Murdered: Soul Suspect Review (Xbox One)
Release date: June 3, 2014
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Airtight Games
Platforms: Windows, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
*NO SPOILERS BELOW*
In a break from my recent story-based gaming addiction, I browsed through my Xbox library to see what I had downloaded, but long forgotten about. Seeing Murdered: Soul Suspect still installed, I said “Screw it” and dove in with just the knowledge offered in the game description on the Xbox Store.
Murdered: Soul Suspect is a adventure-thriller narrative game that follows Ronan O’Connor, a former career criminal turned police detective in a modern, fictionalized version of Salem, Massachusetts. While on the hunt for the deadly “Bell Killer”, Ronan confronts the killer and is subsequently thrown out a window and fatally shot. Instead of passing through the gates to the afterlife though, Ronan rises as a ghost and learns that for him to pass through those pearly gates, he must first discover the identity of his killer.
In his quest to solve the mystery, he encounters Abigail, the old-timey ghost of a young girl, and Joy, a teenage medium who is also searching for the Bell Killer, who was looking for her mother …who also happens to be a medium. It’s all in the bloodline, eh? Since she is a medium though, she's therefore the only one that can communicate with Ronan in the afterlife. As a result, Joy ends up being the most integral secondary character, as she becomes Ronan’s partner in solving the Bell killings and serves as his link to the living world. You will encounter other ghostly characters as well, some of which will unlock little side quests and uncover more about how some spirits stay trapped on earth. These little side quests were more poignant than anything as it kind of makes you wonder about some of the reasons why some of the world’s most famous ghosts stick around.
The gameplay is quite simplistic and breaks no real barriers. As the story progresses, the player is introduced to new “clues” that help them solve the motive behind the Bell killings. You’ll be prompted to “inspect” new clues, which are all added to an archive accessed through the start menu for you to review and revisit later, if need be. When it comes to the puzzle aspect of the gameplay, it is more or less limited to how you piece together your clues. If you don’t piece them together correctly, the game lends you some hints and does not limit your tries. That given, the mystery is so basic that it's very easy to piece together your clues the first time.
In addition, there are some enemies you’ll find periodically during missions. They are “demons”, cloaked creepers that wander the border of the afterlife looking for lost souls to harvest. They are defeatable thankfully, simply by approaching them stealthily when their backs are turned and executing them via a combo of your joystick and either X-Y-B-A (on Xbox).
As a ghost, Ronan has some limitations - he can’t enter new buildings unless someone opens the door and he is hindered by the supernatural lingerings of an old Salem. What do I mean by that? Modern Salem is modern to the living eye. But to the dead? The town is a mix of old and new, creating a sometimes frustrating, but incredibly intriguing environment to play in. You’ll come across burning homes, shipwrecks, and former glories of Salem’s past. I gotta say, the environments of this game were one of the two best things about it. For a 2014 game, I was quite impressed with the level of creepy, dark, and gloomy in the present and past environments.
I’m a sucker for thrillers and mysteries, so this was the biggest pull for me installing this game in the first place. In addition, the Salem aspect paired with the notion of solving your own murder as a ghost, is something rarely heard of in any entertainment medium, let alone gaming. So with a concept so large, it was disappointing, but not all that surprising, that the delivery was lackluster in terms of storytelling.
The game does hook you from the start, by opening right away with Ronan’s murder and quickly introducing you it’s style of storytelling. However, without spoiling too much, somewhere just over the halfway point, the appeal started to drift away due to the formulaic mission layouts and repetitive gameplay. When it comes to piecing together or solving clues, there is almost no variety in how the game decides to present it: pose the question, identify the clue, piece the clues together, then unlock a cutscene that leads into the mission. To add to this, there were missions that felt like the developers added them in simply because they fit the creepy, sadistic serial killer vibe. They linked back to the story in some ways, but these missions still felt forced and there simply to extend the gloomy atmosphere. Furthermore, your killer’s intentions are unoriginal and inadequately fleshed out, leaving you wondering “What the heck was the point?”
As a protagonist, Ronan O’Connor has an interesting backstory and presents himself as a bad boy with a purpose. I would’ve liked to see his character fleshed out more, specifically in the collectibles that help you “learn” about his past. I’ll give you a slight spoiler in that what we do learn, is not that staggering. On a positive note, I absolutely adore his character design, but I’m also biased towards the modern steampunk vibe (thank you, Bioshock).
The best part of this game, in my opinion at least, was the side ghost stories. Throughout several of the mission environments, players will encounter collectibles that help unlock “ghost stories”. If you collect all the items linked to that story, it will unlock a short audio clip that tells you about the ghost story linked to that set of collectibles. For anyone who’s got a love for a well-told ghost story, this is worth the extra time hunting in-game. My personal favorites were “The Heirloom” and “Man in the Box”. Each story also intertwines with the history of not only Salem, but 1800 and 1900 America overall.
My final verdict? Murdered: Soul Suspect is a game that explores a very unique style of storytelling in an underutilized area of American history (in horror at least). While the game is visually appealing, its lackluster gameplay and formulaic levels leave me wondering about all the missed opportunities Airtight Games could have explored with this amazing premise. Despite all that, I recommend giving it a playthrough for the game’s ideas, environments, and inexplicably creepy mood if you have a few hours to invest (closer to 10 if you decide to hunt for collectibles).