Murdered: Soul Suspect – E3 Preview

Title   Murdered: Soul Suspect
Developer  Airtight Games
Publisher  Square Enix
Platform  PC, Xbox 360, Playstation 3
Genre  Action-Adventure, Puzzle
Release Date  Early 2014
Official Site

There’s something to be said for a good mystery, and it’s not one we often find in an industry over-populated with crime fighters wearing spandexed costumes or unanswered questions being solved through the medium of bullets. It’s often the case that titles where murder isn’t as common as the morning coffee prove to be some of the most satisfying to figure out, especially when the prospective mystery to be uncovered concerns your demise. From the developers of critically-divisive Dark Void and charming platformer Quantum Conundrum comes one of the most inventive and intriguing ideas I’ve seen – how do you solve your own murder?

You take control of Ronan O’Connor, a perpetually-smoking fedora-wearing hard-boiled detective whose cowboy attitude doesn’t rub well with the others on the force, and who also happens to now be a ghost. Standing over his now bullet-ridden body, Ronan is left with more than a little unfinished business, causing him to roam the streets of Salem until whoever murdered him is behind bars. Unfortunately, the transition to the non-corporeal realm has swiss-cheesed his memory, leaving him with even fewer clues than his former partners down at the precinct, one of whom loudly and vocally makes clear his lack of remorse of his former colleague’s death, citing Ronan’s reluctance to call for back-up.

First off, the player needs to survey the crime scene and decipher the events, but lacking a living physical body, he’s unable to stroll up to his cohorts and learn the facts in a straightforward manner. Luckily, being a ghost has its advantages, one of which being the ability to step inside and temporarily occupy the body of those around you, and this is a skill that O’Connor puts to good use to gather enough information for his initial enquiry.

The player is given a check-list of tasks which need to be completed within the given area and which can be tackled in any order, although there didn’t seem to be any repercussion for leaving the confines of the police tape and going off to explore. Freedom is limited by the fact that, despite being nothing more than a spectre, O’Connor isn’t actually able to enter any of the houses of Salem unassisted; the supernatural nature of the small town makes it impossible for ghosts to enter homes uninvited, and so Ronan was only able to enter the nearby building because one of the on-scene cops opened the front door and entered the building himself.

Possessing those around you can have a variety of effects, and while it doesn’t seem like you’ll be able to force then to start dancing involuntarily or getting them to smack other people around, using others is one of the best ways to get leads in your investigation. Two nearby officers – one being the aforementioned cop who was rather vocal about your untimely death – are having a conversation, and by possessing the other side of the conversation you can learn an extra clue about the circumstances of your murder. Another law enforcer is attempting to get a statement from a nervous and forgetful witness but, by possessing her, Ronan is able to get her to focus her thoughts long enough that she can give reliable and accurate testimony. Finally, there’s a former colleague standing by your corpse, holding a clipboard, and by entering his body you’re able to look through his eyes and see the contents of the clipboard, allowing you to see just how much further along their inquiry is in comparison to yours , thereby giving you the chance to snatch up an extra clue.

Once the preliminary clues have been deciphered, it’s then time to parse this knowledge into viable forms of logic and allow Ronan to move on with his case. As soon as all the information has been gathered, the action automatically stops so that the player can start to link everything together, and this is primarily done through correctly answering the questions that Ronan asks by highlighting the correct response to the clue and pressing a button to confirm the choice. Although there doesn’t seem to be too much consequence for getting any of the clues wrong, completing this logic chain allows Ronan to figure out that entering the nearby building is the best course of action. After waiting for an officer to step inside the building, Ronan sneaks in himself and starts searching for clues.

At this point, it should be mentioned that one of the unique conceits of being dead is that O’Connor is now able to see that which the the living are unable to, and so he’ll often see the remnants of former buildings, vehicles or people in the environment, and it’s the latter that proves to be the most useful. As he explores the building, our chain-smoking protagonist starts to hear the voice of another trapped soul who, once discovered, asks our intrepid detective to find out where her body is buried so that she can be reunited with it and move on. While this is a purely-optional objective, we choose to do so anyway, as it means that we get to better observe more of our hero’s ghostly benefits, one being the age-old spirit ability to walk through walls – it’s oddly satisfying to be able to cut through the building lickity-split as if ‘noclip’ mode has been engaged.

Our optional investigation leads us to a distant couple – both of whom seem to be barely able to acknowledge each other – and temporarily occupying their bodies reveals the information that they’re directly responsible for the death of the trapped soul we’d recently met, and although we couldn’t bring them to justice for their actions, we were at least able to tell the poor spirit where her body was hidden, allowing her to be put to rest.

Not every spectre that our hero will come up against will be friendly, as we discovered when climbing the building further and suddenly being pursued by an inhuman spirit. They’re ghosts, but not as we know them; incorrectly believing that by consuming the other souls haunting the realm they can come back to life, the act has left them corrupted and deranged. Getting out of their line of sight is your first priority, but luckily the tables can be reversed as, if these red spectres are caught unawares, Ronan can sneak up behind them and put their souls permanently to rest. Although it seems odd to still have a palatable sense of danger, these sequences work out better than you’d perhaps give them credit for, and serves to give a more tense slant to your actions than if you were idly strolling through walls.

As the demo drew to a close, we entered a room with a broken window, a bent baseball bat, and evidence of a struggle. As we deciphered the clues at hand it became evident that this was no ordinary confrontation, especially as it led to Ronan being thrown out of a window before being shot seven times at point-blank range. Once again, the action paused as all of the logic chains were connected, and with a vital clue in hand, the demo ended with a tease towards Murdered: Soul Suspect’s early 2014 release. With such an intriguing narrative hook and gameplay that focuses more on calm-and-collected actions rather than diving in blind head-first, Soul Suspect is undoubtedly going to become one of the most compelling choices vying for your wallet when it’s released.

It’s a title that feels more outside the realm of what’s considered normal in terms of mainstream releases (L.A. Noire not withstanding), and that Square Enix have put their confidence and faith in Airtight Games to this degree is nothing short of remarkable, so I sincerely hope it’s a decision that rewards them dividends. Considering modern sentiments are often that the market is becoming too homogenised, Murdered: Soul Suspect stands out like an ugly duckling, but time will tell if it transforms into a beautiful swan.

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