Murdered: Soul Suspect
Murdered: Soul Suspect is a difficult game to categorize. It has some adventure game elements, but it’s not really an adventure game. It has some action sequences, but it’s definitely not an action game. You hunt for hidden objects, but it’s nothing like the hidden object games you find at casual game sites. If I had to label Murdered in some way, I’d say that it’s mostly an interactive movie, but even that might be selling it short. Suffice it to say that Murdered is unique. But is it any good? Keep reading to find out.
In Murdered, you control a troubled police detective named Ronan O’Connor. As the game opens up, you get the drop on a serial killer, but instead of making the arrest, you end up getting thrown out of a third story window and then shot seven times in the chest. So you’re not just dead, you’re really dead, but since you have unresolved issues, you come back as a ghost, and you have to solve your murder. Conveniently, this also means you need to unmask the serial killer and save the town of Salem, Massachusetts, where the killer has been hunting.
Murdered takes a similar view of the afterlife like in the movies Ghost and The Sixth Sense. Ghosts can go places and see things, but they have trouble doing things. So you can’t question witnesses, check fingerprints, or run database searches. Instead, you can examine clues and determine what they mean, you can possess people to learn what they know or influence what they do, and you can go places unavailable to others since you can walk through walls — at least some of the time. Consecrated walls are off limits.
The problem with playing a ghost in this way is that it severely limits the types of puzzles you can solve. You can’t pick up and use inventory objects, you can’t pull levers or turn dials, and you can’t shoot it out with bad guys. And unfortunately, developer Airtight Games didn’t think up any clever ways around this, so what you do mostly is walk around and find things. You find clues for the cases you’re working on (including cases for other ghosts you meet), you discover plaques giving details about Salem, you notice things that remind you of your former life, and you find objects that unlock ghost stories. That is, Murdered ends up being a great big scavenger hunt.
I don’t mind hunting around for objects. In fact, I’m the type of player who generally explores thoroughly and carefully anyway, and so Murdered should be right up my alley. But it’s not. After a while it just gets tedious searching for object after object, especially when the payoff isn’t great. For example, with the ghost stories you have to find a certain number of objects, and then when you track them all down you get to hear the story. Well, I managed to find over 90% of the objects, but that was only good enough to hear three of the eight stories. So thanks for nothing, Murdered. Luckily, not long after the game’s release, people started posting the stories online, and so I eventually got to hear them all.
To ramp up the tension a little bit, the game includes “demons” who feed on ghosts. This gives you a way to die, and it means you can’t always go where you want, because sometimes there’s a demon in the way. In sort of an odd choice by Airtight Games, demons are also the source of action in the game. Some roving demons can be eliminated, but to do this you have to sneak up behind them and then quickly press a random key and a mouse button at the same time. I found these sequences to be thoroughly irritating — and also bizarre — because the people who enjoy demon hunting aren’t going to be the people who enjoy the rest of the game, which is more slow-paced and thoughtful. Why add elements that don’t go together? Why add sequences that some adventure game players (which I’m guessing is the core demographic for the game) can’t even complete? If there had been an option to remove demons from the game, I would have toggled it on in a heartbeat.
Luckily, while the gameplay elements of Murdered aren’t anything to write home about, the story in the game is pretty good. The characters involved in the case have good depth (including Ronan’s dead wife Julia), the dialogue is well-written (and well-acted), you learn a lot about Salem and its witch trials, and there are even some surprises at the end of the case. The story is what kept me playing even when I got tired of fighting demons and uncovering clues, and it should appeal to anyone who likes ghost stories. Just be aware that Murdered isn’t about cheap scares or boo moments. That’s not its angle. It’s a murder investigation where the main character just happens to be a ghost.
Another part of Murdered that works pretty well is the look of the game. When Ronan walks through the streets of Salem, he sees a mixture of how it is now interspersed with what it looked like during the witch trials of the 17th century. The modern Salem is in full color, but the old Salem is in black and white (well, blue and white), and the contrast is striking. The character models and cut scenes are also rendered well. Really, the production values for Murdered are about as good as you’re going to see in a game.
Of course, following Newton’s laws for strange games, for every positive aspect there is an equal and opposite negative aspect, and the interface for Murdered is about as negative as it can get. Murdered was developed for multiple platforms, which for those of us who play PC games means “uh oh,” and in this case it should be “uh oh” squared, or perhaps “uh oh” to infinity and beyond. Part of the Murdered interface makes sense, as you use the WASD keys to move Ronan around and the mouse to steer, but the rest of it is questionable. For some reason, despite only being able to perform one action on an object, there are no less than three action keys (E, R and Q), none of which can be mimicked by clicking the left mouse button; there are clunky menus that you can only navigate by using the keyboard; there are only checkpoint saves available in the game and there is only one save slot per profile so you can’t go back if you change your mind about something; and there isn’t any way to configure the controls. Heck, just to leave the game it takes three key presses and three mouse clicks. Are you sure you want to leave the game? Are you doubly sure? Maybe the interface works well enough if you’re on a console, but on a PC it’s a disaster.
Overall, I really liked the look, the atmosphere, and the story behind Murdered: Soul Suspect, but I really hated the interface and the game elements. Those extremes make the game difficult to rate. If I weigh the parts equally, then Murdered ends up somewhere around average, but I’m guessing people will focus on certain aspects of the game and either love it or hate it. If you enjoy ghost stories and slow-burn murder mysteries, then Murdered might be a game to try out — moreso once the price drops — but if you actually want to do stuff in the games you play, then Murdered is more of a game to avoid, regardless of the price.
Reviewed By: Steven Carter
Publisher: Square Enix
This review is based on a digital copy of Murdered: Soul Suspect for the PC provided by Square Enix.