Murdered: Soul Suspect Review
Murdered: Soul Suspect Review
|Adventure||June 3rd, 2014||Airtight Games||Square Enix||$39.99||PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC (Review Version)|
When I first saw Murdered: Soul Suspect appear on steam it immediately piqued my interest because of the uncanny resemblance to another video game series I enjoyed immensely over the years. I’m talking about Wadjet Eye Games’ Blackwell series of point-and-click adventure games.
Ghost detective? Check. Young girl that helps you investigate? Check. Supernatural stories about life, death and helping others to move on to the afterlife? Check and double check. Everything the Blackwell series has, Murdered: Soul Suspect has, except with high definition modern graphics.
Adventure games are in so far a curiosity to me as I have never really considered them to be strong games mechanically. However, I enjoy them immensely and have a long and varied relationship with them. At their core they are puzzle games, but tying the puzzle elements into a narrative or theme with rich atmosphere is what motivates me to play them.
In classic point-and-click adventures the player traditionally has the tools of a detective. Investigating a scene, combining the clues and finding solutions to a problem from context are all staples of the adventure, so what better way than to put these mechanics into a detective story?
Put it into a detective story with ghosts, of course.
The intro sequence wastes no time to introduce us to the killer the player will be hunting throughout the game. Ronan, the game’s protagonist, is seen falling out of a window, gun drawn and pointed at the killer, hitting the pavement. Ronan is dead and looks down at his own corpse in his ghost form, glowing bullet holes and infinite ghost-cigarettes included.
It is explained fairly early on that Salem is a bridge (or a prison) between the real world and the afterlife, of which there seems to be two versions: eternal damnation and heaven. After they die some people are tethered by unresolved issues to Salem’s purgatory; however, their ascent or descent is not necessarily tied to their morality or choices as the Christian mythology might suggest. Rather, all people go to heaven as long as they can pass on, but the longer they stay tethered in purgatory the more likely it is they become corrupted into Demons, living off the souls of the damned, or become completely lost, visualized as tar-black holes in the ground with arms grabbing at any ghost that passes them.
Metaphysics aside, those are the ‘enemies’ the player has to deal with besides general point and click investigation, minigames and puzzles.
As expected from a ghost, you can freely pass through real-world objects as long as they are not consecrated, which most outer walls of buildings in Salem are. Getting into buildings is tricky but there are ways for a resourceful ghost detective with superpowers.
Strengths in Life become abilities in Death.
During the course of the game Ronan acquires many abilities to aid the player in his investigation. He can reveal or dispel ghost-objects existing in purgatory, possess the living to see through their eyes or influence their thoughts and actions, possess smaller animals like cats and gain full body control over them, see memory residue, influence electronic devices as a poltergeist, exorcise demons, see through walls, and even teleport short distances.
Environment navigation often becomes very interesting with these tools as the movement itself becomes a kind of puzzle to reach a clue, note or other goal. Adding in the threat of Demons, the gameplay often focuses around angles, distance, finding the right objects to reveal or dispel and line of sight.
Unfortunately, Murdered: Soul Suspect does not go all-out in its design. It feels like all these elements were intended to play a much bigger role as well as to be utilized in larger, less contained levels with more stealth elements. However, given that the game is a ‘basic’ adventure game, their inclusion is at least a welcome addition to the traditional elements of the genre.
Investigations on the other hand are more generic. The player generally has to scour an area for clues, which are displayed in a counter on the bottom left of the UI, and then solve a simple quiz which usually asks the player to reconstruct the chain of events that lead to the mystery in question. A welcome addition is the fact the player can attempt to solve an investigation without having all the clues, and is graded on how well he performs with police badges.
While most of the investigations are self-contained, their clues can play a role across the game, as a puzzle might utilize a previously found clue in a different location and context. This is where the built-in codex helps a lot, since the player can review previous investigations and re-watch cutscenes at any given time. It gives a feeling of continuity to the player’s endeavors to uncover the truth and stands out in a genre where puzzles can feel a little too linear and disconnected at times.
The city-hub of Salem isn’t particularly big, but it serves its purpose to give the game its general atmosphere. After the first two investigations, the map opens up for the player to go out on their own and perhaps help some other people trapped in purgatory. Additionally, players can scour the environment for collectibles that either tell of separate events or add to Ronan’s or Salem’s backstory. The side-quests, for lack of a better term, are largely self-contained and rather simplistic; there are also fewer or them the further the player goes into the game, but not for lack of opportunities.
Sometimes Murdered: Soul Suspect seems like it’s been released in an unfinished state: many locations have hiding spots from Demons which never get utilized as there are no enemies, and there are occasional ghost-NPCs that will engage in conversation but don’t have an investigation attached to them. In fact the further into the game, the less frequent and elaborate these conversations are, ending in NPCs just saying “leave me alone” in the last quarter of the game. It’s a pity, as I would have welcomed more puzzles and side-stories to investigate, even though Murdered: Soul Suspect has a reasonable 6-8 hour running time in a brisk playthrough.
The same has to be said, unfortunately, about the stealth mechanics and ‘combat’. While the mechanics themselves are interesting and can provide for a reasonable stealth experience and some interesting playstyles, they are massively underused and misplaced in the simplistic encounter designs.
It is entirely possible to play this game fast and skillful, navigating the line of sight of the demons with phasing through walls and using your distraction abilities as well as your teleport to exorcise them from behind, but it feels like the level design was made for the one-size-fits-all approach and consequently the game can’t spread its wings mechanically.
While Murdered: Soul Suspect doesn’t utilize its full potential and often feels like Salem is the city of missed opportunities, it presents a lot of unique ideas to justify giving it a look if it should appear on a sale for a reduced price. At $39.99 I can’t really recommend buying it, as the game seems to be overpriced even though its audiovisual production values do warrant it.
Narratively the game is adequate, although some of the twists are predictable, but overall it presents a focused story driven by its characters. The delivery (besides some quirky lip-sync issues) is solid and the visuals are nice, although sometimes a bit too drab. Performance-wise the game ran well, with only the occasional loading-stutter, on my 560GT with almost everything maxed.
I sincerely hope that there might be a sequel or at the very least a spiritual successor, as I would like to see the mechanics fleshed out, the levels fixed and the world populated more, in which case I would even recommend paying full price for it.