Whether or not you believe in ghosts and the paranormal, there’s no denying that the idea of lost, vengeful and even downright evil spirits is a pop culture moneymaker. Movie, television and even video game producers have banked on our fascination with life after death for years now, and it doesn’t look like that’s about to change anytime soon, especially if Airtight Games has its way. The developer’s fascination with the supernatural has led to the recent release of Murdered: Soul Suspect, an interactive detective drama that isn’t afraid of stepping outside of the known world.
Set in a fictional, and oddly plotted version of Salem, Massachusetts, Murdered: Soul Suspect begins with the untimely death of its main protagonist, Detective Ronan O’Connor. A reformed criminal who turned to law enforcement after falling in love with a cop’s sister, he’s unexpectedly murdered by a mysterious being that the local media has dubbed The Bell Killer. It’s all the result of our hero being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and his decision to rush into a crime scene without waiting for back-up to arrive.
You’ve surely uncovered what makes this game’s plot line different from most, but if not: Ronan is a ghost detective, who comes to after being pushed out of a fourth floor window and then shot repeatedly. It’s upon this reawakening that he learns of his death, and begins to understand that he won’t be able to move on and find peace until he ties up loose ends by discovering the truth behind not only his murder, but also those of others. Only then will he be able to join his wife — who, officials surmise, took her own life after battling depression — in Heaven, or whatever kind of afterlife awaits them both.
After coming to grips with his newfound situation and realizing that solving his last case will set him free, our hero quickly returns to duty and discovers that there are advantages to being a ghost. In fact, in a game such as this, where players must find and piece together clues in order to progress, being an apparition that the (average) human eye cannot see is a huge bonus. After all, what pop culture has taught us is that ghosts can float through walls and move about without being detected by things like security cameras.
There is a hitch, though, that being Ronan’s inability to enter most of the town’s buildings. That’s because, in Murdered: Soul Suspect‘s version of Salem, Mass. spirits must take advantage of open doors and windows, else they’re shit out of luck. It’s a bit of a cop out on the developer’s end, but makes sense given how streamlined and rather linear this experience is. Additionally, it also brings forth the importance of human assistance, which comes in the form of a teenaged medium who fears that the Bell Killer has hurt or kidnapped her mother.
Even after gaining access to a location — such as a dingy apartment building, a scenic graveyard and the town’s police department — Ronan isn’t exactly free to explore at whim, because the dead cannot float through objects that glow with a faint, blue hue. It’s said that they’ve been cursed, or something, but it’s yet another method in which Airtight Games has chosen to streamline things.
The truth is that the majority of Murdered: Soul Suspect is scripted. As such, you can expect to be pushed along from one crime scene to another, with only a few side quests to be found. Those come in the form of fellow lost souls, who have also awakened in ghost form and either wonder how they got there, or if they’re missed. To help them, you must (again) find a certain amount of clues and piece things together – something that is aided by Ronan’s ability to possess folks and read their minds, or use their eyes to peek at whatever they’re looking at.
In addition to what’s been mentioned already, our friendly ghost detective can also teleport short distances, melt away certain blockades and become a poltergeist and distract guards. The first two are severely under-utilized, but you’ll definitely need to take advantage of being able to screw with things like radios, TVs and (best of all) security cameras. This really comes in handy when you’re trying to help your ally sneak through buildings since she’s mortal, and that comes with the obvious drawback of being visible to guards and cameras. Stealth isn’t a heavy focus early on, but it plays a big role in the final half of the game.
Demons and pools of Hellfire (which block access to certain staircases and pathways) are the only things that can really hurt Ronan, and encounters with them are usually more annoying than need be. It’s due to the fact that Soul Suspect tries to be Metal Gear Solid, and uses its demonic foes as guards of sorts. They patrol certain areas while maintaining their own routines, and the only way to take them out is by walking up behind them before holding a trigger to instigate a quick, two button takedown. Encounters with them start off fairly simple, but their AI fluctuates. As such, it can be nigh impossible to get away from certain ones.
In fact, demons only forget you after they’ve lost track of you, and to effectively hide from them, one must hop from one bit of leftover ghost energy (think shadows that are said to have been left by other spirits) to another until they get confused and give up. As I said above, though, their AI is all over the place, so some will search harder than others. On top of that, some locations don’t offer many hiding spots, leaving you much more vulnerable than you should be. Sometimes these areas will offset that issue by offering ghosts of blackbirds, which can be made to caw and distract foes, but even those don’t always work.
I undoubtedly became more frustrated with these demons than the average player will, because I scoured each location for the game’s many hidden collectibles, some of which required a possessed cat’s help. These easily outnumbered the actual NPCs, whom I’d see whenever I ventured about the semi-open world town. Really, the only reason as to why I even bothered walking around so much was to find them, because I exhausted the list of side quests rather quickly and wanted to prolong the experience.
Despite its cons and drawbacks, though, I enjoyed my time with Murdered: Soul Suspect. Well…for the most part. It’s a relatively enjoyable and interesting game, which offers a decently intriguing storyline that isn’t devoid of twists and turns. However, I like linear, story-based games and loved Heavy Rain – a game that this one was undoubtedly inspired by. So, if you enjoyed that game or its spiritual successor, Beyond: Two Souls, this one will likely be up your alley. If not, then it’s unlikely to change your mind, despite being nice looking, relatively well-made and pretty easy on the ears.
This review is based on the Xbox One (digital) version of the game, which we were provided with.
Murdered: Soul Suspect is a flawed interactive crime drama, which will only appeal to a certain audience. Gamers who like narrative-focused titles should give it a chance, while those who usually avoid linear experiences should save their time and money.