As high concepts go, Murdered: Soul Suspect has one of the best. It's like a mashup of Ghost Trick and L.A. Noire -- a modern adventure game that has you step into the ethereal shoes of recently deceased detective Ronan O'Connor, picking apart crime scene after crime scene in the pursuit of clues to help him track down the mass murderer who threw him out of a fourth floor window and turned Ronan into a ghost.
It's like Randall and Hopkirk, but without Randall.
Being a ghost, of course, Ronan can't pick anything up, he can't punch anyone's lights out like he used to as a maverick cop with a chequered past. He can't fire a gun or slice with a blade. Hell, he can't even enter a building unless someone's left a door open. What this leads to is a game that handles like a third-person action title in many ways, but is pretty much bereft of direct violence. Ronan is no longer a character who slugs his way to get results, now he has to be a bit more observant.
It means that Murdered's setup shares much in common with classic mystery titles, point-and-click adventures, and hidden object games. Like L.A. Noire, much of the player's time is spent combing crime scenes for clues, scouring environments for interactive objects, and trying to discern what's important from what isn't. It does that for about ten hours -- sometimes that gets a little tedious.
In terms of mechanics, there's not much to Murdered. You traipse around towns and asylums and wooded glades, pressing a single button when you find something worthy of note, trying to piece together what happened. But there are some good ideas here: the profiling mechanism that has you looking at half-formed scenes to try and determine the actions and motives of those involved really allows you to immerse yourself in the role of detective, as does invading the mind of a witness and trying to find the right combination of information snapshots to trigger the memory you want to access. You don't necessarily need to find all of the clues in an area to progress, just enough to piece together the narrative to a satisfactory extent, and the game never really gets in the way of you moving on.
To be honest, that's actually the biggest problem I have with Murdered. Although it does a good job of immersing you in the information-gathering aspects of ghostly sleuthing, there's no risk involved. There's no actual sleuthing once you've found all of the clues. The game's star ratings for the puzzles you can solve are purely superficial -- knocking every single one out of the park in perfect fashion will yield a Trophy, but you can't fail and there are no consequences whatsoever to you getting anything wrong. It's not like the puzzles are particularly difficult either, and so you come away with a feeling of utter detachment.
The idea, of course, is that it's the story that keeps you invested, and to be fair to the game, I did find that was the case to a certain extent. Though it occasionally falls flat in parts, the plot does hit the main points of a solid whodunit, feeding in twists and turns relatively well. It's no Heavy Rain in that regard, but it sufficed enough to make me genuinely want to see the story through to the end. Ronan would be yet another gravelly-voiced, cookie-cutter protagonist in any other game, but he's made significantly more interesting simply by virtue of being dead. Better yet, it's not long before he gets a companion in the form of a young, sarcastic medium by the name of Joy. She's just a normal teenage girl, albeit one who can hear voices -- but she's well-written, just sassy enough without going too far, and proves to be the saving grace in a story all about another gruff, identikit, maverick badboy.
Murdered does do a decent job of employing some environmental storytelling, and is at its best when Ronan's story actually takes a backseat to the tales of others. The little side missions and short, self-contained narrative vignettes that you can engage in along the way provide some of the game's finest moments. There are souls trapped in purgatory, much like Ronan, forced to live between two planes of existence because they have unfinished business. I won't spoil any of them here, but I felt a real sense of connection with these stories, more than I did for much of Ronan's central journey, to be honest, and I got a real sense of narrative-oriented, character-driven satisfaction out of seeing those lost souls finally move on.
Sadly, though, Murdered is forever trying to propel you along the main narrative. The level design is purposefully restrictive. The excuse is that the building in Salem are consecrated so Ronan can't enter a building unless an open door or window has been provided, but really that's just something to hide behind for a game that railroads players down narrow pathways. Salem, a town filled with mind-boggling possibilities for a game such as this (most of them rooted in real history), is reduced to a series or relatively linear segments and scenarios, its steeping in superstition bandied about as an excuse for impassable walls and unambitious design more than anything.
So we have a restrictive game centred around slow-paced, repetitive searches, with only the story to fall back on and no real challenge for the player. It's clear that during one of the development meetings this was brought up as a potential issue, and thus Demons were born. Demons, according to the game lore, are souls that have spent so much time in purgatory that they've gone mad and started feasting on other souls. In essence, they are a pace accelerator, deployed clunkily to affect a swift change of tone and break up sections so that the game doesn't seem like one big slog. To be fair, it's a technique that actually works. You have to approach Demons from behind, hiding in the echoes of other spirits to avoid their gaze, and popping out to vanquish them with a QTE. It's clunky, but surprisingly effective, though it's a shame that there's no variation to the Demons whatsoever as the game progresses aside from their numbers.
From the Demons to the level design to the detail on NPCs, the lip-synching, the supposedly cerebral puzzles, and more, Murdered: Soul Suspect feels underdeveloped. It's a feeling that only grows when bugs, large and small, begin to make themselves known. A few of them are simple little visual glitches here and there, but there are others that prove more problematic. The "Current Objective" got stuck for an hour and a half at one point, telling me to go back and do something I'd done ages ago. Once or twice, NPCs would silently mouth entire speeches at me, bereft of sound or accompanying subtitles. Then there's the complete lack of a map, which, although not a bug, is such a frustrating oversight in a game where most of the locations look shabbily similar that I've torn out half of my afro and my office floor now looks a barber's skip.
Ultimately, Murdered gives you very little to sink your teeth into, not in terms of world-building, not in terms of sleuthing or role-playing as a detective, and not really in terms of the whodunit. In the end, the roster of suspects is fairly meagre, and the payoff is fairly limp given the hours you spend combing crime scenes for evidence. I will say this, though -- Murdered is something a little bit different, and although its execution speaks to a development period lacking in time and resources, it never fully lost me. Credit where credit is due -- it's ideas were too strong for that. Not that it'll make much difference to the score, mind.
- Fantastic premise
- Side missions, lost souls and collectibles reveal a huge amount of backstory and wider context
- Joy is an excellent, well-worked companion character
- The whodunit main story just about makes you want to see things through to the end
- So. Many. BUGS!
- Lack of a map and drab environments make pathfinding an arse
- You can't fail cases, there's no risk to be had here -- emotionally or physically
- Demon encounters, along with pretty much everything else, feel underdeveloped
The Short Version: I wanted to love this game so very much, and the ideas behind it are innovative and interesting and far too good to deserve a mediocre showing such as this. But sadly that's exactly what Murdered: Soul Suspect is to be honest. Pretty mediocre.
Platforms: PC | PS4 (reviewed) | Xbox One | PS3 | Xbox 360
Developers: Airtight Games
Publishers: Square Enix