How Deadly Premonition Builds on Twin Peaks’ Campy Cult Appeal
Press X: The Return
It’s never been a secret that Deadly Premonition was “inspired” by Twin Peaks, but it’s also a massive understatement. For all intents and purposes, Deadly Premonition is an unlicensed Twin Peaks video game.
There are differences to be sure. But the more you notice and dwell on the similarities, the more that Deadly Premonition comes off like a Japanese remix of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s eccentric soap opera. It’s what Twin Peaks would have been if the creators’ vast personal distance from (but massive affection for) United States culture was always at the forefront, while also being the jankiest video game release of 2010. It’s utterly fascinating — if not especially deep.
Did you see that, Zack? There are spoilers ahead! (Seriously, lots of spoilers ahead, especially for Twin Peaks.)
Note: Doublejump stands with the LGBTQ+ community in its criticism of the Deadly Premonition games’ insensitive representation of trans and queer characters. However, this article does not address this particular subject. For more information and insight into this topic, please consider visitinghere andhere.
The original Twin Peaks television show was a charming and totally unique genre blend, following FBI special agent Dale Cooper as he investigated the murder of Laura Palmer in the titular northwest town. It was a soap opera at heart: a grab-bag of small-town melodrama, police procedural, supernatural mystery and romance, all wrapped up in David Lynch’s uncanny horror-adjacent eccentricity.
It was also an intensely uneven show, both by design and circumstance. First airing in 1990, the first season was creator-driven and focused, representing the original series’ overall high point. The second season felt the meddling hands of network pressure, leaving the show to meander into dull and awkward soap subplots and forcing the unwanted reveal of Laura Palmer’s murderer (which was never meant to be revealed), right up until its cancellation and the legendary surrealist finale directed by Lynch himself. In 1992, Lynch released Twin Peaks:Fire Walk With Me, an intense prequel film that focused on Laura Palmer’s final hours. The film was divisive for how much it did not resemble Twin Peaks; like most of Lynch’s films, it’s an uncomfortable watch. Finally, Twin Peaks: The Return aired in 2017, an 18-episode epic that was both set and released 25 years after the original series and directed entirely by Lynch in the same vein as Fire Walk With Me.
The series couldn’t be more uneven and jagged if it tried. It’s wild.
Deadly Premonition gives it a run for its money, though. The game originally released in 2010 on the Xbox 360, then re-released in 2013 as a “Director’s Cut” with extra cutscenes and reduced difficulty on 360, PlayStation 3 and PC, before being re-released again as Deadly Premonition Origins on Nintendo Switch last year, now with those extra cutscenes removed but the new difficulty level intact. Then in July of this year, Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise released ten years after the original while also barely looking or playing any better… if anything, it’s worse. Finally, every single version and game in the series suffers from all sorts of unique technical issues, both major and minor.
That isn’t all I’m talking about when I say that Deadly Premonition is a lot like Twin Peaks, though.
In Deadly Premonition, FBI special agent York Morgan travels to the town of Greenvale to investigate the murder of a young woman, Anna Graham. He interacts and bonds with the weird people who live there while constantly taking detours, but his overall goal is to catch the “New Raincoat Killer”. It’s the same basic premise as Twin Peaks and isn’t very subtle about it.
As an adaptation, however, Deadly Premonition is clever in how it translates the show into a working video game structure. It’s like a Yakuza game crossed with a life-sim like Shenmue. There’s a main storyline whose plot beats can only play out at certain times of day, and there are side missions that are only accessible at certain times of day, during certain chapters, and only when the weather is right, too. You can focus on the main plot if you like, or go mince around Greenvale doing silly side missions for the eccentric townsfolk. All in all, Deadly Premonition wants to be an interactive version of Twin Peaks, where every part of the game either emulates or evokes the show in one way or another.
First off, there’s the game’s main storyline. Deadly Premonition kicks off with the death of Anna Graham, a very transparent homage to Laura Palmer. York and Zach’s split personality riffs on BOB’s possession of both Cooper and Leland Palmer. The main villain is similar to BOB in that he is (more or less) an evil spirit who roams the United States terrorising people. The “New Raincoat Killer” is similar to Leland in how they’re manipulated by not-BOB and was corrupted as a child.
The supernatural dimensions are, from what I can tell, essentially the same. The Red Room, White Lodge and Black Lodge from Twin Peaks are instead the Red Room and White Room in Deadly Premonition. Access Games didn’t even bother renaming one of them.
York’s constant chatting with the seemingly-imaginary Zach resembles Cooper’s briefings to Diane on his tape recorder. Where a pouch of cocaine is found in the gas tank of James’ motorcycle, a packet of ground-up red seeds is found in Quint’s. The Log Lady is instead the Pot Lady, who frets about her cooking pot getting too cold and tells York life lessons using metaphors about stew. Where the waitress Shelly is stuck in a terrifying marriage with Leo Johnson, the waitress Olivia is married to the dickish cook Nick (though their relationship isn’t quite as grim). Laura’s mother Sarah is almost identical to Anna’s mother Sally, whose mental breakdown is played up to an outright insensitive degree. Both Andy and Denise are replaced by Thomas (who is, by comparison, a very problematic character), and so on; I could list these for a while.
