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Murdered: Soul Suspect

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Airtight Games
Release Date: June 3, 2014 (US), June 6, 2014 (EU)


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PS4 Review - 'Murdered: Soul Suspect'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Oct. 2, 2014 @ 2:00 a.m. PDT

Murdered: Soul Suspect takes players into a whole new realm of mystery where the case is personal and the clues just out of reach.

Sometimes, you just want to relax and watch a simple movie while a mildly interesting story plays out on-screen. B-grade horror and mystery films aren't masterpieces, but they're engrossing enough to draw you in. The acting might be a little cheesy, the plot too predictable and the special effects subpar, but there's something comforting about a film like that, and occasionally, it displays flashes of brilliance. In many ways, Murdered: Soul Suspect is the video game equivalent of a B movie.

Murdered follows Ronan O'Connor, a former delinquent who's worked his way up to be a detective for the Salem Police Department. He's investigating the Bell Killer, a brutal serial murderer, who attacks without rhyme or reason. When Ronan corners the Bell Killer, he's thrown out a window and shot repeatedly with his own gun. Ronan awakens as a ghost at the scene of his own crime and receives an ominous message: The only way he can move on to the afterlife is by solving his own murder. Aided by a young spirit medium named Joy, Ronan must use his ghostly powers to uncover the Bell Killer's identity before another murder occurs.

The title's biggest issue is that it's an interesting setting and reasonable story told from the perspective of some incredibly boring characters. Ronan is a real disappointment. He's introduced as a criminal-turned-cop, a hard maverick who tries to prove himself in the wake of personal tragedy. The actual character is the most generic cop in the world. He's both helpful and downtrodden, making it even harder to care. Joy does a slightly better job of being a character to empathize with. Most of the cast veers far into the realm of cliché, but they're all more interesting than Ronan is.

Despite the weak protagonist, the story in Murdered isn't bad. There's a supernatural setting, but it maintains a consistent tone throughout and doesn't overreach. When the game works, it works pretty well, and I did enjoy puzzling out clues or solving problems. There are some pretty engrossing twists. When the pacing is good, it's quite fun, but the plot has a tendency to meander too long in dull territory.

The ghostly powers are well integrated into the game. As a ghost, you're incapable of physically interacting with objects, so you have a selection of ghostly powers. First and foremost, this includes the ability to walk through walls. There's a strict set of rules in place, though. You can only walk through walls within a building, as the outsides are consecrated ground. There are also ghostly memory buildings that you can't walk through, and patches of demon-ground attempt to drag Ronan into hell. It's an interesting mix of freedom and limitations.

You can also possess characters. By and large, this allows you to camp out in someone's body rather than directly controlling it. You can read their minds, let them carry you past dangerous areas, or briefly influence their thoughts with clues that you've picked up. There are a few instances when you can directly control something you're possessing, but they're few and far between. Your ability to interact with the world is limited to "poltergeist" activities, which largely consist of turning on a device to draw someone's attention.  

A good chunk of the game is spent in investigations, which amount to a combination of clue-searching gameplay and some minor puzzle-solving. While it may not use the click-the-pixel style of old adventure games, it uses the closest modern console equivalent. You can walk freely around the various investigation scenes but must spend some time trying to find the right place to stand to trigger the option to investigate a clue. Puzzles mostly entail using your ghostly powers to gain access to clues. It isn't overly complex, but it's pretty satisfying to figure out what you need. Once you've found enough clues, you can use them to advance the plot, either by combining clues or using a specific clue to prompt a character you're possessing to come to a realization.

Murdered is no stranger to the oh-so-familiar problem of most adventure games. The title sometimes thinks that the solution it's looking for is more obvious than the player does. It often runs into a Phoenix Wright-style problem where it wants you to present a certain piece of evidence, but it isn't the one you'd think is clear. Fortunately, failure is basically a nonissue in Murdered, and you can eventually figure things out through trial and error. It's just annoyed when it happens and you must click around to figure out which clue the game wants. One cool feature is that not every clue is necessary. You can find the solution to certain questions without solving every puzzle, as long as you have enough relevant clues to figure out the answer.

Murdered is a game largely without combat or violence. Perhaps that's why the developers felt the need to include a mechanic to give players something more "actiony" to do. Unfortunately, this doesn't work in the game's favor. Scattered throughout the gameworld are demons, ex-humans who have become soul-sucking monstrosities. If Ronan gets too close to one, they attempt to devour him and end his ghostly existence. When you spot them, the only option you have is to run and "hide" in soul fragments hidden around the area. Hide long enough, and the demon goes back to patrolling. If you can sneak up on a demon, you can exorcise it with a quick time event (QTE). This is made easier by the fact that Ronan has x-ray vision that lets him follow demon movements through walls.

Most of the time, demons aren't very interesting. The only time they're a risk is if the somewhat-finicky controls don't let you jump into a hiding place quickly enough. The few times they're not, it's because the area is frustratingly designed. Murdered is a slow-paced investigation game, so action elements, even if they're extremely slow-paced ones, don't mesh well at all and just get in the way.

Beyond the main mystery, Murdered also has a bunch of side-quests. Some of these are simple collectibles that you can find around the environment. The collectibles provide detail on the history of Salem or contain solutions to long-forgotten murders. They're reasonably fun to find but wear out their welcome pretty quickly. At about the halfway point, I got tired of combing corners for uninteresting bits of lore that had no impact on the story or game. Mixed in with the collectibles are a few minor investigations that give Ronan the chance to help friendly spirits find their well-deserved rest. These investigations didn't change the plot at all, but it was nice to do some ghostly police work as a break from hunting down the Bell Killer.

Murdered is the kind of game where visuals really hold it back. The character designs attempt realism but don't have the fidelity behind them to make it work. Most of the characters look like stiff, waxen puppets repeating a few canned animations. Some of the art design is nice, especially for the demons, but the title needed either better visual quality or more stylization to really work. The voice acting is similarly of a low quality. Some of the actors do their jobs well enough, but most of the voice acting is either overly theatrical or sounds phoned-in. Ronan's weird growling voice doesn't really work well, and he flubs a number of lines. As with the core plot, Joy manages to carry things well enough here.

Murdered: Soul Suspect is a ghost of a game. You can see the lingering spirit of something more, but in the end, it's only a pale shadow of what it could have been. The weak character writing and lackluster visuals drag down what is otherwise a fun adventure game. There are some game mechanics that should've been exorcised (pun intended). If you're looking for a relaxing way to spend a rainy afternoon, Murdered fits the bill, but that's about it.

Score: 7.0/10

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