The hardest murder to solve is your own.
Murdered: Soul Suspect opens with a bang. Well, more like a crash, as detective Ronan O’Connor, the game’s gravely protagonist, smashes through a window and plummets four stories to the cold Salem concrete. Moments later, seven bullets from an unknown assailant pierce the bad boy lawman’s chest leaving him for dead. At that moment Ronan’s life fades and then your quest begins. So starts the events of Murdered: Soul Suspect, Airtight Games’ ghostly detective thriller that plants you in the spectral shoes of the murdered detective as he attempts to unravel the supernatural secrets behind his untimely demise.
The premise of this otherworldly whodunit is without a doubt the strongest draw of Murdered: Soul Suspect. The roughly eight hour quest for answers is full of red herrings and mystery as Ronan’s investigation leads from one eerie New England locale to the next. From churches to graveyards to morbid museum showcasing medieval implements used to execute the town’s iconic witches, each area is full of its own secrets to solve that will keep you waiting to see what happens next. The storytelling is further enhanced by the voice talent’s admirable work, which breathes life into the very lifeless detective and his spirit medium sidekick Joy as they scour Salem’s underbelly for clues to unmask the Bell Killer, a serial killer who has been targeting young women in the sleepy New England town.
The gameplay of Murdered: Soul Suspect switches between exploration and action as you explore the ancient town of Salem. As a ghost, Ronan is no longer bound to the confines of the physical realm and is able to pass through many walls and barriers as if walking through thin air. While this makes navigating indoor environments a breeze, you’re seldom able to use this ability while meandering the corridoresque streets of Salem as he is unable to pass through structures consecrated by the town’s citizens. In addition to walking through walls, you’ll also be able to possess Salem’s citizens to see through their eyes or read their shockingly mundane thoughts, perform poltergeist-like actions to disrupt surveillance equipment and distract enemies, and even posses a nimble feline to reach otherwise inaccessible areas.
Much of your time in Salem is spent investigating the Bell Killer’s ever-expanding list of victims. To do this you’ll have to employ a variety of methods to uncover the clues behind these grisly ritualistic killings. Gathering evidence in Murdered: Soul Suspect is typically handled by possessing the hamlet’s denizens in an attempt to influence their thoughts to reveal more about the case at hand, using your ghostly powers to reveal spectral memories imprinted in the environment, and good old fashioned detective work. While the scenes you’ll explore are abundant, many of them are disappointingly simple, requiring very little deductive reasoning as you choose the clues that best suit the current investigation.
In addition to gathering clues, you’ll also uncover a voluminous stack of notes conveniently left behind by Ronan’s dead wife which add yet another layer to the game’s surprisingly deep and well thought out story. Many of these scattered scraps detail Ronan’s troubled past as a young hood before joining the force, and help to better define Ronan as a character, making you care for the fedora-sporting protagonist before he met his untimely end.
Murdered’s investigation sequences are without question the game’s strong suit, as the action segments leave much to be desired. After every investigation you’ll find yourself faced with an onslaught of demons, supernatural creatures that feed off the souls of the dead, which you must avoid and kill stealthily to progress. Unfortunately, while initially exhilarating, you’ll only encounter one type of demon throughout the entire game, and each of them is dispatched in the same manner. By simply sneaking up behind a demon and pressing a button, you’ll initiate a brief quick time sequence. If you’re successful the fiend will burst into ephemeral flame, if you aren’t, you’ll be hounded and likely killed unless you’re able to escape to a hiding spot, which is typically a weird vortex that acts as a temporary form of cover when being pursued. These segments wear out their welcome and quickly become repetitive, serving only to pad an already short adventure. Airtight Games would have benefited immensely from offering a different approach to combat and offering a wider variety of enemies in these largely underwhelming segments that only serve to mar the overall package.
While exploring the town Ronan will encounter numerous other spectral beings unable to pass on from their state of limbo. In these situations you’ll have to scour the scene of their death for clues to help these poor souls pass on into the next world. These light investigation elements play out similarly to Team Bondi’s 2011 detective adventure L.A. Noire as you attempt to scour for enough evidence to piece together exactly what happened. These investigations, while not mandatory, are a pleasant diversion and, while usually quite simple, add a much needed layer of depth to Murdered’s caper.
Despite Murdered: Soul Suspect’s inconsistency I found it hard to put the controller down during my roughly eight hour playthrough. While the half-baked combat sequences and casual difficulty may make it seem like this supernatural sleuth has one foot in the grave, the well developed characters and consistently winding story kept me guessing from start to finish, and I genuinely wanted to see the maniacal forces behind Salem’s horrible murders brought to justice. With a little more time spent in the oven Murdered: Soul Suspect could have been a truly exceptional experience, but its glaring flaws ensure not everyone will take kindly to this undead investigation. However, if you go into the experience knowing what to expect you’ll find a case well worth cracking with this postmortal mystery.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 (reviewed) ; Publisher: Square Enix; Developer: Airtight Games; Players: 1; Released: June 3, 2014 ; ESRB: M; MSRP: $59.99:
Note: Impressions in this review are based on the Playstation 4 version of the game.