Also On: Xbox One, PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Airtight Games
There’s ideas in Murdered: Soul Suspect that could make for a great game, but there’s also plenty here that doesn’t work. This is a narrative heavy experience, with some shoe-horned stealth elements tossed in, that isn’t going to appeal to everyone. But I’m happy that I played through it for this review, as it definitely could be the most unique retail console release I’ll see this year.
The core concept of Murdered: Soul Suspect is that you’re a ghost detective attempting to solve your own homicide. Ronan, the detective in question, is further incentivized by his also dead wife, who passed away a few years ago and has already journeyed to the “other side”. Murdered: Soul Suspect doesn’t really strive to present any one belief on what the afterlife actually is, but basically Ronan is stuck in the ghost version of Salem until he can catch the guy or girl that tossed him out of a window, and pumped seven bullets into his chest.
In order to do so, Ronan has to explore the streets of Salem on his way from one objective point to the next. The streets have a small number of NPC’s to interact with, both alive and dead. Occasionally you’ll be asked to help the recently deceased understand what happened to them, which uncovers some additional story elements that distract from Ronan’s main goal. These are decent bits of interaction, but they rarely end up feeling important. It doesn’t help that uncovering clues for these side-mysteries involves searching the ground in the immediate area next to the ghost, and figuring out what combination of clues found will trigger the next cutscene.
Hunting down clues and putting them to use doesn’t get better in the main storyline either. And this is really one of my bigger issues with the game. Evidence for any given scene is generally no further than 10 feet away. When you visit a location and you’re tasked with uncovering a mystery, you’ll simply walk from one object to the next, hope to see the button prompt indicating possible interaction, and then figure out what pieces of evidence are relevant to the mystery at hand. Not that this requires any real head-scratching, as most answers are blatantly obvious.
For some reason the game gives you an indication that you have three chances to present the right evidence, but exhausting those tries really has no negative effect, you can continue to present clues even if you mess up a few times. On the flip side, if you manage to present the right evidence on your first try, there’s absolutely no incentive for doing so. The whole system is essentially pointless, which leads me to believe there’s a lot of elements to Murdered: Soul Suspect that were left on the cutting room floor.
Case in point is the really awful stealth mechanic you’ll engage in occasionally. Combat isn’t a thing in Murdered: Soul Suspect, you won’t be firing guns or ghost punching people. However, in order to fill that action quota, you’ll sometimes need to exorcise demons inhabiting story-related areas of the game. I like to think these are the deceased souls of Metal Gear Solid 1’s enemies, as they stick to a very strict path floating back and forth, will hound you if spotted, and will forget about you once you’ve remained hidden long enough. Basically, the stealth mechanics here are 14 years old already, and add little to the game other than a tinge of annoyance when you hear the demon scream signifying you’ll have to trudge through more stealth.
Outside of these issues, there are a few ideas and things in Murdered: Soul Suspect that I genuinely enjoyed. The game is sort of open world, in that you can freely walk the streets of Salem and uncover hidden items and engage in optional activities. It’s still a pretty small space, but the way the game prevents you from moving out-of-bounds is actually smart. There’s remnants of old Salem that are highlighted a ghostly white and blue that you, as a ghost, can’t pass through. You can move through just about any wall or door once inside of a building, but can’t move into a building without an open door aiding you. And once inside buildings, ghostly Salem remnants will still exist and occasionally block your path. Neat moments include a ghost train that runs through a museum, where you need to deftly avoid the train by teleporting to open spots around the track.
I also enjoyed the dialogue, and most of the characters presented. It’s not the most mind-blowing mystery or procedural you’ll encounter in media, but it’s fun in the way you’d find an episode of Supernatural enjoyable. I was swerved a bit by the overall mystery of who the Bell Killer was, as I thought I pegged the right individual early on and was proven wrong by the time the end credits rolled. I also found humor in some of the dumb product placement, like Just Cause 2 posters in the police station, or that just about every cop in Salem is actively playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution as opposed to actually solving crimes, based on the game menu displayed on their work computers.
But goofy product placement and decent writing don’t make up the entirety of a good video game. Unfortunately, Murdered: Soul Suspect falls flat when it comes to the core mystery-solving mechanics found in its gameplay, and unless you’re really invested in the storyline, most will see little worth in seeing this story through to the end. I’d suggest picking this up on sale, or possibly renting, but I can’t call it a must buy. Also, this review was done using a PS4 copy of the game, and it still had a handful of technical hiccups with framerate that were disappointing. So again, I wouldn’t rush out to pick this up now, but it’s worth a look at a lower price down the line.