After the short tutorial section of Murdered: Soul Suspect you’re thrown into the first area of the game: a block of rundown flats. The first few minutes are engrossing as you move between flats by stepping through walls, eavesdropping on conversations and just sort of looking at people. Then the novelty starts to wear thin and you begin to wonder “this couldn’t be it, could it? There’s more to it than this, surely”. But there really isn’t much more. The apartments are probably even the most diverse of the handful of areas you get to wander around, which are broken up into awkward stealth sections and L.A. Noire style “search for the clues” rooms. All of these areas are connected by the bland and (thanks to some impassable ghost structures from the past) hard to navigate, city of Salem.
Those familiar with Arthur Miller’s famous play The Crucible will be right at home here, as the plot of Murdered is deeply connected to the Salem witch trials. Murdered does take a more historically accurate approach, however, and the game does provide you with some mildly interesting factoid collectibles. Those able to overlook the changes Miller made to the facts in the Crucible could even choose to see the plot of Murdered as an unofficial sequel to the play, something I’m told is called “fanon”. Although, in reality, Murdered is more or less a sequel to actual history, and that’s not really the same thing.
You play Detective Ronan O’Connor and experience his final moments at the very beginning of the game, at the hands of the “Bell Killer”, a ritualistic serial killer that’s been terrorising Salem. Over the course of the game there are collectibles that tell you more about Ronan’s life, which is fine I guess, but an awful lot of the collectibles in the game take the form of diary-entry-likes. For a game that is basically only an interactive story it’s kind of a bummer to have a fair amount of non-interactive storytelling.
The most satisfying ghost power is the one you have from the very beginning: walking through walls. You get other ones, but they’re not so hot. But you can only walk through interior walls, and you can’t walk through ghostly walls from the past. Ronan has to explore the handful of areas by walking through walls to gather clues about the Bell Killer’s identity. The deduction system does make you think, and it’s all fun until you realise you know the answer but have to handhold Ronan through some obvious but horribly vague multiple choice answers. A little tip: the obvious answers always seem too obvious, but most of the time they are correct. Ronan really is that slow, and you’ve got to back yourself up.
At times demons appear to hunt you down and you can hide in tears in reality before sneaking up on them and exorcising them. It’s clunky and not fun. I’m reminded of Deadly Premonition, and the way that game was originally intended to not have combat sections either, and have to wonder if the stealth sections in Murdered were a last minute addition similar to that. If Murdered had just worn its interactive story badge on its sleeve instead of trying to branch out awkwardly, I have to wonder if it would have felt better and more focused throughout, perhaps daring to reach the Ghost Trick heights from which it is so far.
Ultimately you guide Ronan through the few buildings necessary to complete his quest, and then you reach the final confrontation. Without spoiling anything it’s actually a fantastic boss battle, and a great climax to the game. As I approached it my gut had sunk, warning me of some sort of convoluted stealth section which thankfully didn’t happen. Instead the boss battle is snappy, quick, and utilises the detective powers that are the true focus of the game. It’s nicely tied up.
Murdered: Soul Suspect is just sort of there. It lacks the conviction and dedication to the genre that L.A. Noire had, and it doesn’t touch the ghoulish heights of Ghost Trick. Murdered wants to be a simple interactive story, and it almost gets there. If you can take it as an interactive story and just push through the damp patches, you might really, genuinely love bits of this game. But if you’re expecting something more, an adventure packed with bits of satisfying gameplay, or a truly puzzling think ‘em up, you won’t get it here. I went in without any real expectations, which I wrote about elsewhere before the game came out, and I’m really glad I did as I think it made a lot better. As you’ve already read this review it might very well be too late for you.
I’d give this a 6/10 personally, but for most people who aren’t willing to overlook its many flaws, I can see it being more of a 3/10 game, which is a real shame.
+ Setting and history are cool
+ A sometimes gripping story with a great climax
+ When you feel like a ghost it’s fantastic
= Ghost powers are sometimes very limiting and don’t make you feel like a ghost
– Terrible overlord
– Detective sections are hard to follow gameplay-wise