Murdered: Soul Suspect

June 3, 2014

There are so many things going for Murdered: Soul Suspect that it’s a real shame it’s as dull as it is. It’s a major next-gen release that goes against the grain, with an emphasis on storytelling and investigation rather than shootbang and bangshoot. While it may be an unfair comparison, it would have been great to see as exhilarating an evolution of the adventure genre as other recent titles, like The Walking Dead, have managed to achieve. Unfortunately, what we get in Murdered is an extremely linear trod through a mild mystery that recalls the style and interactivity of the FMV game genre of the 90’s.

The game starts you off with a series of cutscenes and brief flashes of interactivity, as fedora’d detective, Ronan O’Connor, is thrown out a window and shot seven times for good measure by the infamous Bell Killer. However, his eternal spirit is soon up and about, wandering the streets of Salem, Massachusetts. His departed wife contacts him from Heaven, directing him to tie up his unfinished business on Earth before he can move on. So, brushing aside death as if it were dandruff on his collar, Ronan’s ghost resolves to solve his murder, as well as the larger case of the Bell Killer before he can find eternal peace.

This set-up is interesting, if not entirely unique, as recent-ish games like Beyond: Two Souls, the Blackwell series and Ghost Trick have all explored the realm of the afterlife and supernatural with varying degrees of success. However, for a game that relies so heavily on storytelling, it needs to be engaging, or exciting, or charming, or anything that can keep the player invested in the investigation, or wowed by the possibilities of the afterlife. Unfortunately, life beyond the grave is almost as mundane as the real world. Despite being incorporeal, characters who have died can more or less carry on as if nothing has happened, continuing on their investigations, speaking through mediums, and still taking part in the case. This detracts from the potential strangeness of Ronan’s situation, and lacks imagination. The mystery of the murders is painfully obvious, and you can almost extrapolate the entire thing from simply knowing the location of the game (Salem). It’s just a dull tale, blandly told and ultimately boring to sit through.

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Most of your time in the game will be spent running around and tapping Square (on PS4) ceaselessly. This is due to much of the gameplay being based around collecting – whether it’s clues for an investigation, collectibles for your inventory or side-quest items. Ronan can walk through all earthly walls and individuals, which means you’ll be phasing through objects, scouring behind walls to find that small glimmer you’re meant to pick up, or getting lost in the architecture of a building that doesn’t affect you.

I suppose you could call Murdered an Adventure game, as you do explore locations and collect clues, from which you can draw deductions, however these puzzles are limited and basic in an extreme sense. Most crime scenes are tiny areas you have to scour for clues to collect, before piecing them together in a menu to select the most relevant pieces of information. There’s no penalty for getting this wrong either – you’re marked on each bit of clue gathering on a scale of 1-3, but even if you score low there’s no strike against you and you can keep on guessing.

Ronan has access to a small range of ghostly powers to help his investigation as well. He can possess the living to read their thoughts or influence them through their memories. This largely boils down to jumping into a small assortment of minor characters and selecting a relevant clue in the menu, as 90% of Salem’s other inhabitants can only be possessed for repetitive and obvious internal monologues. Ronan can also possess and control cats for short sequences during the game, a feature that is often welcome as it allows you to interact with the environment and engage in some basic platforming once in a while. Limited poltergeist powers allow you to rustle small objects to distract the living, although this will only affect those within range (and those programmed to respond to that object). Ronan also has to deal with inexplicable ghostly architecture in the afterlife as well, forming artificial barriers so that he can’t walk through every wall or structure in Salem, and forcing him along a guided path.

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Most of the locations you’ll visit in Murdered are several-storied buildings, and it’s in these where you’ll find the game’s action sequences. Occasionally, and with little build up, Ronan will be thrown into a level haunted by Dementors- I mean, ‘demons’. These floating reapers roam hallways waiting to suck out souls, and your only defense against them is to hide in ghostly residue – hidey holes which you can warp between to remain invisible to demons. If you can give them the slip and sneak up behind them, a simple quicktime event will both exorcise and execute. Incorporating stealth elements is not the worst idea for a game like this, however every demon encounter plays out the same way, with the same three or four in number and never with any variation in difficulty or strategy.

A handful of other ghosts in town will dole out side-quests, which you can complete to send their souls to rest. These only play out over very limited areas, much like crime-scenes, and aren’t fleshed out enough to provide much of a distraction. There’s a lot of stuff to collect around Salem, from plaques to scraps of paper to ghostly memories. Each piece collected unlocks a small bit of information in the main menu. Occasionally, picking up a number of a certain type of item in one location will unlock an old-fashioned ghost story you can listen to, all of which are only mildly spooky… yet nonetheless scarier than the rest of Murdered.

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Throughout my playthrough, I found the UI to be a little glitchy at this stage as well, often throwing up objectives from the start of the game, or failing to fade out basic on-screen hints. This is a game that would benefit largely from a map screen, given so much of it is based around exploring environments and collecting.

Murdered: Soul Suspect is ultimately guilty of being bland, anticlimactic and predictable. The story is just too boring to ignite any kind of interest or investment in the player, and the game mechanics range from dull (collecting clues) to annoying (exorcising demons). You’re never playing the game to find out more of the mystery, but to escape the current section you’re in to see if there’s something better on the horizon. A lot of cool design work has gone into Murdered: Soul Suspect, and the idea of a murdered cop solving his own case is clichéd, but solid. There are good ideas at work here, but like the Bell Killer, the execution can be horrific.


Solid premise | Cool design elements | Occasionally interesting ideas


Bland execution | Anticlimactic, predictable story | Boring gameplay

Overall Score: