FBI agent Francis York Morgan is a man with issues.
He’s borderline autistic, brimming with obsessive-compulsive mannerisms, and believes he can divine the future in a steaming cup of filter coffee. In case that wasn’t enough, Agent York has an imaginary partner called Zach who shares his forensic fascination with '80s movies.
In most games Agent York would be a brief encounter – sidelined as a character too quirky to be the hero, but in the thoroughly odd Xbox 360 horror murder mystery Deadly Premonition you are him. Or, more accurately, you are his imaginary colleague.
As you might of guessed by now, Deadly Premonition is not your usual game. But what else would you expect from a title whose clearest inspiration is David Lynch’s cult TV series Twin Peaks?
In keeping with its Lynchian aspirations, Deadly Premonition takes place in Greenvale – a lumber town in North West America surrounded by conifer forests and populated by folk who are (and this is putting it politely) several sandwiches short of a picnic.
Even the reason for Agent York’s arrival in Greenvale – the brutal murder of a beautiful and popular young woman – is straight out of Twin Peaks.
So we get to play in Agent York’s vivid dreams where clock hands spin wildly and oddball characters gibber strange clues. And we get to meet a wide range of assorted nut jobs, including a wheelchair-bound millionaire who wears a gas mask and only talks to others via a young male assistant.
Twin Peaks isn’t the only source that Deadly Premonition raids. There’s a strong whiff of Silent Hill in there too with its lumbering monsters, car crash opening and a raincoat-clad killer who drags a big axe around as if he is Pyramid Head’s biggest fan.
But while its inspirations are obvious, Deadly Premonition is more than a mere copycat. For all its plundering, it throws in enough ideas of its own and, most importantly, genuinely succeeds in nailing the freaky atmosphere of Lynch’s cult TV classic.
It is, however, hard to tell if the fascinatingly weird world of Greenvale happened by accident or design because Deadly Premonition is, in many ways, a downright terrible game.
Its action sequences are a clumsy mish-mash of Shenmue-style button bashing and third-person shooting that comes on like a rejected Resident Evil 4 prototype.
The lengthy driving sequences are some of the worse to grace a game this side of the Millennium with sluggish vehicles sliding along like bricks pushed along on a path of grease.
The open-world landscapes of Greenvale, meanwhile, are a blurry mess of straight-edged landscapes that are look more Xbox than Xbox 360.
Even many of the most basic features are shockingly poor. The in-game map, for example, refuses to zoom out to any useful scale, making finding your way around a frustratingly laborious task.
And yet Deadly Premonition’s intriguing world, well-written banter and curious characters manage to overcome these glaring flaws and lure you back through the sheer force of its personality. It also helps that the action scenes are relatively rare, leaving you plenty of freedom to soak up the game’s Lynchian atmosphere.
Deadly Premonition succeeds despite its self-destructive shoddiness, offering an experience that is far more spellbinding than the much more polished but ultimately mediocre Alan Wake, which has a similar setting.
Like the superb Agent York himself, Deadly Premonition is a mess but a rather brilliant one and given the game’s budget price tag this is well worth filling your stocking with just to have the chance to take a peek at its weird and wonderful world.