Murdered: Soul Suspect – Review

Title   Murdered: Soul Suspect
Developer  Airtight Games
Publisher  Square Enix
Platform  PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 (reviewed), Xbox One
Genre  Action-Adventure/Puzzle
Release Date  June 6th, 2014
Official Site

Other than the whole “being dead” thing, it must be cool to be a ghost. It’s got a lot of things going for it: you can spy on your friends, mess with lights to freak people out, and watch people get naked without them noticing you and calling the police. Of course, it must also suck that you’re still roaming around, day in, day out, with nothing to do except screw with people’s lives, but I’m sure you could keep yourself busy somehow. You could help solve people’s problems for example, like the main character of Murdered: Soul Suspect.

Murdered: Soul Suspect begins with our hero, Ronan O’Connor, being thrown out of a window and shot seven times in the chest. Even worse, his ghost rises from the body and finds himself immediately trapped in some kind of purgatory, unable to move on until he finds peace. To do that, Ronan decides he needs to find his own killer, and the hunt is on. With an introduction like that, you’d hope that the story that followed would be filled with mystery and intrigue, with twists and turns coming out of nowhere as you dig into an ever-expanding web of lies and half-truths. Unfortunately, the game never quite manages that, and instead progresses more like any other bad police procedural you’d catch on Watch or some other slightly obscure satellite TV channel.

The problems with the narrative are many, and start almost as soon as Ronan’s body hits the ground. A cutscene shows Ronan’s life flashing before his eyes, revealing everything you ever need to know about him in a couple of minutes and revealing all his motivations, hopes and dreams in the blink of an eye. It’s a cute idea and works well within the context of the world, but sadly renders a lot of the collectible back-story items pointless, since you already know all the information being given to you. What could have led to an interesting set of reveals about Ronan’s character and personality is brushed away by a few short scenes right at the start of the game, which is really quite disappointing.

Ronan as a character is also really quite dull. An ex-criminal turned cop, his entire life apparently consists of his wife, Julia, his brother-in-law, Rex, and an arsehole cop called Baxter who won’t let go of Ronan’s criminal past. He’s a textbook renegade cop with a heart of gold, known for rushing into situations and not quite playing by the book, but still willing to help people out and care deeply about them. His past as a criminal is used more as a reason for Baxter to dislike him, rather than anything interesting or meaningful, and the fact that he’s a cop is really only there to justify his investigation into the killer. So much more could have been done here, but in the event I found mute side characters more interesting than Ronan.

But what jarred me most with the narrative was the occasional radical tonal shift, as what starts as a fairly campy ghost story suddenly becomes incredibly dark and distressing for no apparent reason. While it’s expected that ghosts trapped in purgatory are probably there for a reason, some of their stories are downright horrific. Within twenty minutes of starting the game I had encountered a man haunting a little girl, waiting for her to die so that he could torment her in the afterlife, only a short walk away from a man in a bathtub who Ronan casually asks “so, how did you kill yourself?” Even stranger is that you often can’t tell anything about the ghost you’re talking to, so when the dialogue choice offered is “you’re sick” or “stop stalking her” you’re left wondering how Ronan happens to know what the other ghost is doing and then almost immediately finding out something horrible about them. Couple that with a story that simply meanders around for a while before reaching its one big twist and you’ve got a game that completely misses the mark on the one thing it really needed.

Without the narrative to hold it together, all that’s left to keep your attention is the gameplay, and that’s where Murdered: Soul Suspect really falls down. It handles like a poor man’s L.A. Noire: you go to an investigation, wander round picking up highlighted, obvious clues, and sometimes you even have to pick the most relevant clue from the bunch to get another clue. Not that this is taxing in any way, since all the clues you’ll ever need are given cutscenes to highlight just how relevant they are. Sometimes, that clue will be given to you from the off, so there’s actually no point carrying out the investigation except to go through the motions. Sometimes you’ll have to pick out emotions that people are feeling to unlock the clue, but it’s not exactly hard to work out that someone hiding behind a wall isn’t exactly feeling “ecstatic” right now, so it usually just means picking the most negative words to progress. And to top it off, there’s sometimes a puzzle where you must choose an item based on what sound you think it is related to, which is so hilariously shoe-horned in that in one instance, after watching an incredibly important key fall down a ventilation shaft, you have to choose whether the sound of a falling object hitting the floor was made by the very important key that you need to pick up to progress the story, a knife, or a fork. You can tell that developers Airtight Games started running out of ideas when they suddenly throw in an incredibly easy and really quite pointless puzzle about six hours into the game.

Outside of investigation, you have two activities: killing demons or finding collectibles. Demons show up every now and then, usually after you’ve finished investigating a room just to lengthen the game a little and make leaving the area slightly harder. There’s no combat to be found here, and instead you’re forced to sneak up on demons by jumping between hiding points, represented in this game by old spectral residue left from other ghosts. Once you get up behind a demon, you hold down the right trigger until a prompt tells you which button combination you need to press, and that’s that.

If you can’t be bothered hiding, you can use your ghost sense to see which direction the demon is looking, wait for it to turn around, and then run up behind it. Should you get spotted, you just need to jump between hiding places for about ten seconds before the demon gives up and teleports back to its patrol route. I cannot accurately describe to you how boring this is. The stealth mechanics do work, but there’s nothing tense or fun about occasionally pressing a single button to effectively hide from an enemy that takes an age to kill you anyway.

