Murdered: Soul Suspect
First posted on 01 December 2015. Last updated on 01 December 2015.
Murdered: Soul Suspect Limited Edition
The Limited Edition of Murdered: Soul Suspect Bonus includes, in addition to the game, a physical copy of a secret journal with unseen files about the murders and free online access to a digital strategy map.
Murder: Soul Suspect originated as only a game concept for a supernatural thriller from Japanese publisher Square Enix. Wanting to expand with greater appeal to the western game market, the publisher approached American developer Airtight Games (who past credits included the puzzle adventure game Quantum Conundrum) to help to develop this concept into a full-fledged action adventure title. While Murder: Soul Suspect somewhat succeeds in translating the nuances of the subgenres of murder mystery and survival horror into a game meant to target a new adventure gaming audience, the game ultimately falls short in many ways as a competent action stealth and narrative driven adventure.
Upon starting the game after the initial setup, a main menu appears with the choices for Continue, New Game, Options, and Quit. Clicking on Options allows you to access PC Options, Game Options, and A/V Options for further customization. PC Options list all of the adjustable graphics settings; Game Options display the designated hotkeys and mouse functions; A/V Options allow adjustments for volumes and brightness as well as toggle for subtitles. The game does not include a separate manual.
The game commences with a long prologue and a cinematic cut scene introducing you to the protagonist role of Ronan O'Connor. Donning a fedora and wearing a body full of tattoos, Ronan is a plain clothes detective who patrols the streets of the precinct of Salem, Massachusetts. Despite a checkered past, Ronan is given the badge by his brother-in-law Rex, also a detective, upon his marriage to Rex's sister Julia before her death years earlier. While pursuing a brutal serial killer known as the Bell Killer, Ronan is thrown out of an upstairs window of a building and falls onto the street below to near death after a struggle with the suspect. Showing no mercy, the Bell killer then takes Ronan's own gun and shoots him dead in cold blood. Returning as a ghost, Ronan meets Julia's ghost but is told that he must first "cross the bridge" before he can reunite with her in the afterlife. To do so, Ronan must solve his own murder and stop the Bell Killer from further rampaging the town. His main hope lies within a girl named Joy, who is not only a witness of his own murder but also a psychic medium who can communicate with ghosts (including Ronan) and help Ronan in his hunt of the Bell Killer.
Controls of the game adopt typical third-person point-and-click mechanics using a mouse. However, most of the interactions with other characters as well as movement within the environment in the game can also be executed using pre-programmed hotkeys on the keyboard. Leveraging Ronan's ghostly abilities, you can eavesdrop on conversations, possess people and animals, teleport, or act as a poltergeist moving objects to distract other live or ghost characters. In some instances, you can even possess cats in order to crawl through confined spaces and climb to otherwise inaccessible locations.
Apart from the main quest to track down your murderer, you can participate in a number of side quests on which you can make progress simultaneously with your main investigation. Quick reflexes are essential for killing the demons quickly. The game does not provide a built-in map to aid in your navigation, but it uses markers to show which direction you need to travel and how far you are from the current destination. A list of new objectives continually appears on the screen, spoon feeding you on what you need to do next. In each location, you are also told the number of items you have to find.
The plot is fairly well developed despite its reliance on genre tropes. The evolving story plays out in both the present day and the past during the historic period from 1692 to 1693 of the real life Salem witch trials on the practice of witchcraft. Throughout the game, you can collect 48 achievement awards and hunt for 242 collectables that give historic information on the witch hunts and subsequent executions of accused witches. Gleaning clues from both time periods will eventually lead you to discover the identity of your killer. The game concludes in a dramatic cinematic cut scene as you piece the whole mystery together. It is interesting to discover how the other characters, either live or ghost, fit into the overall narrative and how they are interrelated to each other. The story is full of surprising twists, leaving you guessing to the end on the history and identity of the Bell Killer.
Both the 3D character models and backgrounds look good. The characters look realistic but appear a little stiff when walking. Motion blur as well as shading and particle effects really help to create an ominous atmosphere surrounding the small New England town, especially at night. Built using Unreal Engine 3, the game does well in showing off the power and versatility of the engine in enhancing its graphical fidelity. Character costumes are well presented and indicative of the proper century period.
The voice acting in all of the major speaking characters is spot on. Lip sync is good. Characters speak with appropriate facial expressions. Sound effects are minimal but well done. The ethereal and ambient background music complements the mood of the game without ever being overbearing.
Gameplay is limited to killing demons, finding ways to distract other characters, and searching for clues to progress in your investigation. The game also tasks you to analyze the clues you glean and then formulate the correct conclusions. My big gripe with the gameplay is that you cannot save your progress at any time during the game. Instead, you can only save your progress at fixed checkpoints and resume from your last checkpoint when you continue the game later. Not infrequently, it can be a frustrating exercise to having initially succeeded in killing a horde of demons but later needing to kill the same horde of demons again because you fail to reach the next checkpoint in time to save the game. There are no provisions to escape from the demons, meaning that you must kill them on every encounter.
Alas, for such a big budget production, the game suffers from a number of key deficiencies that prevent it from being an enjoyable game. The game is relatively short and can be completed in only about 6-8 hours. Aside from dealing with the demons, the game lacks any real challenge. At every step of your game, all of the objectives and clues are laid out in plain sight for you. Further, nearly every investigatory lead ends with a repetitive and frustrating contest against the demons which you must overcome. The limited diversity in adversaries you face is truly stifling. Many of the collectibles can make for a bit of a pixel hunt, especially given the muted color palette and poor lighting in most scenes throughout the game.
In sum, Murdered: Soul Suspect may not be the game intended by Square Enix to expand its appeal to the western game market. At a minimum, the mature theme of the game means that the game is definitely not suitable for younger gamers. History buffs may find this game to be of some interest to learn about the Salem witch hunts on which the main story is based. The achievement awards in the game may also offer a token challenge for some gamers. It is rumored that the closure of Airtight Games (occurring only a month after the game's initial release) may have been expedited by the poor retail sale of the game. Regardless, Murdered: Soul Suspect feels like a missed opportunity to leverage an otherwise intriguing premise for a supernatural detective mystery thriller.