At a time when many developers are choosing to play it safe and stick to reliable game styles that just so happen to look a bit different to other games, it’s refreshing whenever a game comes along that tries something different. Murdered: Soul Suspect does exactly that, sticking two ghostly fingers up at the tired action genre by daring to change things a bit. It’s a murder mystery story with plot twists, a driven narrative which hooks you in and some well developed characters. It’s also home to some awkwardness and annoyances, which do more to prevent excellence than any decision to leave out any of the usual ingredients.
The stork kicks off when your character, detective Ronan O’Connor, is killed while trying to investigate the mysterious Bell Killer, a murderer so called because of a bell-type mark he leave on all of his victims. Having been thrown out of a high window and shot a few times with his own gun (which, incidentally, is the last time a gun is used throughout the game) Ronan realises he can’t fully move to his afterlife to join his dead wife until he ties up all of his loose ends – in his case finding out who murdered him. A tricky task when you can’t touch anything. Or speak to anyone. Or be seen.
That is until he meets a young teenage medium called Joy, whose stroppy teen angst-ridden personality combines well with the sarcasm of Ronan from the moment they first come across each other. It’s Joy who helps Ronan with the more physical elements of the investigation (even opening a door isn’t something ghosts can do) and the relationship builds well through to the final moments which serve up a quick-fire series of twists and surprises that entirely went against what I thought was going to happen.
As for poor Ronan himself, he spends much of the game walking round Salem looking for clues, moving from one location to the next and helping other dead folk out with their own problems. Helping out a fellow ghost will result in them being whisked off to the proper afterlife party, and the investigations themselves are a well judged and carefully measured set of distractions that don’t take you off the main plot for longer than necessary. But while Ronan can walk through many things you’ll find around town – trees, cars, people and the like – he can’t just waltz into whichever building he chooses. As a result of most buildings having been given a form of blessing against spirits, he can only enter or leave buildings through open doors or windows; once inside most areas are fair game and you can go from room to room using whatever route you choose, although once the demons show up things take a bit of a turn.
These demons will show up at the most inconvenient times, and are the only moments when you can actually be killed. Well, rekilled. You’ll find half opened portals on the floor with demonic arms trying to drag you in, although these really serve as little more than barriers for you to avoid or overcome. The more problematic demons are those which start to roam around, and at the slightest sniff will charge over to you and suck your remaining life away. There are means and ways to deal with them, whether that’s hiding in the shadow of another lingering soul or using a handy nearby crow ghost to distract them, but either way the only way to dispose of them is to sneak up behind them and execute them with a press of R2 followed by a direction and button combo which flashes up on the screen. It’s a reasonable idea, but I got annoyed on several occasions when either the R2 prompt disappeared at just the wrong time (invariably followed by the demon chasing me to my redeath) or the demon somehow heard me coming and turned round just in time to pounce on me and rekill me.
The same frustrations were in place during investigations, times when you’re in a certain area and have to find enough clues to be able to piece of all together by selecting from the evidence gathered. Get it right, and the crime will replay in front of you giving you more information about the investigation and pushing the plot forward to the next location. The idea is simple enough, but examining the items can be an awkward task and often needs you to position yourself and the camera in a fairly specific way in order to get that magical prompt to appear. When it works though it’s a decent tool to build up your attachment to the case in hand, and the lack of superfast action actually comes as a very welcome change.
Which brings us nicely to the reason why, despite the frustrations and annoyingly pointless demon sections, I actually enjoyed Murdered: Soul Suspect. While so many games nowadays seem to want to replicate a blockbuster movie, Soul Suspect seems to happily behave like a gripping novel, building the plot slowly and allowing the player chance to take in their surroundings and build their own atmosphere instead of running full speed through areas never to be seen again. You’re encouraged to hunt round for hidden secrets too which culminate in some interesting spooky stories, but in a moment of unfortunate decision making you can’t go back after completing the game to collect anything you’ve missed. It sums up the whole experience really: bags of potential, and some great story-telling, but has its issues in terms of being a video game.
I liked it, but you can’t avoid the fact it needed a little more thought and tidying up around the edges. It’s a shame, but certainly gives an example of why guns, fast cars and massive set pieces aren’t always important in a game, and that by itself deserves credit.
Reviewed on PS4