Release Date: June 3, 2014Platform: Xbox One (reviewed), PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, PCDeveloper: Airtight GamesPublisher: Square EnixGenre: Action-adventure
One gameplay hook that has never been explored much outside the realm of point-and-click is the noire-drenched, mysterious and even romantic world of detective work. Murder mysteries, cold cases, and other crimes that aren’t sorted out by some brand of violence rarely get any shine from video game developers. After enjoying L.A. Noire as much as I did back in 2011, I was only made more aware of the detective genre’s absence from the console market.
When Murdered: Soul Suspect was announced, however, I was immediately intrigued. Not only did it take on the detective genre, but it did so in a very unique way – by having you, a former detective, solve his own murder from the spirit world, as a ghost. This meant that walking through walls, collecting evidence from both the physical and spirit world, and trying to make contact with the physical world to gather evidence were going to be intriguing integral parts of the experience. Now that I’ve had a chance to experience Soul Suspect, I have indeed been able to confirm the presence of all these things – and more – but unfortunately, all of the great ideas at work are half-baked, and while not necessarily broken, are simply boring instead.
But let’s start with something positive. One thing about Soul Suspect that is most certainly not boring, though, is the plot. You take on the role of Ronan O’Connor, a hard-boiler, former miscreant turned detective. After his wife died, the detective started approaching cases with increased recklessness, his pursuit of the game’s antagonist – The Bell Killer – being no exception. When Ronan finally finds The Bell Killer, he loses his fight with the criminal and is killed. Once in the spirit world, he meets his deceased wife, who informs him that in order to “cross over,” he must sort out his unfinished earthly business, which, in this case, is catching The Bell Killer.
During the short six-or-so-hour campaign, in his pursuit of the Killer, Ronan comes into contact with some interesting characters, most importantly a young medium named Joy, who helps you communicate and interact with the living world. Story-wise, I was quite satisfied with how things turned out; and this was my only real motivation for finishing the game, as the rest of it was a menagerie of squandered ideas and missed opportunities.
When one thinks of a ghost, they think of a spectral being that can walk through walls and tinker with electronics a la Poltergeist. Both of these are true in Murdered‘s case, and both are either restricted or underwhelming. The game takes place in historic Salem, Massachusetts, which is conveniently littered with buildings that have been consecrated. As a ghostly child explains to you early on, you cannot enter these buildings from the outside because of this, except through an open window or door. While it could be said that this was a great story device for explaining a necessary evil in video games, it was mostly just a means to keep things linear. This restriction extends to almost every facet of gameplay.
Poltergeist powers allow Ronan to tinker with electronics in the real world – such as turning on a T.V. While I was under the impression that this may be a form of comedic relief, with me scaring the ever-living shit out of the living by making their electronics seemingly turn on by themselves, it was really nothing like that. Unless the power was required for one of the game’s easy puzzles, no human would bat an eyelid when their television turned on or off by itself, even if they were sitting there freaking watching it. Even when it was used to solve puzzles, it never felt satisfying because of just how apparent the solution always was.
Speaking of solutions – the most grievous of all the game’s sins is that it doesn’t even make the act of solving mysteries (of which there are many throughout the campaign) entertaining. It consists of Ronan entering a crime scene, walking around until a button prompt indicates that a clue is there, collecting a set number of them, then drawing a painfully obvious conclusion from them. There was no real deduction done on my part – just mild guessing.
For example, one crime scene had me figure out what happened in the apartment I was thrown from before I arrived there. Revealing a frozen ghostly specter of the Bell Killer, who was peering into a closet, I had to guess at what he was doing and the emotional state in which he was doing it. Among options like “fighting,” I craftily chose “searching.” Among emotions such as “angry” and “passive,” my wit led me to “deliberate.” Why else would he be looking around in a closet and what other way is there to search for something?
Even when the answer wasn’t abundantly clear, getting to one wasn’t much of a challenge. Unlike L.A. Noire, which penalized you for incorrect deductions or poor lines of interrogation by leaving a case unsolved, there was no consequence for guessing wrong, unless you count getting a lower rating, of which there were three levels, and for which there was no reward for getting it right the first time. Heck, all of the incorrect clues used in a resolution were x’d out, so it was really just a process of elimination.
Besides that, there are a variety of other mechanics that don’t feel at all satisfying to carry out at play. The demons that roam the spirit world, seeking to “kill” you, can be easily avoided and are just as easily dispatched with a few simple button presses by sneaking up behind them, which isn’t hard either because you are given a power that allows you to see through walls.
Possession, another potentially cool mechanic that could have expanded on ideas classics such as Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy presented, is also wasted. Besides reading the almost always mundane thoughts of the characters (unless, of course, they are specifically needed to solve a crime, in which case they will reveal clues), the effect you have on their actions usually only amounts to getting them to move something out of the way so that you can, say, see a picture of someone vital to the case at hand. The ideas here are all great ones, but the rigid and half-baked execution undercuts all of them.
Murdered: Soul Suspect is a game that is always telling you that you are a detective in the story, but never actually makes you feel like one during gameplay. Fortunately, it does a slightly better job at making you feel like a ghost, by allowing you to interact with other spirits and even help some of them cross over by helping them with the conundrums that have them trapped in this world. This, coupled with the story, help make the game fleetingly entertaining, but it never comes together or hits a stride. With that being said, Murdered: Soul Suspect can only really be recommended as a weekend rental, while the wait continues for those that yearn for a well-executed detective-gaming experience.