Version tested: Xbox 360
Alan Wake creator Sam Lake has spoken openly of his game's debt to Twin Peaks, referencing David Lynch's ground-breaking TV series in interviews and paying subtle tribute in the game itself. By comparison, Ignition's Deadly Premonition feels like frenzied fanfic, pilfering elements left, right and centre as it relays the tale of a coffee-loving FBI agent investigating a ritualistic killing in a sleepy rural town. Crucially, though, it nails that Lynchian tone, aping the director's blend of the mundane and the surreal in what is undeniably one of the weirdest retail videogame releases for a long, long time.
Whether that's by accident or design, however, is open to debate. Certainly some of the oddness is intentional, but equally, Deadly Premonition's unique feel comes from a combination of budgetary constraints, uneven pacing and baffling mechanics. A blend of detective story and Siren-style survival horror, it's a game where smoking whiles away valuable hours, an "unbelievably delicious" turkey sandwich (costing just shy of a hundred bucks) is the ultimate in nutrition, and the hero's beard grows in real time.
Hero is perhaps the wrong word to describe Agent Francis York Morgan ("call me York"), an arrogant chain-smoking suit from the big city with a penchant for java, biscuits, and inappropriate topics of conversation over dinner. He's the kind of guy who smugly looks down on his small-town cohorts before regaling them with tales of a serial murderer who urinated in and then drank from his victims' skulls. He spends half his time relaying messages to the unseen Zach, who may or may not be a figment of his imagination, often during dialogue with other characters. Amazingly, no-one ever mentions this.
During car journeys, York talks to Zach about eighties cinema with a Bateman-esque level of obsessive detail. He's full of tics, often tapping his chest or holding his finger to his ear as if communicating via a hidden earpiece with the mysterious Zach. Basically, he's a grade-A fruit-loop with a side of narcissism, and one of the most interesting gaming protagonists for years.
The game's creator SWERY - who on this evidence could well be the new Suda 51 - lays his cards on the table from the outset with an introductory sequence where two blonde twin boys happen across a semi-naked woman hanging from a tree, sliced open from chest to stomach, with her long hair tactfully covering her breasts. Then, as you take control of York, you're plunged into a forest clearing where the two boys - dressed as angels, heads wreathed in crowns of leaves with knotted twigs as wings - are sitting on chintzy chairs and swinging their legs as red leaves rise from the floor, and a TV blinks in the background. Then things get really strange.
With everyone in the town a potential suspect, York begins to investigate the murder by exploring on foot and in any police car he finds. Despite frequently being described by its inhabitants as a small town, Greenvale takes some time to traverse, particularly as every vehicle seems to have a speed limit of 50mph (though you can activate the siren to go a little faster). You're often given a specific time slot to reach the next area you're investigating or subject for interview, but missing it isn't a problem as you can just try again the following day. This gives you plenty of time to get to know the town and its residents.