If you’re a fan of collectibles however, then you’ll be in heaven. The game contains just over two hundred collectibles, all of which come with text that reveals some backstory you already knew, or provide a history of the town of Salem, which you won’t care about. Having so many collectibles in a game where the environments really aren’t that big means that you’ll be stopping to pick things up constantly, but unless you’re going for the achievements or really care what Ronan’s dead wife thinks about his garish tattoos, there’s no reason why you should bother. Getting to these collectibles sometimes requires a little clever-thinking, but for the most part it’s fairly obvious which of your ghost powers you need to use to get there.

Ghost powers are arbitrarily unlocked as the game progresses, and the only reason I didn’t mention them before is because they don’t alter the game in any way except to add a new solution to puzzles. Possession is the most obvious one, and can be used in investigations to gain extra clues, or on moving bodies to help you get over the demon pits that are sometimes thrown in to make you rethink your route around a level. Outside of this, you can still possess people and read their minds, but you just cycle through the same two or three thoughts that apparently every person in Salem is having, making it ultimately useless. You can use Poltergeist on objects to attract the attention of NPCs, but this only works if that NPC is programmed to respond. You can’t, for example, go around frazzling TVs and freaking people out, unless the game specifically tells you to distract someone, which feels like its completely missing the point of what makes it fun to be a ghost. And finally there’s Teleport, which lets you… teleport. Its main use is to get through cracked walls that are otherwise impassable, and requires a small charge time before use, so it doesn’t even make for an effective movement technique. Throw in the Remove and Reveal powers, which you won’t know about until you accidentally use them and do exactly what you might think they do, and you’ve got a collection of powers that could’ve been great fun to use, but end up as mere puzzle-solving tools.

There are some issues with the general design of the game too. You can’t go wandering into every building in Salem, a limitation cleverly explained away with the religious nature of the town’s past leading to sanctification of every building. But there are also walls in purgatory that can’t be passed through, because they are technically solid in your dimension. This isn’t always a problem, but eventually the real world and purgatory walls start bleeding together, sometimes for no discernible reason other than just to stop you from going into certain places, further limiting how far you can actually explore in the game. If this was to save memory, then I’m not sure it worked; even when installed to my 360 the game frequently stuttered as I ran through environments, obviously loading new areas in a not-so-seamless fashion. It’s annoying that even with such relatively small environments I still had to regularly watch as Ronan stopped and started mid-run just because I’d gone up a flight of stairs.

This can’t even be down to the graphics being hard to load, because while it’s not a bad looking game, Murdered: Soul Suspect isn’t exactly the most technically impressive game I’ve seen on the system. Everything is nicely detailed and the characters are expressive and emotive, but there are still some faults. The pretty major one is the reuse of character models, which at one point is so bad that the model used as a child-stalking murderous ghost early in the game is reused for a man you have to help find peace for potentially drunk-driving his car into a wall and killing everyone in the vehicle. It was plain bizarre to have had a serious discussion with a man about the fact that he wanted to slaughter a young girl, only to then be helping what I assumed was the same man move on to the afterlife. The other problem is the lighting, or rather lack thereof. Just because the game takes place at night doesn’t mean that everywhere has to be moodily lit, and rather than feel mysterious and interesting, everywhere looks dank, miserable and uninspiring. The best looking area in the game is a fully lit museum filled with people and props, and that only lasts for one floor before you walk up some stairs and find all the lights off so you can hardly see a thing.

Speaking of things that are barely visible, I’m almost convinced that the soundtrack just doesn’t exist. There’s the odd orchestral sting and some chase music if a demon spots you, but beyond that I don’t remember a single piece of music. Silence in a soundtrack can be effective, and it does work well when wandering through a graveyard or other spooky environment, but for the most part it just makes the game feel lifeless and dull. The voice work is pretty good; there’s no standout performances to speak of, but there isn’t a completely duff line to be found. It’s just nicely… average.

And that’s all this is. Average. It’s an interesting concept that fell flat on its face, a collection of good ideas that were wasted thanks to trying to combine two genres that, as it happens, don’t work well together. Being a ghost detective may seem fun and interesting, but the way Murdered: Soul Suspect handles it, you’re more just an average cop who happens to be able to walk through walls. It’s got dull, repetitive gameplay that can’t even rely on a good narrative for support, constant stuttering, almost no soundtrack to speak of, and just a general air of disappointment. This could’ve been a really interesting take on the adventure/puzzle genre, but it ends up just being a thoroughly middle-of-the-road experience.

  • A really good concept
  • Some nice environments
  • The voice acting isn't awful
  • Simplistic narrative with bizarre tonal shifts
  • Derivative and boring gameplay
  • Frequent graphical stuttering (on last generation console)

When it was first announced, I felt that Murdered: Soul Suspect had potential to be good, but I should've realised it didn't have a ghost of a chance. It tries and fails to be a dark, haunting version of L.A. Noire, and instead comes off as a pale imitation. Its story and twists are completely transparent, with gameplay so uninspired and dull I nearly died of boredom. It is at times a very pretty sight, and the vocal work is passable, but ultimately I'm not sure what would possess you to purchase this game. It's not a heinously bad game, but it's not worth rushing out to pick up any time soon.

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One Comment

  1. FC360 says:

    After reading this I think I’ll wait for it to be on sale :)

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