August 7, 2014 by Paul Curtin
One of the best moments of last year’s E3 was something that didn’t actually take place at the event itself. Square-Enix’s reveal of Murdered: Soul Suspect a week before E3 2013 was a total shock and one of the best trailers of the year. The concept of an L.A. Noire meets The Frighteners seemed intriguing… but upon further inspection of the actual gameplay and retailer’s slashing the price before the game’s release made this title a tad suspect.
Taking place in present-day Salem, Massachusetts, the story starts off strong in an eerie atmosphere. Ronan O’Connor is a detective pursuing the town’s mysterious hood-wearing serial-kille,r who is referred to only as the “Bell Killer.” Just as in the trailer, Ronan is thrown out of a second-story window and then shot to death in the middle of the street by the Bell Killer after pursuing him or it. Gameplay resumes where the trailer’s brilliant cliffhanger left off, leaving the player, as the ghost of Ronan, to solve the case of his own murder.
It instantly becomes clear that Murdered is not as pretty and polished as its sleek CGI teaser as the game’s intro tries to recreate the same scene from the trailer. Even with inferior visual effects, Ronan’s death scene is still a powerful scene and a great setup for the story that alone is enough to keep you focused on completing the game and solving the mystery of who is behind the hood.
Like L.A. Noire, developer Airtight Games’ Soul Suspect is a character-driven experience. Both the living and the dead help bring the story to life and keep it interesting from beginning to end. Ronan, a former criminal turned cop, might be a bit of a cliché, but he’s still a memorable character due to Jason Brooks’ great voice acting. At some points, Ronan is used even better to help narrate the story in more of a noir fashion than what Rockstar did with Cole Phelps in L.A. Noire.
Supporting characters like Joy (Cassidy Lehrman), who has the ability to see ghosts, and Ronan’s brother-in-law, Rex (Travis Willingham), are also solid… but, we’ve seen better work from their real-life voice-actors when given more scenes to steal in other recent games.
Murdered’s gameplay also takes a page out of L.A. Noire‘s book by consisting of select areas that try to challenge players to find objects scattered around crime scenes. Upon finding a certain amount of clues, Ronan can piece everything together and then witness a flashback of how everything actually went down. There are moments where this combination of investigation and story are great, but Soul Suspect runs into the same issue Rockstar had where clues are too easy to find and Ronan’s investigation begins to feel like it’s solving itself. When there are no consequences to making the wrong choices, gameplay begins to feel like meaningless busywork with no real challenge.
However, gameplay isn’t completely void of challenges, and it does involve stealth sequences where Ronan must sneak by or behind demons and execute them before they spot Ronan and suck out his soul. Rather than being able to shoot anything or take cover, players can walk through walls and hide from demons by jumping between the immobile remnants of other spirits. These moments of creeping by demons can even be a bit chilling as you hear the screech of one getting closer in an abandoned house or empty police station. But after getting over the small learning curve, the initial fear wears off, and demon encounters become far too repetitive, again, with no real challenge.
There are other great ideas that also don’t seem fully fleshed out. Ronan can possess random people he comes across, allowing the player to even occasionally influence what they say. On paper the idea of being able to posses people and listen to their thoughts sounds great… but when said people only have one line of dialog that they repeat over and over again, possessing them becomes pointless. Surprisingly, the game’s few moments where you take control over an awkwardly animated cat and traverse through vents or on vines and trees are actually a nice change of pace to the dull humans.
Like its citizens, the supernatural town of Salem that the developers have created is also dull and repetitive. The game gives the illusion of a giant open sandbox to play in, but ultimately it’s a very linear experience. The design of the town nails the eerie look and feel that you would expect from one with such a rich history of witches and ghosts, but there are far too many restrictions that don’t seem very logical when your character is supposed to be a ghost himself. These restrictions aren’t so much gamebreaking as they are just annoying, and they were obviously put in place due to technical limitations that shouldn’t be an issue on brand-new systems like the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
For every step forward that Murdered takes towards the light, it takes another step back into limbo to prevent it from being a great game. The characters, town, and gameplay might all be one-dimensional, but the whodunnit set-up is enough to keep you hooked, wanting to uncover clues and solve the mystery that somewhat pays off in the end. Overall, the game is able to overcome enough of its shortcomings to create a fun experience, but it’s an experience that isn’t on par with other great triple-A titles. There are a lot of interesting ideas here, but nothing about Soul Suspect stands out as great or lives up to its debut trailer — which explains the mystery of why Square-Enix was already willing to offer it at such a generous discount before it even hit store shelves. Murdered: Soul Suspect gets 3 out 5 stars (Good).
- Great setup for a compelling story
- Solid voice-acting from the cast
- Interesting concept that feels unique
- Enemies can be chilling at times
- Repetitive gameplay with no real challenge
- Airtight’s take on Salem and its citizens is dull
- Dated level designs and mechanics