written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. Welcome to the world of Murdered: Soul Suspect, a supernatural thriller from Airtight Games and published by Square-Enix in the vein of L.A. Noir. You are Ronan O’Connor, a detective with the local police force in Salem, OR, tasked with investigating a series of brutal murders by a serial killer known only as the Bell Killer. When tipped off to the location of the Bell Killer, Ronan rushes in but in the ensuing struggle he’s thrown from the window and killed… end of story right? Wouldn’t be much of a game if that was the end all be all of the tale. After his death, Ronan is now a disembodied spirit; and in true now-I’m-a-ghost-cliché fashion, he’s unable to move on until he resolves some unfinished business. For Ronan, this involved tracking down his killer and bringing the Bell Killer’s murderous rampage to an end.
The most entertaining aspect of the game was the over-arching narrative, melding supernatural elements with an engaging murder mystery made for a truly gripping story. As the player, I really was rooting for Ronan to find the killer and move on to the afterlife.
Gameplay is split up into two key segments, one involves investigating crime scenes and places of interest with Ronan’s newfound “ghost powers.” You can possess people at the crime scene to hear what they are thinking, eavesdrop on conversations, or influence them act a certain way or move an object. These powers end up being quite useful to Ronan since being a disembodied spirit kind of makes touching things hard. Investigations were the most enjoyable part of the game; there were some moments I literally racked my brain trying to figure out the key clues for whatever I am investigating. The gameplay high of investigations made the low points feel that much more problematic, if they had woven an engaging story with the investigation game mechanic I would have been more satisfied than the final product that I did play.
Traversing Salem is clunky at best, Ronan moves as if gliding through water. Eventually you learn the teleport ability to speed movement up a bit, but even that doesn’t do much for navigating Dusk. Oh and before I forget, speaking of Dusk… the in-between life and death world the game takes place. In Dusk you can walk through most every physical construct (like walls) but are blocked by astral constructs, like an old part of a building that no longer exists in the world of the living. Ghostly figures populate the landscape with astral beings you can communicate with or some that simple fade away when you approach. Speaking of astral beings, your main enemies are demons who stalk Dusk in order to consume the souls of its inhabitants. Ronan can either sneak by them or execute them by sneaking up from behind. This stealth element makes up the aforementioned second segment of gameplay… and also my personal low point.
The stealth mechanic, like movement, is clunky and never seems to work as expected. You can hide amongst the ghostly residue of other spirits and use that to gain a strategic position. The combat was so boring it just served to further frustrate me when playing. Though it’s safe to say I was entertained by playing the investigation portions, I was just as much disenchanted by the “combat” and stealth mechanics of all the moments in between subsequent investigations. While I like stealth games and appreciate when the stealth mechanic is executed well, games that don’t quite get it right make the experience that much more frustrating.
Visually, the game doesn’t look half bad… but it doesn’t look half good either. The ghostly figures and constructs have this eerie look to them and Ronan’s character model looks quite good, I just wish the same polish was applied to other parts of the game. Texture maps looked ugly and the variation between NPCs (living or astral) were literally nonexistent. I played this on next-gen consoles and honestly it looked like an up-res’d version of a PS3/XBOX360 game. While visually it lacked the finishing touches to really make it a beautiful experience, I can honestly say that I noticed these issues more so during the stealth/combat portions of the game and less during the investigations.
There are sidequests littered all over Salem; you can hunt down artifacts and collectibles to gain a better understanding of the world around you, or help a lost soul find the answers they need to move on. Outside of missions, flexing some of Ronan’s powers (like mind reading) is literally pointless. Much of what goes on in the heads of NPCs are boring thoughts about the murder or life in general in Salem, and call me crazy but it seemed to me like they hired literally only two other voice actors to breath life into NPCs. Some games do this well, like the recently reviewed WATCH_DOGS, peering into phone conversations and text messages carried a lot of variation, the same can’t be said about Murdered: Soul Suspect.
While the game does take risks with the third person/stealth genre and even throws in a truly engaging murder mystery into the mix. There wasn’t enough to really say this was a good game, plagued with ugly visuals and that boring combat mechanic, this is one of the first times I can truly say I’m glad the game was so short.
+ Engaging story
+ It was short...
- Lacked polish
- Combat/Stealth was boring
- Lack of variation in NPCs
- Ending was formulaic