Murdered: Soul Suspect is a game with an identity crisis. Throughout its 6-8 hour experience, the game is never entirely sure what it wants to be. It’s the story of a ghost detective who must solve his own murder, and the journey through a fog-shrouded town with horrors in the shadows often reminded me of the Silent Hill series, while at other times the quest to uncover the modern day mystery of a serial killer was heavily reminiscent of Heavy Rain. Investigating clues at a crime scene to piece together conclusions felt eerily derivative of LA Noire, though the main character’s hardcore edge, ex-con past, and devil-may-care attitude was evocative of characters from the Grand Theft Autos.
The problem, of course, is that while juggling these disparate game styles, Murdered never really succeeds at any of them. The game does introduce a number of intriguing ideas, but they are never fully realized, and while it certainly does a have its moments – especially in building a tense, dark, and foreboding game world – in the end this supernatural thriller is mostly just a hot mess.
To be perfectly honest, I did enjoy playing through the game. For one thing, it was the first game I’ve played on my new PS4, and despite not being at the cutting edge of next-gen graphic capability, it looks terrific. PC mileage may vary based on your set-up, but it looks equally impressive on decent systems. Second, the game does have a certain narrative charm, mostly because of its unique premise, but don’t get me wrong – just like the gameplay, the story is unfocused and rambling.
The game begins with the death of the character whose spectral shoes you’re about to jump into. You play as Ronan O’Connor, an Irish police detective in Salem, Massachusetts, who has just moments before been pushed out of a third story window and then pumped full of lead. Shortly after the opening cinematic, his ghostly form rises from his still body, and the hunt to find out the identify of his shadowy, hooded killer (known cryptically as The Bell Killer) begins, a resolution necessary for Ronan to move on to the next world.
Ronan comes off a bit comical – despite being a policeman, he’s covered in tattoos, wears a chain hanging from his jeans, and chain smokes cigarettes throughout the entire game. In many ways, he’s the anti-Cole Phelps, a non-conformist cop who isn’t a fan of playing things by the book (although, like LA Noire’s Cole, he’s trying to move on from a past he doesn’t necessarily want to think too much about).
As a ghost, Ronan finds he has a number of new abilities to help him on his way. He’s invisible to (most of) the living, of course, but he now has the ability to possess and influence people as well as being able to access powerful moments in time, either as memories or as spectral shadows. He also gains a few additional talents throughout the game, including the ability to teleport short distances and to disrupt electrical devices as a poltergeist.
As exciting as the proposition of poking around in other people’s heads is, the execution is terribly underwhelming. Nearly every person only has two trivial short lines of dialogue, which at best provide a little color into Ronan’s world, but usually just disappoint. In addition, Ronan’s ability to influence people while possessing them is inexplicably limited to a few people, and even then, the most Ronan can do is get them to move a piece of paper or open a computer file. In addition, although he can’t enter buildings without someone opening a door, Ronan can move through many walls at will, which can be somewhat disconcerting without traditional boundaries to follow. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy being incorporeal, but it ended up being a novelty that wore off faster than I would have expected.
The gameplay in Murdered takes a very uneven approach to utilizing Ronan’s phantom traits. You control him in the third-person, guiding him either with the keyboard/mouse or analog stick, and the challenges come in three flavors: investigation and environment navigation puzzles, which aren’t uncommon to the adventure genre, and stealth sequences, which are not. You don’t have an inventory (you’re a ghost) and generally won’t need to manipulate any items (ghost again).
The investigation puzzles are extremely easy, and their only challenge is locating the proper clues to discover the solution. Just like in LA Noire, you have to bumble around until you find the correct hotspot to examine a new clue – basically a new kind of pixel-hunting which I found as welcome as the old kind. Such puzzles can include piecing together the Bell Killer’s trail, or discovering what items in a room could be helpful when possessing and influencing a character.
Once you’ve uncovered all the necessary clues, you’ll need to select the ones most relevant to the current quandary. These can be completed through trial and error – which I did too many times to count, because many of the clues are rather obtuse – but you’ll be docked points. In Murdered, each challenge offers a top score of three badges, and each incorrect guess loses you a badge. However, there’s no permanent penalty for guessing incorrectly (the game will advance when you finally get it) except perhaps losing trophies or achievements for a perfect score.
Murdered definitely seems to be designed with the completionist in mind. Another notable gameplay element in Murdered is locating random items along the way. Hidden throughout the world are a number of collectable items. Some are historical notes that provide information on Salem, others provide exposition into Ronan’s troubled past or news items about the killer, and a third type – if you collect the complete set (they might be ghostly rifles or cans of gasoline) – results in a narrated ghost story.
At any point, you can pause the game to take a look at your collection. As a gamer who is much more interested in developing narrative, I never really bothered. I did collect the first series of ghost items about the discovery of corpses in an apartment building, but the payoff wasn’t compelling enough to make me search the nooks and crannies of each location to discover the remaining seven. The other collectibles that offer clues about Ronan’s journey from a criminal past to meeting his wife provide intriguing color, but aren’t essential to the story or solving any challenge.
Ronan has a few opportunities to help other ghosts with their own particular difficulties in reaching the glowing white warmth of the afterlife. This usually involves hunting down additional clues to uncover a side mystery. These side quests include assisting a suicidal ghost come to terms with her living ex-lover, and helping a young victim learn why she was killed. I only ran into three side quests; I’m sure there are more, but like collecting the myriad clues hidden around the world, I didn’t find the side quests nearly as compelling as the main story.Continued on the next page...