistically large town, in that it seems like it could (just) contain the 500 people we're told live there, the game never breaks from the realism of the situation, or allows the player to go hog-wild with York's actions, so there's a realistically small number of things that can actually be done while tooling around Greenvale in a borrowed cruiser.
Let's take a look at a map of Greenvale, shall we?
That map means one thing—it's time to discuss another of the game's unforgivable design errors! Note what a huge area of land the game's map covers—certainly a change for a horror game, which generally attempt to ramp up tension by locking players into tiny areas, keeping them there with the threat of instant death if they wander away from the prescribed path. Anyone remember the dogs at the front door in the first Resident Evil?
With all of this freedom comes two huge drawbacks. 1: navigating is, to put it in the nicest possible fashion, a bitch. The map exists in two states—fully revealed, as you can see above, or way too zoomed in:
You can actually zoom in even further if you'd like, although I can't imagine a situation that would require you to do so. It's not like the game features any hedge mazes. Adding insult to injury, the zoomed-in map rotates to match York's current facing, while the overall map remains static with north (basically) at the top. Which means just figuring out exactly where you are in town can be something of a chore. Try, for example, to determine where on the large map that small visible section above is located.
Not easy, is it? Now, to be fair, once you've spent an hour tooling around Greenvale's back roads, liberating human bones from a pack of stray dogs—
You'll have a pretty good sense of where everything is located, and be more than capable of driving around instinctually. Of course, spending a couple of hours learning the layout of a fictional town while driving a virtual car with horrible handling is something that nearly no one wants to do, which is why I've counted it among the game's crucial flaws.
That's the main drawback to offering players a realisitcally large rural village—it takes a realistically large amount of time to get anywhere. While it may not seem excessive in the real world to have to drive for three minutes to get from your hotel to the police station, doing it ten or twenty times over the course of a game quickly adds up to inconvenience and frustration. Especially when the driving isn't in service of the main plot, but rather to take part in time-wasting fetch quests that don't really seem like they have any place in a largely real-world based murder mystery. But driving around picking up trading cards with the faces and bios of the various characters in the game is just another one of those things you've got to just accept if you want to get into the world of Deadly Premonition. And at this point, really, why wouldn't you?
Oh, right, because games don't generally ask you to slowly drive back and forth across a realistically large town. Of course.
Well, have no fear, because Deadly Premonition isn't all crippling gameplay flaws—next time I'm going to point out a ray of light that cuts through the dark clouds of design ineptitude that hang over huge sections of the game, so rest assured, even though I've pointed out some giant problems with the game, if you actually head over to Amazon and buy a copy of Deadly Premonition, and then read the very next article in this series, I will let you in on the two secrets necessary to get through the game with minimum possible hassle.
Two secrets that, had they just been plainly explained in the game's manual, I'm sure would have swung the game's Metacritic average about 15-20 points north. Assuming, of course, that video game reviewers actually read manuals. I honestly have no idea if that's the case.