For all the blatant similarities, they aren’t what make Deadly Premonition and Twin Peaks so alike. It’s the way that Deadly Premonition seems explicitly designed to endear you to the town of Greenvale. It wants to indulge you in its languid small-town atmosphere and place you inside its world as best it can. Ultimately, Deadly Premonition aspires to recreate Twin Peaks’ quirky cult image of its town and cast.
For example, the in-game map is completely bizarre and it has to be intentional. Every time you open it, its northern point will always be set to whatever direction the player is facing, and the map can’t be rotated unless you back out of the pause menu and turn York around yourself. The map also can’t be zoomed out almost at all, like York is pressing his face right up against it every time he pulls the map out.
It’s like this because Deadly Premonition wants you to pore over its map like you’re using the road map you’d find stuffed in the pocket of a car door. It wants to confuse and frustrate you, despite the map actually being very simple, but in a way, Deadly Premonition mimics the inscrutable absurdity of Twin Peaks in its map alone. The player struggles and flails through the game until they gradually learn the landmarks and certain roads, because they need to. Like the town of Twin Peaks, Greenvale can only be engaged with on its own level, in its own language.
You can see this in all its little life-sim elements, too.
Named characters have their own everyday routines and unique activities. Thomas dances when he’s alone in his apartment, Emily tests out recipes whenever it’s raining at night, Quint visits Sally Graham every day to make sure she eats, and Kaysen hangs out with the kids Isaach and Isaiah Ingram just about every day. Almost every character has something new to say at every step of the investigation as well, rewarding the player for taking it slow and checking in (despite constantly telling you to hurry up and catch the killer).
It’s an odd thing to highlight but York’s beard grows in remarkably naturally, barely visible at first but changing day by day. For whatever in-world reason, the FBI pays you every time you shave, but this is so the player can build those small live-in habits. Game director Hidetaka “SWERY” Suehiro has noted that if his team had more time, he wanted York to “be able to ride a bicycle and wear cologne”. There’s a clear priority to create an endearing slice-of-life experience.
You can see it in the driving as well. Cars might control like they have ice skates for tyres, but you can also switch on the windscreen wipers, headlights and turning signals independently. Driving in first-person is surprisingly charming with all these little mechanics, flicking on the wipers whenever it’s raining and using the totally-useless turn signals as you wildly veer through an intersection – it’s adorable. In police cars, you can also switch on the rooftop siren to speed up (which doesn’t really make much sense, but okay).
Your suits get dirty over time and need to be individually maintained and sent to the cleaner. You have hunger and fatigue meters. Your cars have condition and fuel meters that need to be restored at the gas station. The FBI pays you for checking the weather on a television, which is also the only way to learn the weather ahead of time. Payphones cost a dollar to use every time but using a phone inside a building never does, because why would it? The game also crashes pretty often so you better save as much as you can; amazingly, that also plays into the lived-in atmosphere by having you interact with the world even more.
It almost sounds like a survival game when it’s broken down like that, but all these tedious little things are trying to endear the world to the player. It wants you to notice those small details. Even when it comes at the expense of the rest of the game, which it absolutely does, Access Games focused its efforts on making the player feel like they’re living in Greenvale.
Even then, Deadly Premonition appears respectful of Twin Peaks as a separate artistic product. It’s very obviously a pastiche of the show, but it diverges where it can.
Its action-horror aesthetic is Resident Evil-style camp, praising you for headshots while handing you trading cards and weapons with infinite ammo for completing side missions. Animations are befuddling and cutscenes switch between hilarious and poignant on a whim, the mid-scene music changes will give you whiplash, and the voice performances are strangely high quality (even if the sound mixing isn’t). On a technical level, Deadly Premonition is flawed and outdated in every possible way.
In wanting to be the video game version of Twin Peaks, Deadly Premonition is more than just a janky patchwork of the television show. It tries to both emulate and evolve the show’s distinct atmosphere. Using the language of a video game – that is, interactivity and player agency – Deadly Premonition forges its own Twin Peaks-esque identity.
Twin Peaks explored how the quaint and calm appearance of a small town can hide darker layers underneath. How its citizens and their “quirky” personalities can actually hide grim and possibly sinister lives. Like a lot of Lynch’s work, it explored how the rustic, affectionate image of domestic America can be an illusion that hides the true behaviours of its people, whether those behaviours are violent, horrific, sad, or simply strange.
Deadly Premonition does this as well, but to a far lesser extent. The entire plot revolves around similar themes, about the hiding of true nature and the horror that humans are capable of, but it’s entrenched in camp and comedy. Instead of dwelling on the potential for darkness in every person, its cast is binary in their morality; characters are either directly involved with the central plot and flawed, or they aren’t and they’re “pure”. Despite that, Deadly Premonition still lives up to the legacy of Twin Peaks in its own way. It embraces the oddball charm that made the show so distinct and memorable, and then builds a new identity from there.
It’s an understandably divisive game. It’s ambitious and produced with a very clear vision. On a gameplay level, it’s really rough. Access Games obviously made a number of decisions that came at the expense of other parts of the game, all so that it could best achieve that core vision. In the end, though, it succeeds at what it set out to achieve: Deadly Premonition might not be very profound or Lynchian, but it has an eccentric identity all its own.