Murdered: Soul Suspect was released last week, with little fanfare from publishers Square Enix. It's a murder mystery/stealth game which invites comparisons to LA Noire, but delivers rather short of the mark. The unique selling point of Murdered is that your character is killed within the first two minutes of the game, left to roam the Earth in spectral form, gathering clues and following leads in order to solve his own murder. Sounds pretty interesting, right? Unfortunately, Soul Suspect's wooden voice acting and sub-par animations pull the player away from any potential emotional connection from the early scenes and the whole game just reeks of wasted potential.
We open in Salem, Massachusetts on our hero, Detective Ronan O'Connor attempting to take down local serial murderer 'The Bell Killer' without backup, and promptly being thrown out of a window for his troubles. As he falls, we are treated to a montage of Ronan's greatest hits from his sordid past and redemption - kind of like the opening scenes of UP but without the emotional levity. As Ronan's confused ghost attempts to work out how to bring himself back to life, the Bell Killer calmly shoots him in the chest several times to finish the job. Ronan is banished to a kind of ghostly limbo where he must use his new supernatural abilities to deal with his unfinished business before he can move on to the afterlife proper.
The gameplay comes in two distinct parts. The bulk of the game is spent exploring Salem, looking for clues that will help you solve your murder or assisting other ghosts with their unfinished business to help them move on. This usually involves exploring a small crime scene area to discover clues which then need to be linked together to solve the case. You're always made aware if you leave the crime scene, so no time is wasted searching inappropriate locations. This fencing in also means that finding all the clues and solving the mysteries presents little challenge beyond moving around enough to ensure you have looked at every area - similar to the pixel by pixel scanning of a screen in adventure games of old. Each time you guess a solution incorrectly you lose one of the three shields used for ranking your performance - after your second failure...nothing happens. You can pretty much keep guessing until you get bored or run out of options. There is no negative impact from doing badly and nothing in the game is affected by your performance other than how many shields are shown when you look at the case. This renders the ranking system pointless as Murdered simply isn't good enough to warrant a second play through for a perfect score.
The second part of the game play occurs when there are demons nearby and Soul Suspect transforms into a more stealthy experience. Demons will straight up suck out Ronan's soul, so must be avoided at all costs. The demons are actually quite terrifying, moving with a jerky, inhuman gait and screeching with the rage when they spot you. When seen, you must run and hide before you are killed and these sections can be truly scary at times. These stealth sections are really well planned but they are so obviously signposted and rare that they feel more like an inconvenience to the story than an enhancement at times. The whole experience would be improved if the demons were present throughout the game, rather than in their designated, story defined areas as it would make them a reality of Ronan's new world rather than a distraction.
Luckily, being dead has its perks! Your ghost detective comes equipped with a variety of ghostly skills including the ability to possess other characters in the game, allowing you to read their minds, see the world through their eyes, or influence their behaviour. Ronan can also walk through objects and walls...except when he can't. This is explained as being due to 'consecrated ground' but even the character telling you this sounds like she knows this is a flimsy excuse and is a little embarrassed that she has to explain it at all.
New abilities are gained as you progress through the game and it becomes easier to gather the insanely huge number of collectable items scattered throughout Salem. These collectables provide information on the history of Salem, the Bell Killer and Ronan O'Connor's past. Some collectables unlock full standalone stories. These are a nice distraction from the main game, told in the style of a campfire ghost story and relating to the area in which they were found. In a world where ghosts are real, these tales take on a new meaning and contribute well to the atmosphere.
Murdered had such great potential. There are some interesting touches, including the ability to possess and influence other characters, but since this is focused on getting them to talk about certain things, it really feels like a wasted opportunity. The demon sections are quite scary but don't occur regularly enough to be of any consequence. What really lets Murdered: Soul Suspect down overall is the way it tells its story. Dialogue is delivered with little to no emotion by characters whose mouths don't always move, and unfortunately the writing isn't good enough to make up for these errors and the whole experience just feels flat.
Murdered: Soul Suspect lingers almost exactly at the quality middle point as a game. It doesn't do anything particularly good, nor does it do anything terribly bad; it's just okay. The ghost stories and premise of the title are what have pushed the needle up into the green but even these serve as a reminder of what could have been.