Murdered: Soul Suspect review (PS4)
Whoever thought the afterlife could be so dull? Not dull in a humorous way as in, say, Grim Fandango, where the recently deceased find themselves confronted by a limbo little different than the real world – Murdered: Soul Suspect isn’t quite as in tune with irony as that. No, we’re talking dull as in inherently boring. This is a game that takes the imaginative concept of a detective investigating his own death and turns it into a point-and-click lite that’s all too literally lacking in life.
The dead detective in question is Ronan O’Connor, a tattooed and chain-smoking Salem, Massachusetts cop chasing down the sadistic Bell Killer. Things don’t go as planned, and after being shot several times in the chest Ronan awakes as a sleuthing spectre, invisible to the NPCs around him.
The goal is to discover the identity of the Bell Killer, thereby allowing Ronan to head towards the proverbial white light and join his deceased wife in the beyond. This investigation takes place across the small hub world of Salem, which the player must traverse to get from one crime scene to the next.
Game logic isn’t Murdered: Soul Suspect’s strong point, with Ronan able to easily pass through some walls but not others (we’re told they’ve been consecrated to disallow such supernatural beings heading wherever they like – or, more to the point, itinerant players). You’ll often butt up against the spectral obstacles of Salem, each one hemming you into the critical path that leads to the next objective.
Investigations make up the core of the game, each with inflections of Telltale-esque adventure games but little of their narrative clout. You must use your newly endowed ghostly powers to poke around crime scenes, exploring each area to locate clues that are often highlighted by the glow of a small prompt. Mostly all you need to do is head to a clue and hit X, but some descriptive challenges see you select certain words that best describe a clue, while some NPCs need to be possessed and have their actions influenced from within. This probably sounds more exciting than it is. For the most part, possessing an NPC simply lets you listen to the same two irrelevant sound bytes on a loop – the game only allows more when a puzzle specifically demands it.
The investigations are incredibly simple, the only challenge coming when one clue can’t be located and you’re left hopelessly wandering a crime scene until a button prompt finally appears. Once you do have all necessary information you can trigger a final test by picking what you deem to be the three most relevant clues to solve the question at hand. The logic here can often be obtuse, but thankfully if you fail all you do is score lower in the game’s lazy attempt at a ranking system.
More player agency comes in platforming sections played as a possessed cat; escort missions where the player distracts guards while medium Joy makes her way across the environment; and stealth sections in which Ronan must avoid or take out roaming demons.
The latter are the most groan-inducing elements of the game, and feel more like padding than anything else. Roaming demons with poor narrative purpose move along tightly scripted paths, and if you wander into their direct line of sight they screech wildly and home in, sucking your soul and killing you a second time. In order to remain undetected you can teleport between the stationary remnants of other spirits – a tactic you’ll have to mash randomly when caught in order to escape. You can sneak up on these demons and exorcise them by following a simple QTE, and while this does invite an element of stealth, the abilty to see the demons through walls by pressing R1 makes challenge relatively non-existent.
At the tail end of Murdered: Soul Suspect’s short six hours and a story that never takes hold, it’s difficult not to feel that this is one game that sounded brilliant in the pitch, but has been seriously watered down by the realities of development and budget. The ideas are flat, unexplored and repetitive, lacking the imagination in a premise that promised so much.
With Quantum Theory and Dark Void, Airtight has proven that it’s capable of creating interesting worlds with inventive mechanics, yet little of this is apparent in Murdered: Soul Suspect, a game that fails to develop its ideas beyond the very basics.