Sadly, D4’ s outlandish cliffhanger ending looks optimistic. Director Hidetaka ‘Swery’ Suehiro has said that future episodes depend on sales of this opening season, yet leaderboard numbers suggest it’s underperforming even by modest standards. That’s no shock, because D4’ s timing is lousy: it’s a Kinectcontrolled oddity arriving at a time when Microsoft is pitching its audience big games and no gimmicks. You can’t help but wonder what went through the minds of Microsoft’s executives when they saw the introduction: an upside-down ‘Microsoft Studios presents…’ slowly rotating the right way up as an owl’s head does likewise.
This is your first indication that Deadly Premonition wasn’t a happy accident. D4 might be a very different game in form and content, but it’s suffused with the same strangeness. It has a similar dreamlike ambience, and shares its creator’s obsession with ostensibly mundane yet oddly captivating detail, from the calorific value of the foodstuffs you consume to the magazine articles on cats, animation and the Stanley Cup.
At first glance, PI David Young would appear to be a more conventional hero than Francis York Morgan. Yet soon he’s blowing pink bubblegum and pouring tequila on his cereal, delivering lines in a Boston accent that his During the game’s various dialogue sequences – in which you can voice your replies if you so wish – you’re rewarded for picking the response from the three presented that’s most in keeping with Young’s character voice actor never quite nails. The recent murder of his wife has given Young the ability to time travel, using key items to solve past crimes, though you’re left in doubt as to whether this is merely a delusion.
Young’s first dive back in time sees him investigate the mid-flight disappearance of a drug courier. What follows is an eccentric twist on the modern point-andclick – think Telltale Games with a surrealist edge – with Kinect-powered navigation. The aim-and-grab interface is simple but uncommonly effective, and the control scheme comes into its own during QTE action sequences, which are well paced, energetically directed, and intentionally comical. Instead of ‘press X to Jason’, it’s ‘lunge forward to catch baseball’, and with negligible punishment for failure and generous gesture recognition, Kinect has rarely been used so well.
Meanwhile, the narrative lurches wildly from dark drama to screwball comedy, with top notes of wistful melancholia. It’s all held together by the cast, a troupe of caricatures and grotesques who nonetheless feel recognisably human – the paraphiliac fashion designer, the neurotic passenger, the taciturn marshal and the hot-tempered felon. It doesn’t always work – one character’s delivery is slow enough to test your patience – but these idiosyncrasies are all part of a singular, nonconformist vision. It would be a pity if this erratic, wonderfully offbeat adventure ended here.