- Format: PC (version reviewed), PS3, PS4, 360, XBONE
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: Square Enix
- Developer: Airtight Games
- Players: 1
- Site: www.murdered.com
The supernatural detective genre is nothing new, but is always intriguing with its inherent combination of ghosts, cops, and probably some kind of pagan witchcraft. Airtight Games are hoping that it works just as well with their new title, Murdered: Soul Suspect.
It’s the modern-day noir tale of Ronan O’Connor, street thug turned police officer whose life takes some turns resulting in a four-storey drop, several bullets to the chest, and a premature demise. Death is only the start of this story though as Ronan must track down his own assailant, the Bell Killer, and wrap up the case before he can cross over that metaphorical bridge into the afterlife.
The story is clearly the main focus here and it’s mostly well written. While the small cast are generally representations of stereotypes and lack depth, their interactions with one another are charming and witty enough to support the story.
The more reality-based events are somewhat silly: The “most dangerous man in Salem” who has gone through prison isn’t ever going to become a policeman, no matter how high his brother-in-law ranks. The supernatural end of things holds up though with some brilliant twists that not only make sense but actively fool you, making one half of a mystery clear to obscure the more devious part. The narrative is paced out really well, a trail of proverbial breadcrumbs that tantalize enough to draw you to the next one.
Gameplay is just about solid enough to support the narrative, and that’s really all it’s there for. Players handle Ronan from a third person perspective, utilizing his ghostly form to walk through walls (though he’s unable to walk through the doors of Salem’s consecrated buildings or the elements of the ghost world).
The core of Murdered: Soul Suspect is a progression of investigation areas, Ronan searching each of them for clues that will set him on the path to the next one. These are just easy enough to spot thanks to their detail, position, or lighting, so there’ll be no frustrations of obscure pixel hunts. Players will have to be quite thorough to find everything though, a good balance that some adventure games could learn from.
Each of these areas are completed by tying clues together to answer a question, something the player can do at any time they feel confident enough to do so. Fortunately the clues are elaborate enough that you don’t necessarily have to find every single one before doing this and just hope you select them in the right order. The game actively encourages players to think about what each clue really means by, for example, giving you a choice of words to describe what a girl was doing in a memory. This encouragement of deduction is a fresh take on puzzle-solving, so it’s unfortunate that it’s utilised to various degrees of success.
Ronan has to traverse the winding streets and buildings of Salem without a map, leading to a lot of circling back on yourself or just generally getting lost. This is exacerbated by the need to run back through familiar parts of the town between areas – a symptom of poor design – and a few cases of backtracking.
There are demons in Salem that Ronan must battle with a mix of stealth and aggression but they’re frustratingly inconsistent, breaking their own rules by seeing through walls or completely ignoring the crows that Ronan uses for distraction. They’re only vulnerable to attacks from behind, though players apparently have to be stood in a very narrow sweet spot that is not too close to do so. It’s an unpleasant experience, to say the least.
Ronan’s ability of possession aids in both his investigation and progression, allowing him to peek at clues, trigger people’s memories, and move around. This possessed traversal gives players new abilities at the cost of Ronan’s ability to walk through walls, challenging in different ways. For example, you might take possession of a cat to take advantage of its clambering/jumping abilities. The solutions are fairly straightforward, unfortunately.
Collectibles are dotted throughout Salem, providing some extra depth to the town, its citizens, and Ronan himself. Some of these unlock stories, though you must find them all before getting any of it. Had the player been teased with a tidbit each time, they’re far more likely to go out of their way to get the complete collection.
Murdered: Soul Suspect features an aesthetic combination that blends in a natural way, supernatural elements given a monochrome look that also lends itself to the noir interpretation of Salem. This also serves Ronan’s ghost mechanic well, as it allows an easy way to spot impassable walls that is a function of the world. It’s a shame that some gratuitous product placement shatters the illusion at times, Just Cause 2 posters lining the walls of a police station in which every computer is running Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
Character designs of the main cast are great, particularly Ronan’s tough cop look that goes a long way in establishing his character, but the citizens of Salem suffer from a severe case of Lego hair that could have been avoided with a more stylised look. The demons of Salem are designed brilliantly in that they are uncomfortable to look at, their clear origins as humans made horrifying by their constricted, twitching nature.
Murdered: Soul Suspect is an instantly forgettable game in every way: Characters are charming but shallow, the story is decently told but mostly full of tired tropes, and the gameplay does nothing remarkable. Its short length is maybe its greatest strength – it’s a perfectly fine way to spend an afternoon, but it certainly won’t leave a lasting impression.