I recently bought a copy of Deadly Premonition on the Xbox 360. After seeing video of it, it seemed like a quirky game I might appreciate, and for $20, I wouldn’t mind giving it a chance. After having played it for a few days, I think it’s definitely an interesting game that people should try out. I wouldn’t say it’s an excellent game, but it’s a unique hybrid of a Shenmue-style sandbox world and a Silent Hill survivor horror game that I most definitely enjoy.

I’d like to say again that I enjoy playing this game. Deadly Premonition is definitely a quirky piece of work. The main character, an FBI Agent nicknamed York, is pretty clearly a lunatic, and the other people in the town you explore are visibly uncomfortable dealing with him.  The game is loaded with atmosphere, and the small town is filled with things to do. When you aren’t working on the case, you can explore places to look for Agent Honor badges, talk to the townspeople, buy a new car, perform part-time work to help out the inhabitants of the town, and many other things. I can’t emphasize enough that I found the game enjoyable, in spite of the issues that plague the game.

However, it does have its issues. The first thing anyone mentions is that the graphics aren’t pretty. They aren’t. Enough said there, moving on. The biggest issue I have with the game is the user interface. More specifically, the map. In regards to moving around the town, the user is given all the information they need to get from place to place, except maybe an icon to indicate the location of a car they can drive. This usually isn’t an issue, because your car is usually going to be where you left it, and is usually within spitting distance. However, the way the information in the map is presented to a player generates a lot of confusion.

I’d like to go over this step by step. There are three distinct map methods. The first is a circular mini-map that shows the immediate area during normal play.  It shows maybe two blocks around York, who is represented by an arrow pointed at the top of the screen. There is also a compass indicating which way is north.  This map is fine. I have no issue with it, though a method to make it zoom out a little would have been nice. Symbols indicating points of interest are displayed as well.

The second map is accessed by pausing the game then highlighting the Map option, but leaving it there without selecting it. This map covers the entire town and cannot be manipulated in any way, not even zooming in or out. The scale is small, but you can make out bodies of water, roads, and railroad tracks. However, there is no icon to indicate York’s present location or any points of interest, and the entire thing is brown. It seems intended to serve more as an very large symbol of a map, but because of the third map, it’s forced to function as more than is intended.

The third map is accessed by actually selecting the Map option. This brings up an area of maybe 4-5 blocks around York.  Like the circular map overlay displayed during normal play, this is in full color and has icons indicating points of interest and an arrow representing York’s current location and facing. Unfortunately, the compass indicating which direction is north does not always point up. The arrow indicating York’s facing, on the other hand, does. The area of 4-5 blocks is also the maximum zoom on this map, though the area of the map shown can be moved with the left analog stick.

These cause serious UI issues. A player has extreme tunnel vision and in almost all cases, cannot see both their current location and the location they would like to visit on the map at the same time. These are the steps I had to end up using to go from one place to another.

Step 1: Make sure York is facing north.

Step 2: Call up the map and memorize what the area around York looks like.

Step 2: Use the shoulder triggers to switch the focus the map through every single point of interest until I find the location I’m looking for. Alternatively, use the left analog stick and slowly scroll around the very large map until I happen to, by blind luck, come across the place I want to visit.

Step 3: Memorize what this area looks like.

Step 4: Back out of the map screen and into the pause menu screen.

Step 5: Look at the large zoomed out map that shows the entire town, which has no icons indicating anything. Try to find out where York is and where I want to go, trying to remember what each of the places looked like.

Step 6 (Optional): Realize I forgot what a place looked like. Repeat steps 2-5.

Step 7 (Optional): Realize that York wasn’t facing north, so the actual scrollable map is a rotated version of the large town map, so those memorized locations aren’t going to be anywhere near as useful. Exit all menus, face north, and repeat steps 2-5.

Step 8: Figure out a route and go there. If I forget where to turn, then I need to either face the car north or exit the car and face north, then repeat steps 2-5.

I enjoy this game. I really do. But the lack of attention to the user interface here should have been picked up in quality assurance at the absolute latest. Getting from place to place in a game where its most prominent feature is a town with a lot of things to do shouldn’t be this difficult a task.