Murdered: Soul Suspect Review: Better off dead?
Murdered: Soul Suspect is one of those games that takes an already interesting genre (I love a good murder mystery) and flips it on its head by having you play as a detective tasked with solving your own murder. The game kicks off with a bang -- or several rather -- as Detective Ronan O’Connor is thrown through a top-floor window and then shot to death by his own gun at the hands of the mysterious “Bell Killer.” Rather than completely pass through onto the next world, Ronan finds himself stuck in limbo. The only way to escape this “prison” is to settle his “unfinished business” by discovering the identify of his own killer.
It’s definitely an interesting setup, albeit a predictable one. Despite the rather cliche narrative, it was a plot that kept me invested for the eight-or-so hours it took me to complete the investigation. That’s important given Murdered’s strong emphasis on narrative and storytelling. Heck, there’s probably less than an hour’s worth of actual action in the entire game.
Rather, most of the game is spent wandering the town of Salem, Massachusetts, investigating crime scenes or locations of interest, and forming conclusions. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as I prefer my detective games to, you know, focus on solving the mystery, but at times searching for clues can feel a bit repetitive -- even with Ronan’s supernatural abilities, which are actually quite mundane.
Here’s how it works: you enter a specific location and are tasked with uncovering a certain number of clues so that you can form a conclusion. Once you find the clues you must analyze them to the best of your ability. The game will ask you a question and then you’ll have to choose the most logical answers based on the clues you discovered. Here’s the thing though, it’s not always the most logical answers. Whether it’s the phrasing or the question or the way the clues are presented, there were times when the answers just didn’t make sense to me.
During those times, I resorted to process of elimination as there is literally no consequence for guessing wrong. Sure, there’s a badge system that grades you based on your success or failure at analyzing the clues, but it’s all pretty meaningless. Guessing wrong literally has zero impact on the game; no alternative outcomes, no penalties, nothing. I understand why Airtight would steer clear of penalizing you for wrong answers, but again, for a game that focuses on narrative, I’d have like to see some sort of consequences for wrong decisions -- maybe an alternative cutscene or something different.
In between main points of interest, Ronan finds himself wandering the streets of Salem, Massachusetts. Anyone familiar with the city knows it’s a wonderfully interesting setting, but I can’t help but feel that it was wasted potential in Murdered. Airtight would have you believe it’s an open-world environment and to a certain extent it is. You are free to walk around, search for objects of interest that provide backstory; there’s even some side missions where you can help other ghosts who are also stuck in limbo. It doesn’t take long to realize that this “open world” is really just an illusion, severely limiting where you can explore. It’s unfortunate, given the setting, that Airtight would constrain you to such a small area.
To the developer’s credit, they do attempt to mask these limitations. Parts of Salem have a ghostly overlay from sometime back in the day and Ronan can’t pass through these parts because, well, he’s a ghost. Many of the town’s buildings are also blocked off as they’ve been “consecrated” by Salem’s citizens. The only way in or out is through an open door or window. Turns out, almost everyone in Salem keeps them shut. Of course, if there was a Bell Killer wandering the streets of my city, I’d probably do the same.
Once inside a building, Ronan is free to walk through walls at will. Though this is a unique feature, it’s terribly frustrating at times. With no map or anything, it’s very easy to get lost in a building. On several occasions I found myself trapped because everything pretty much looks the same. The ability to walk through walls removes any sense of direction or position within a building.
As I mentioned, there is little action in Murdered: Soul Suspect. Honestly, that’s for the best as I think it detracts from the story. At random times throughout a mission, you’ll find yourself in a building with demons that basically want to suck your soul. This is where the game’s stealth mechanic comes into play as you can’t be spotted by these demons or they’ll kill you almost immediately. Instead, you have to surprise them from behind to make them explode. The game offers quite a few tactics to help you -- walk through through walls, using crows as a distraction, hiding in ghost residue -- but the unpredictable nature of these beasts often led to frustrating deaths.
Being a ghost is neat and all, but it does come with a downside. Well, first of all, it means you’re dead, so that sucks. But being in this afterlife means you can’t interact with objects in the real world or talk to actual people. That’s where Joy, a medium with the ability to communicate with the deceased, comes in. Much to Joy’s displeasure, the two must work together to help solve the case. The interaction between the duo leads to some of the best moments in the game, making me wish she had more screen time.
The biggest problem with Joy, and pretty much every other character you’ll meet in the game, is that Murdered gives you very little reason to care about them. Sure, there’s some backstory you can uncover, but it’s hardly enough to become invested in them. Even Ronan’s wife, whom you meet for a brief moment at the beginning of the game, stirred little emotion from me and that’s simply because there’s not enough setup.
Throughout Salem you can find objects that provide you with backstory on characters and locations, but the problem with this is these are purely text. And they are hidden in a muddled menu that makes it frustrating to look at. I would’ve preferred some sort of audio log rather than having to pause the game and dig through the menus to read, yes READ, backstory. Some of it was pretty long too.
Murdered: Soul Suspect definitely isn’t for everyone, but it fills a nice niche for those interested in the whole murder mystery thing. The setting and plot are serviceable for the eight-or-so hours you’ll spend investigating Ronan’s death, but I can’t help but feel Airtight left some opportunities on the table. Perhaps the biggest disappointment was that many of the game’s unique concepts -- heck, even the idea of being a ghost detective -- were vastly underutilized. That being said, if you like a good murder mystery, Murdered: Soul Suspect will help fill the void.