Deadly Premonition – “SWERY Profile”
There’s a cruel absence of authors proper in videogames. In this colossal studio system driven by numbers, individuals are crushed by collective needs of success, creators’ personalities ultimately shaped according to corporate mission statements, creative juices sugar-coated for added punch and then gently filtered to appeal to carefully designed target audiences. It’s a dismal system, with only the tiniest of cracks left open for authors to slide through and show their true aspirations. Which is exactly where “Deadly Premonition” (also known for the more accurate and appropriate Japanese title, “Red Seeds Profile”) comes in. Much has already been said about it, its cult status rocketing sky-high throughout the dark meanders of the internet, achieving virulent success thanks to heated debate, devote worship and venomous criticism. The constant, whether one hates or loves the game, is its creator, SWERY (aka Hidetaka Suehiro). You will find no article around that does not mention this name, and the reason for that fact makes itself pretty clear when you get to play the game – it brims personality… his personality. And he’s got tons of it, for a fact.
SWERY’s eccentricity found its natural habitat in Lynch’s surreal exposé on the mystic backwaters of the American landscape. In “Twin Peaks”, the mysterious veil surrounding these rural settings provided a fertile ground for a nightmarish deconstruction of society; in “Deadly Premonition” it serves as an escapist backdrop to SWERY’s personal reveries – his movie tastes, hobbies and teenager crushes, his typically Japanese perversions, even going as far as his childhood traumas (whether real or imagined, one can only guess). He divulges these with a smile, so as long as he can confess another of his idiosyncrasies in this delightful pop-artifact. The result is, more often than not, extremely funny. How often can one drive through the countryside, admiring the soothing northwestern scenery… while listening to mad, Tarantinoesque cinephile ramblings on everything from “Jaws” to “Body Snatchers”, enunciated by a certified crazy FBI agent, half Mulder, half Cooper, blabbering away as he talks to an unbodied alter-ego named Zach? Well, such a scene is indeed evocative of Kojima’s best work, though the difference here is that SWERY is completely free to pursue every insane, wacky line of thought, far from being chained to a never winding military saga about genes and memes and old guys who like to smoke.
The game itself paves homage, in SWERY’s own perverse logic, to videogames. The town of Greenvale, for example, is conjured as a middle-ground between “Shenmue’s” intimate characterization of space and character with “Grand Theft Auto’s” sense of open scale. Much of the game’s appeal comes precisely from the ability to explore the scenario, indulging in its unique sense of place and weird details; more often than not, there is vicious satire hiding beneath these. Take the overarching score system, which awards money for practically every in-game action – a noisy HUD meta-score dominates the screen with large numbers, and an iconic ‘ca-ching’ sound punctuates the added fun! – it’s interactive humor at its best, downright non-sensical, as well as a dead-on criticism to the vapid logic of contemporary ‘gamification’. There’s also the simulationist absurdity of having your facial hair grow if left unchecked or the voyeuristic possibility of spying on villager’s lives with a peeping tom ability. Wonderful. And it all comes together, thanks to an enticing and dramatic (if completely screwball) storyline with bizarre characters and a creepy Lynchian atmosphere, given body by unsettling visual and aural compositions (Hitoshi Okamoto and Riyou Kinugasa et al, respectively).
It’s a labour of love if we ever saw one, and one which a small budget couldn’t stop from being an aesthetic treat. That it managed to sell hundreds of thousands of copies whilst maintaining much of its author’s whims intact is a blessing. Compromises were definitely made, most notorious of which the absurd “Resident Evil 4” combat system dominating the gameplay landscape, in a clear nod of submission to the western-minded. However, such caveats have become the bread and butter of the videogame enthusiast, and one must necessarily downplay their nefarious effect and be thankful of the good that comes with each title. If there is a truly relevant flaw worth mentioning, is that though SWERY is a lovable weirdo we would like to hear more from, he is far from being an artistic genius with something truly relevant to say. Nonetheless, “Deadly Premonition” is one of the most original, strange, and surprising experiences to be had in many a year, and to anyone who ever doubted, startling proof that auteur theory can also apply to videogames.