Platforms PlayStation 3 / PlayStation 4 / Xbox 360 / Xbox One / PC Developer Airtight Games Publisher Square Enix / Bandai Namco (AU) Genre Action-Adventure Platform Played PlayStation 4
During the first ten minutes of developer Airtight Games’ crime-mystery title, Murdered: Soul Suspect, we are introduced to the unique and interesting concept of controlling a cop that has suffered the ultimate demise. The abrupt death of detective Ronan O’Connor in Salem, Massachusetts may seem odd, but it becomes Murdered: Soul Suspect’s main premise. Ronan instantaneously rises from the dead as a ghost, before his real-world body experiences seven bullets to the chest by the murderous individual known as the Bell Killer. Though this concept sets an interesting and unique precedent, Murdered struggles to provide an entertaining experience, which ultimately holds back what could have been one of the best concepts in many years.
In order for O’Connor to move on from this purgatory, he must finish whatever deed that is holding him back – in this case, finding and stopping the Bell Killer himself. This linear investigative mystery sees Ronan using his new ghostly abilities to locate clues that the living cannot find. O’Connor’s hunt for the Bell Killer provides a dark tale, which has him visiting the most clichéd of ghostly locations – mental asylum, church, and the local graveyard. Sadly, the story being told is never a captivating one, until the handful of scenes leading up the narrative’s conclusion. I wasn’t able to find much enjoyment or connection to it, which wasn’t helped by the characters suffering from being uninteresting and one-dimensional.
Ronan himself has a chequered past, one that is barely explored. I continuously wanted to know how he was able to turn his life around and become a Salem detective, but, instead, we are presented with an irrelevant love story that pushes him towards his goal. It also felt like O’Connor’s reaction to his new found predicament is never explored, which is greatly presented when he finds his own body in preparation for an official autopsy. His reaction to this moment is almost non-existent, which felt like an emotional moment squandered. Almost every other character throughout Murdered’s 7-8 hour campaign suffered from the same uninteresting fate. Even Joy, the teenage medium who accompanies Ronan throughout his journey of Salem isn’t explored. Her presence merely felt like a method to allow him to undertake tasks his ghostly figures couldn’t, rather than a compelling second lead.
Murdered: Soul Suspect’s investigative gameplay follows a similar vein to L.A Noire. Players are introduced to the crime scene, and must find a certain numbers of clues to solve the mystery. These scenes don’t require much thought; instead, players are able to walk around the locale, blindly pressing square in order to find pieces of information. Ronan can also use his ghostly abilities to find clues, such as mind reading, peering through someone’s eyes, or even influencing their thoughts in order to find more information.
Once O’Connor finds a majority of the clues available, players are showcased the clues they have encountered and must select the most relevant choice to the question being asked, or organise a series of events. These choice-driven scenes lack challenge, and are made easier due to the fact Murdered continuously knocks out choices that are incorrect. There were times where Murdered would literally point out the answer if I had made a few incorrect choices. Though there seems to be a three chance system when making these decisions, making the incorrect choice more than three times didn’t seem to effect anything – aside from the overall detective rating which can be found in the main menu. The detective rating doesn’t affect the story, or even implement new scenes; it feels like a baron and irrelevant system.
Ronan’s transformation to the afterlife grants him with a sleuth of new ghostly powers, which include the ability to possess humans and animals, interact with environmental objects, teleportation, and more. These abilities are all used throughout the main campaign, either to help Joy move silently throughout locations, or even reach new, hard-to-reach destinations. That said, these powers feel scripted and mostly only matter when the game tells you. No, you won’t be using these techniques to terrorise the residents of Salem. Instead you will use your Poltergeist abilities to grab the attention of NPC’s in the world, but these individuals will barely react, and, instead, stand staring at the object in question until you have moved past the area. Due to the scripted nature of these moments, the powers feel underutilised, lacking the interesting nature that they could have delivered.
Aside from using his ghostly abilities, Ronan must also deal with evil spirits who lurk within areas of Salem. These frightening figures provide a grand sense of terror when they are first encountered, though they can be taken down fairly easily when utilising stealth tactics. Players can hide from these spirits using the remains of ghostly matter to quickly disappear, before positioning themselves for a devastating blow. That said, these instances require minor tactics in order to obliterate them from existence. These sequences feel underutilised, and instead come off as minor bumps on the way to your goal. An emphasis in these combat situations or further establishing these enemies could have provided more memorable and challenging moments.
Murdered also features an open world aspect, but, alas, this world adds to the underutilised aspects that the game provides. Players can explore the small hub-world of Salem, which successfully provides an excellent dark atmosphere. Airtight Games has done a great job at producing the dark and destructive past of Salem’s history. Due to Ronan’s new life on the ghostly plain, he is able to see ghostly remains of execution equipment, those who have previously died, and burning buildings from the past. These images look fantastic, and the scene of ghostly figures as they dissipate into the air produces a sense of discomfort that did the supernatural elements justice.
These ghostly images have been utilised as a smart design choice, to keep the player within the small world they have created. Ronan is technically unable to walk through ghostly remains, and is also unable to enter buildings that have been consecrated. I found this was an interesting method of explaining why Ronan was stuck within the small hub-world, even though the explanation is simply meant to mask the size of the map itself. Though this design choice may annoy some players, I think it was a smart move to keep players from getting disoriented from walking through each home. Because of the lack of houses that could walked through, I was always able to know where I was, and where I was going, despite the lack of a world map.
Though the atmospheric nature has been delivered, the world of Salem feels extremely empty, aside from an abundance of collectables, and a small number of interactive ghosts. These ghosts are in the same position as Ronan, and haven’t been able to move on from this purgatory. These small side-missions have players using their investigatory methods to finds clues as to how they died, or the answers to questions that have haunted them since passing on. These small scenes provide some interesting stories – from the woman who finds out she died a hero, or the man who is relieved to find out he wasn’t the one driving the car that ended his life. Though these stories are only brief, they were instances I truly enjoyed.
Murdered also has an interesting incentive to completing certain sets of collectables. Finding each of a certain set of objects within each area will provide a small horror story for the player to enjoy. These stories are read out in audio form, and reminded me of those scary tales that were told during when you were a child. I’d have to lie if I said these stories didn’t make me feel uneasy.
Playing on next generation hardware, Murdered’s visuals looked decent for the most part, but it was clear that some environmental textures were ported directly from the last generation versions. There is nothing visually stunning here. However, the lack of graphical fidelity doesn’t explain the constant framerate drops during the transitions of cut scenes and entering new areas. I also experienced a few moments when Murdered would freeze-up, before correcting itself after a minute or two. Though Murdered doesn’t provide much of a challenge – and you won’t die frequently – the load times when Ronan does bite the dust are noticeably long. These instances are odd to say the least, as it doesn’t seem like Murdered tries to push the visual boundaries of what next generation hardware can produce.
Murdered: Soul Suspect does contain many problems, many aspects, and features are either underutilised, barely explored, or lacking. But, I still found myself enjoying what the game had to offer, which constantly reminded me of the 2013 release, Remember Me. Though both games suffered from poor execution, they provided an interesting concept that begs to explored further in the future.
Murdered: Soul Suspect definitely satisfied my eagerness for a genuinely unique new IP, but, sadly, the execution was lacking. The game could provide an amazing adventure if the team at Airtight Games is able to make a sequel, but, as it stands, Murdered’s finished product falls short of its lofty expectations.
+ Interesting concept
+ Dark atmosphere
+ Entertaining side stories
– Uninteresting characters
– No consequence for error
– Empty and small hub-world
– Scripted nature of ghostly powers