Murdered: Soul Suspect Review
A supernatural crime thriller that loses its thrill
Amidst the plethora of first person shooters, role-playing and action-adventure games, Murdered: Soul Suspect, developed by Airtight Games, looks to take a step out of the norm - quite literally, I might add - and give players a supernatural mystery to solve. Players take control of Ronan O’Connor, a former delinquent who is trying to atone for his sins by working as a detective in Salem, Mass. Ronan has had a dark past and has made it through some tough situations, which is why he is over confident and often goes into any fray without back up. Unfortunately, Ronan’s lone wolf mentality costs him dearly as he is “murdered” - hence the title of the game - by a serial killer the Salem police have been attempting to track down. The interesting aspect of this scene is that Ronan actually witnesses his own murder since his spirit is able to wander outside the body. This death gives him the opportunity to reunite with his wife who passed recently, but there’s one catch: he is a ghost, and he will not be able to pass on until he settles his unfinished business. Thus begins the supernatural adventure as Ronan tracks down his murderer and teams up with a medium named Joy who can see him.
Those who enjoy crime thrillers will most likely stick around until the story’s end as there is a decent mystery to uncover. Helping keep the story interesting is the voice acting. The actors deliver some really good performances, namely Ronan, that add to the game’s noir feeling. However, whether you are enjoying the narrative or forcing yourself through, it will not take long to discover the identity of the deadly culprit. Even with the small supply of side missions, the game only lasts around four hours. While this does help keep the story moving at a steady pace, and can prevent it from dragging on, the gameplay leads to Soul Suspect’s downfall, creating an experience that can become quite boring and sometimes frustrating.
Be prepared to run back and forth a lot. Soul Suspect plays out more like a point-and-click adventure than anything, but without the ability to instantly travel to certain locations. Because the game gives players control of Ronan, they will have to continuously and repetitiously run from point A to point B to point C back to point B. At first, running around as a ghost can be entertaining since Ronan can pass through various objects. Nevertheless, players will soon realize how restricting being a ghost can actually be. Ronan can possess the locals of Salem, but he cannot control their movements. All he can do is influence them to think about a certain topic and read their mind. As players run around Salem, there are numerous “ghost objects” that Ronan cannot pass through. These objects relate to Salem’s horrid past, such as burning buildings, old ships, stone walls, and devices used in the witch trials. These objects, walls and buildings may have been placed in the maps to enhance the atmosphere and give the player an idea at how the city used to look, but they do not translate that way. Instead, they are obnoxious obstacles that force players to find the long way around. What is confusing about these obstacles is that Ronan has the ability to remove some of them from his path, but not others. Later on in the game, Ronan gains the ability of teleportation, which allows you to transport through and past some of the obstacles, but, once again, not others. Both of these situations will leave you questioning what exactly Ronan can and cannot do.
The most common task players will be performing in the game is collecting items. These items can either be clues leading to the solution of an investigation or collectibles that give background into Ronan’s life, the killer’s rampage or the history of Salem. Each of these can be collected by discovering the objects littered around Salem or reading people’s thoughts. Besides collecting these various items, there is not much else to do, which translates to a boring gameplay experience. As the story progresses, players will come across demon-ghosts that have been roaming the earth for far too long without solving their unfinished business and have basically gone mad. Although their first appearance is quite intense, due to some appropriate buildup, any shock value quickly dissipates once the player figures out how easy it is to dispatch them. All one needs to do is stealthily approach a demon from behind and complete the necessary button prompts, and the demon is no more. If a demon sees Ronan, it can suck away his soul rather quickly, but the only reason that will ever happen is if the player is impatient or makes a mistake. There is also only one demon design, meaning every demon looks the same, and they all conduct the same movements, screams and attacks. The entire demon element starts to feel like a gimmick, only added into the game to give the player an extra gameplay mechanic. Also, it is never explained how or why Ronan is able to vanquish these demons; it just happens, and the player just has to accept it.
Sadly, the game’s primary focus - solving investigations - is another one of its weak points. Once players reach certain areas of the game, they will be asked to solve an investigation in order to find a lead or answer. To do this, clues that are scattered around the area must be examined and collected. Once the clues have been found, the player must choose the correct piece or pieces of evidence to answer whatever mystery Ronan is attempting to figure out. The idea of this mechanic is sound, but the execution is where it falters. There is often a surplus of clues, including some that do not even seem to pertain to the case being investigated. When it comes to solving the question, the main one asked by the game is “What is the most relevant piece of information?” This can sometimes be a tricky question simply because it is not specific and can easily lead to players choosing the wrong clue. Nevertheless, players only need to find the clues that will give Ronan the answer he is searching for, and they only need to worry about choosing the wrong piece of evidence if they care about achieving a perfect rank.
Soul Suspect is a clean experience as the game is not one to push the console’s hardware, and the framerate only dropped during a few loading sequences. The only bug encountered was an event that failed to trigger after all clues had been found in an investigation. This was quickly remedied by reloading the last checkpoint. Do not expect any vibrant colors or lively environments. Taking place in the span of one night, Soul Suspect guides the player through dreary environment after dreary environment. Everything seems chilled enough to send shivers down one’s spine, which is understandable since the game takes place in Salem and the developers were obviously attempting to set the tone of the game. Even though the environments were unique to each other - a church, an asylum, a cemetery - it still manages to become repetitive because of the constant gloom, and there are times when the setting is too dark to even see what’s in front of Ronan. Maybe that is not such a bad thing when it comes to the character design, though. While Ronan’s character and some of the supporting cast looks top notch, the same cannot be said for any of the roaming citizens of Salem. They all move around stiffly, their appearance bland and uninspired, all muttering or thinking the same pointless phrases with the lip synch completely off. Once again, the demon design fails to impress after their first sighting and merely becomes another obstacle to overcome. With a supernatural atmosphere in Salem, it is unfortunate that the developers didn’t take the time to create more terrifying demons or creepy settings.
Murdered: Soul Suspect is an experience that probably would have been more enjoyable to watch as a film than to play as video game. Even though all of the mechanics work, and the game does not suffer any game breaking bugs, nothing Soul Suspect offers stands out besides the opening cutscene. Walking through walls as a ghost, reading people’s thoughts and turning on a television poltergeist style is amusing at first, but every gameplay mechanic turns into a gimmick since each of Ronan’s abilities are restricted in some way. It does not help that the gameplay becomes quite boring even if the story grabs your attention. With the adventure lasting only several hours, and the only reason to replay it being missed collectibles, this game is not worth the full price of admission. Unless you are looking for an afternoon rental, I recommend leaving this ghostly business unfinished.