Coming out of E3 2013, we were pleasantly surprised by Airtight Games' Murdered: Soul Suspect. The game flew very far under our radar heading into the show, but after its presentation at Square Enix's booth we were intrigued by the game's premise and its unique fusion of storytelling and gameplay.
But now that Murdered: Soul Suspect has arrived — on both current and last-gen platforms — we are disappointed to report that much of that initial promise was simply that. While there is no question that Airtight Games was on to something, the game's execution ultimately falls far short of our hopes, and worse yet the game is just plain dull.
Murdered: Soul Suspect casts players as Ronan O'Connor, a stubborn, former criminal-turned-detective whose beat is the spooky town of Salem, Massachusetts. Unfortunately for Ronan, he's not long for this world, as an untimely run in with Salem's mysterious Bell Killer and seven bullets force him from this mortal plane. But, rather than end the story there, Murdered begins with our main character's death, and sets players on a hardboiled detective-style murder mystery with a ghostly Ronan as our fedora-wearing Philip Marlowe.
That premise in of itself is worth highlighting because it typifies Murdered's potential. A detective story wherein the player attempts to solve the protagonist's own murder, which also factors into a larger town-wide mystery, has plenty of promise. And while the game does have the requisite twists and turns, its destination is greater than the journey. Players will be compelled to find out the whodunit of it all, and that answer is actually quite clever, but the story beats along the way are under motivated and a bit scatterbrained.
The same is true of the gameplay, which consists largely of exploring self-contained (read: linear) and criminally generic environments (museum, hospital, police HQ) looking for clues and solving crimes. Much like L.A. Noire, players will spend the bulk of their time circling crime scenes looking for interactive elements that serve as clues, but unfortunately the actual interaction ends there. You find an object, click on it, and move on to the next one. It's hopelessly mundane, and with few opportunities for variation, becomes boring real fast.
Ronan does have a few ghost-specific abilities in his repertoire — he can possess people to read their mind, control their actions (somewhat), or look through their eyes. The possession mechanic is clever on its face, but the game struggles to find inventive uses for it. Instead, the ghost gimmicks are little more than that. They're cool the first few times, but become part of the game's overtly rote routine rather quickly.
Lack of environment variety aside, Murdered: Soul Suspect does have a few things going for it in the design department. The way the game incorporates the facades and interiors of modern day Salem with the ethereal blue-tinged, transparent remnants of the town circa 1600 is a nice touch, but the game doesn't do enough with that idea. Rather, the developers spend more time using the crossover between planes as a way to restrict player's movements, explaining that, while Ronan can freely move through most objects and walls, he cannot pass through these "ghost structures."
The game also tries to give the illusion of an open world, but outside of collectible-hunting and a few side missions, the Salem town is mostly a hollow HUB for the linear levels. It's worth highlighting the side missions, though, as they feature some of the best writing in the game. In these short sections Ronan tries to help a confused ghost find peace usually by solving the mystery behind their death. Had the game's individual story mysteries been as strong as these tiny side stories, the overall game might have left a better impression.
After the clue-collecting sequences are over, Ronan then tries to put the pieces together in order to solve the smaller crime and open up a new path along the larger mystery's trail. This boils down to an overarching question that the player must answer by selecting the clue or clues that best suit said inquiry. For example, if the question is where a witness went, then players would select clues like an open window, or a hidden note to trigger the next event. Unfortunately, most of these questions are extremely straightforward, which makes the whole ordeal exceedingly dull. And even the answer isn't entirely clear, the game never punishes the player for guessing wrong. The crime-solving mechanic could have been fun, but instead it engages on a purely superficial level.
The game also tries to shoehorn a little more action-heavy stealth sections into the game, but yet again the mechanics and concept feel undercooked at best. At certain points, a few nasty demons will pop into the environments, and the player must either sneak past or dispatch them in what are the game's most horribly designed sections. While the game does give the player tools to distract or get by the demons, like a teleport ability and ghost shadows to hide in, the gameplay devolves into a basic formula of waiting for the demons to turn around, walking up behind them, and ripping them into pieces. These sections are emblematic of Murdered: Soul Suspect's problems as a whole: a seemingly interesting idea executed on a very basic level, with little consideration for whether the gameplay is fun or not.
With a weak main character leading the charge and some mind-numbingly dull mechanics, Murdered: Soul Suspect has little going for it in the way of exciting gameplay. The story is serviceable, and its overarching mystery is fun to see manifest into something unexpected, but the nuts and bolts are neither well thought out nor compelling. A game like this, where the mechanics fall extremely short, needed a strong story to carry players through, and that's not the case here. The game is by no means broken, save for one or two bugs, it just isn't very fun to play. Much like its protagonist, Murdered: Soul Suspect is lifeless.
Have you had a chance to play Murdered: Soul Suspect? Does the game interest you? Let us know in the comments below.
Murdered: Soul Suspect is out now for PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided a digital PS4 code for this review.
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