Now that the dust has settled a bit on Deadly Premonition it's interesting that by most accounts it's actually a good game. The bad reviews it got early last year seemed to fade completely by year's end, leaving only warm and fuzzy feelings form the increasingly vocal minority - both inside the games industry and out - who loved it. SWERY's GDC talk - and even just the fact that he was given a slot at GDC at all - seemed to disperse any lingering sense that the good points of his game were an accident.
Given everything that's already been said about Deadly Premonition I'm not sure what to add, though there is one thing I feel hasn't quite been articulated to my satisfaction. The copious film references in the game, appearing almost exclusively in optional monologues by Agent York (mostly while driving) and dealing primarily with 80s pop-cinema, are a lot more than just a developer speaking through his character about his love of movies. By the end of the game, and especially in light of the final plot-twist involving York's real identity, these references reveal themselves to be an important element of characterization and story.
The only other game I know of that uses film references as extensively, or at least the only one that's coming to mind, probably because it's also Japanese and exhibits a similar sense of exotic fascination with American pop-culture, is - surprise, surprise - Metal Gear. If we put the two games side-by-side however, it becomes clear Deadly Premonition has much better reasons, on the whole, for its characters to be so be mentioning movies all the time.
When Snake in MGS1 makes a joke about his real name, David, being the same as the protagonist of 2001: A Space Odyssey it feels like Kojima baldly projecting his cinephelia onto a character. It's not believable that Snake, a hardened special forces badass who lives in Alaska (and doesn't even seem to own a television) would be quite so familiar with 2001. Likewise in MGS2 Snake's choice of "Pliskin" as an alias, and Raiden's instant understanding of why he chose it, suggests a world where everyone is just as familiar with John Carpenter's 80s output as a film nerd like Kojima.
Kojima's best rationalization for expressing cinephelia through his characters is in MGS3, where nearly all of them are filtered through the sweet bookish girl who saves your game, Para-Medic. Her extensive knowledge of American movies from the 40s through the early 60s is of course a winking nod to Kojima's cinephilia, but it also functions quite well as an extended piece of characterization. Because she's the only real movie fan in the story the movie conversations feel more like part of the fictional world than quasi-diegetic asides.
It becomes a running gag in MGS3 that Big Boss doesn't watch movies at all, which makes his conversations with Para-Medic, who tries to sell him on a different movie every time you save your game, a rather nice window into both characters' personalities. Movie conversations go in all sorts of places, like the time she mentions how the 1953 film version of War of the Worlds wasn't as scary as the Orson Welles radio play, which she remembers from being a kid in the late 30s, which causes her to tell the story of what her family did the night of the mass panic following the broadcast. This is characterization, backstory, and a film history lesson all at once.
MGS3 doesn't do much with this aside from use it to make Para-Medic, a supposedly minor character, surprisingly endearing and fleshed out. Though these film references arguably serve a thematic function, they don't serve a literal function in the overall story. In Deadly Premonition however they do, and quite cleverly.
York's endless monologues about movies are rather similar to Para-Medic's conversations with Big Boss, only the decade under examination is the 80s not the 50s and the conversation is now one-sided, since York is speaking to "Zach", a mysterious unseen person who cannot answer back. Deadly Premonition's brilliant central conceit of course is that you, the player, are Zach, and that the person York is speaking to the whole game is really just his other personality, the one who handles things like shooting and driving while he handles the talking.
This much is clear after the first few hours... or is it? Although any reasonably astute player will pick up on the psychosis-as-interface metaphor early, it is impossible to predict the curve they throw into this concept at the very end. York, not Zach, is the made-up personality. Zach is the real him, the person he was before a traumatic childhood experience causes him to invent a second personality, whom he increasingly imagined as an unflappable, wise-cracking know-it-all. York is the Tyler Durden of the story, the impossibly capable and confident person Zach wished he could be / needed to be / became to survive his trauma.
York's unflappable nature is rather hilarious. Nothing, not even someone mutating into a Dragonball freak before his eyes, seems to phase him. ("Hm. No Olympics for you, George.") Throughout the game this just seems like the behavior of a typical (though untypically witty and well-acted) smart-ass hero. In the end, however, we realize York's comical unflappableness is very much a function of his status as a defense mechanism for Zach's shattered psyche, a psyche that also happens to house an encyclopedia of 80s pop-cinema. In a lot of ways he is very much like a character from those movies, handling increasingly absurd situations with the cool aplomb of Remo Williams or Christopher Reeve's Superman, but still maintaining the knowing smirk of a child who knows it's all just pretend, that it's "only a movie".