HIGH Being a ghost who mostly observes is... pretty cool, actually!
LOW The dialogue after the museum felt bizarrely out of character.
WTF Why are so many people trying to hook up in the graveyard?
A friend of mine remarked that Murdered: Soul Suspect seemed like a game that would have come out during the PlayStation era, or maybe the early years of the PS2. I have to agree.
The gonzo, often unpolished ideas that appeared regularly back then are the reason why that period of gaming is probably my favorite. Plenty of indies carry on the tradition, but consoles lost that edge thanks to publishers playing it safe and developers settling into genres. Murdered: Soul Suspect isn't the most tuned or seamless experience, but it absolutely breaks out of those ruts, and I love it for that.
The game begins with a gruff, heavily tattooed detective named Ronan being thrown out a window to his death on the street below. His ghost immediately rises and realizes that he's got to solve the case before he can leave the earthly plane, not just because he wants to bring his murderer to justice, but because the man who ended him is also a serial killer who's been terrorizing Salem, Massachusetts.
The thing I like most about Murdered: Soul Suspect is that because the main character is a ghost, he's unable to interact with most of the corporeal world. This presents a series of interesting design challenges, and although not entirely successful, I think Airtight hits the mark where it counts.
For instance, I think most players would assume Ronan should be able to pass through solid objects, and Airtight plays along with a twist. Instead of creating a world that's totally open in all directions, it's explained that ghosts can't pass through sanctified buildings. Most of "old" Salem was made ghost-proof in this way, but parts have been destroyed, burnt, or otherwise removed, so there's a neat effect with "spiritual" remnants of older buildings transposed upon modern ones. It's used a bit too much, but it's still a clever idea that communicates Ronan's ethereal existence while giving the player a good sense of where they can and can't go.
Along the same lines, Ronan is able to pick up on spiritual residue and strong emotions left in places where bad things happened. It's a kind of post-cognition that divines info at crucial crime scenes, and it allows him to gather clues and snippets of story that breathing cops can't. Once found, these bits are used to form thoughts or ideas leading to the next phase of the investigation.
Although most Murdered's playtime is spent walking from place to place to gather this info, this content is perfect for the premise. After all, Ronan's a ghost, so it wouldn't make sense for him to do action game things like dual-wielding or pulling off some parkour. A spirit's existence seems like it should be lonely and contemplative, and quietly spending time figuring out clues is hand-in-glove with the cerebral work of a detective, ghostly or otherwise.
That's not to say that Ronan spends the game alone, though. Not only does he come across several other ghosts (some of which need his help to figure out what happened to them) but he meets a young medium named Joy who's able to see and speak with him. The dialogue and characterizations are well-done, and the voice acting is absolutely top notch. Even better, having a partner in the real world sets up a few interesting scenes where Ronan must use his limited poltergeist powers to help Joy through guarded areas. Although quite simple, they're neat changes of pace.
I also want to praise to the story itself. I admit I'm not the world's sharpest person at figuring out whodunnit, but I absolutely did not predict who the killer would be, and the late-game twists were surprises thanks to some clever writing and a good dose of red herring. I give a tip of the hat to the writers of this supernatural mystery. However, despite all of its successes, Murdered: Soul Suspect definitely has some wonkiness that must be overlooked in order to enjoy it, just like those old PS1 and PS2 games. My biggest complaint? The lack of a manual save function.
Soul Suspect is not a lengthy game by any stretch of the imagination, yet it took me a surprisingly long time to get through because I was never able to play unless I was sure I'd have an uninterrupted session. I don't mind having auto saves, but it doesn't make sense to omit a manual option, especially when the checkpoints can be far apart. Losing thirty minutes of progress because life happens is unacceptable these days.
Another questionable decision was including way, way too many collectibles. There are several different types and they each deliver various backstories, but it's all painfully artificial, not to mention that it's boring to pick stuff up. The items aren't even well-integrated into the environment—they're just lying around randomly, and every time I found a notebook page relating to Ronan's history in a place that made no sense, I rolled my eyes. However, there were times when I came across a strong memory where Ronan would have been while alive, and when one blended into the environment in a sensible way, it was infinitely more effective. I would've loved more like this.
Those issues aside, I have nothing but appreciation for Murdered: Soul Suspect. It's fresh, it's different, it doesn't adhere to genre conventions, and it's an experience all its own. I would love to see more unusual efforts like this on consoles, and there's a lot of territory that this franchise in particular could explore. In light of everything it gets right, I'm more than happy to excuse the few wrongs, so my kudos go to Airtight—here's hoping they get the chance to do it again.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 9 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood, intense violence, strong language, and use of alcohol. There's no question this one's for the grownups thanks to strong language, explicit scenes of violence, and graphic discussions of grim events. Keep the kiddies away.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game is subtitled so it's no problem to follow along with the story, but some puzzles rely on audio cues which have no visual representation. The game's demon enemies are also announced before they're seen with a loud shriek, and this warning is not on-screen, either. The demons aren't a huge factor since any accidental death is remedied with a restart, but D/HH players will need to track down an FAQ or use a process of elimination to get past the puzzles.