Murdered: Soul Suspect is a rare treat amidst the hogwash of obnoxiously violent AAA titles currently cluttering store shelves. Slow-paced and atmospheric, it offers a different kind of game experience which, despite an admittedly silly premise — you play a ghost cop hunting down his killer — is one of the standout releases of 2014.
Set in Salem, Massachusetts, you play as ex-convict turned good cop, Ronan O’Connor, who meets an untimely demise during the game’s opening sequence. Murdered by the mysterious “Bell Killer”, Ronan is unable to cross over to the afterlife, remaining stuck in a purgatory-like realm between the living and the dead until he, you guessed it, uncovers the identity of his killer.
The subsequent story is a classic “whodunnit” murder-mystery tale, with plenty of twists and turns sure to keep you guessing right up to the shocking conclusion. It’s commendable both the characters and the player are kept in the dark until the end, since most similar stories are usually so sloppy in their approach anyone paying even the slightest attention can figure out the mystery. The solid voice and motion-capture performances behind each character compliment the tight narrative, doing well to draw you in from the get-go, and not relenting until the credits begin to roll.
Despite his prowess as a hot-shot detective in life, Ronan’s refined sleuthing skills fail him in the afterlife. No longer is he able to interview suspects or witnesses, nor can he handle evidence or access police computer records; making the pursuit for his killer tricky. Fortunately, being a ghost has certain advantages, such as the ability to possess other people (and cats!), reading their minds or influencing their actions, and of course the tried and true ghostly staple of walking through walls.
Amidst a release schedule of sequels and games where all you do is shoot people in the face, Murdered: Soul Suspect is a breath of fresh air.
The ability to pass through walls is one that adds a new layer of exploration to what would have otherwise been a generic third-person detective game. Without feeling overpowered, Ronan’s ghostly form allows you to freely roam around as you see fit, and makes environments that would normally appear linear, such as the floor of an apartment building, seem much more open. To keep players focused, while giving them just enough of that ‘open-world’ feel, the development team have thrown up certain walls not even ghosts can get through, reasoned within the story.
As for Ronan’s other ghostly abilities — possession, mind reading and memory projection — you’ll put them all to good use during Murdered’s investigative sequences. During these sections you’re required to search the surrounding area for clues and pieces of evidence that will further your search for the Bell Killer; think of them like the crime scenes from L.A. Noire, but with ghosts.
’Ghost walls’ found in the spiritual world help keep Murdered: Soul Suspect’s game world structured. These special walls are made up of apparitions that bear the likeness of Salem during the witch trials – a period in the town’s history that has dark connections to the game’s story. And to prevent Ronan from wandering into any building he wants, most of the homes in Salem are protected from spirits, and the only way for them to enter is via an open window or door.
The most common way to uncover clues and evidence is by simply selecting objects or persons of interest, while others are a little more tricky to find. Sometimes you’ll need to possess a NPC and influence them by selecting a previously-found clue to jog their memory, or string together multiple clues to experience a flashback of the past. Murdered makes it easy for you to progress without much hassle, since you don’t need to collect every clue to piece together your investigation, even if it’s a little weird when only one or two clues, out of a potential eight or nine, are important, while the rest appear to be nothing but filler.
Nevertheless, these brain-teasing sequences are very much enjoyable. Each is generally well thought-out, with a great deal of care and detail having gone into the detective applications. Often clues you dig up during one investigation will be referenced later, which makes Ronan’s detective skills appear legitimate and, dare I say it, real. One major drawback to the system is it quickly becomes easier to simply guess your way through investigations, randomly selecting clues until stumbling upon the winning combination. To help discourage this behaviour, Murdered employs a three-badge review rating for each clue and lead you uncover. If you try to foolishly piece clues together at random with misinformation, you’ll ruin any chance of earning top marks.
Spliced between your investigations are encounters with demons; foul beasts which fest on the souls of ghosts stuck in limbo. As demons cannot be attacked head-on, you’ll need to use covert stealth to get around behind them if you’re to survive. To this end, you’ll have to master the ability of jumping between “ghostly” tears, or pockets, that appear in the spiritual world, and wait for the demon to turn its back to either sneak past or execute it.
While I generally enjoyed this non-violent approach, the stealth mechanics occasionally betrayed me. Sometimes when I thought I was out of the demon’s line of sight, they’d suddenly scream and lunge towards me, whereas other times I’d be clearly in front of them (albeit from a distance) and they’d pay me no mind. Despite this minor drawback, I applaud the decision to sidestep any situation where we see Ronan take out his attackers with some kind of ghost-gun, opting instead for minimal violence.
I played Murdered: Soul Suspect on PlayStation 4, which enjoyed a solid frame rate and a much cleaner picture — and it’s the same on Xbox One, which MMGN also tried. Like many cross-gen games, there’s little reason to upgrade to a new console just for this game, but if you’re aching to play something on them I’d recommend you spend a little more for the new-gen versions.
Murdered: Soul Suspect has obviously been built for last-gen hardware, with Xbox One and PlayStation 4 ports coming as an after thought, but thanks to its macabre and atmospheric art style you would hardly know the difference. This isn’t a game aiming to be the best, graphically. It’s perfectly content giving us character models and environments that look pleasing enough without being spectacular.
While it’s visually solid, I did encounter some very minor glitches. From your standard texture pop-in towards the end of the game (damn you, Unreal Engine), to missing audio tracks for some NPCs, and an odd occurrence where my ‘current objective’ didn’t changed for the longest time. Still, these are so minute in nature that none of them would ruin your experience. Unless of course you wanted them to, in which case you’d be doing yourself a disservice.