Platforms: PC (Version Reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360
Developer: Airtight Games
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Dates: June 3rd
I am but God’s finger, John. If he would condemn Elizabeth, she will be condemned.
-Abigail Williams, The Crucible by Arthur Miller
While I tend to agree with the thought that there is nothing new under the sun, there’s nothing quite like Murdered: Soul Suspect. Sure, L.A. Noire underpins the investigative procedural by solving puzzles via collecting evidence and questioning perps, but doesn’t take as much of a fantastical approach. Ghost Trick may be the closest, as it does involve a murdered protagonist discovering why he was killed, but keeps the journey away from straying into a dark and grity approach. What starts out as a wholly unique premise fails to ultimately capitalize on its ideals, stumbling to the finish line in an unremarkable fashion.
It’s quite a shame, seeing how there is a strong dedication pouring from the developers of Murdered: Soul Suspect in blurring the lines between history and fiction. You play as Ronan O’Conner, neighbourhood badass of Salem, Massachusetts. Your hastened backstory paints you as a hardened criminal with a heart of gold, one that only his love Julia can see. Not one to have a criminal enter his family, your eventual brother-in-law Rex hides your past and fast tracks you through the police ranks into becoming a detective.
Answering a call with no back up, Ronan tries to apprehend whom he believes to be the infamous Bell Killer. Unfortunately, he does not make an arrest, but is instead killed by 7 gunshots to the chest from his own gun. In death, he is informed by his long-dead wife that he cannot join her until he takes care of his final case. Driven to find his killer in order to finally obtain peace and move on to the afterlife, Ronan acquires the reluctant medium, Joy, to help solve the case of the Bell Killer and finally bring peace to the distraught city of Salem.
What sold me on the concept of Murdered: Soul Suspect out of the gate was the blend of fantasy and fiction. The game’s many, MANY story-related collectibles helped integrate the player into the dark and torrid past of the city most infamous for its egregious witch hunts of the late 17th century. It set forth an excellent backdrop for a game that focused so heavily on the spiritual world, using spectres of the past and near-present to further complement the civilians and police of the living world. In turn, two dynamic worlds live and breathe as one, creating an enjoyable aesthetic.
Unfortunately, the setting and story is completely wasted on what arguably feels like a half-baked game; the core of Soul Suspect is decidedly unfinished in comparison. The city hub of Salem is similar to that of fellow Square Enix title Thief, in that it is a small, open world connected by mission maps. Each “mission” helps Ronan follow the trail of his killer, as you collect clues from crime scenes in order to move on to the next lead. This creates an unending tedium, as the core gameplay aspect is reduced to spotting items around a room and often picking the most relevant clue out of less than a dozen to choose from.
There’s no difficulty, no failing, no penalty for getting the order of events of a crime scene recollection wrong. Even though there is a ranking scheme based on three “badges” out of three being a perfect solve, it has absolutely no impact on the inevitable conclusion. There’s no tally whatsoever to inform you how well you performed the investigation. Murdered: Soul Suspect is the perfect game for someone who wants to kick back, not think too hard about what they’re playing and only care about the end destination. For those seeking an actual video game that provides the player with rewards for critical thought, deserved bonus content and creative sidequests along a splendid journey, you won’t find one here.
It wouldn’t quite be a spectral investigation if there weren’t pesky demons in the way. While the Soul Suspect villain acts more as the unseen looming threat until the end of the game’s third act, Dementor-like demons will occasionally pop up near crime scenes in order to drag you down to hell. However, just like the puzzle-solving phases, there is an unsatisfying solution to the minor threat; go up behind the slow-moving ghouls and perform a QTE to banish them from the game forever with your ghost powers. Due to the fact that usually these Dementor packs (c’mon, they’re totally Dementors) are usually in 3 or 4, spread far apart from each other, dispatching them all is comically easy. They embody the heart of Murdered: Soul Suspect by bringing us back to the central point; awesome creations at first glance, but very little in substance.
After playing through the game’s full 8 hours of ~75-80% completion, including finding collectibles that help fuel the backstory of Salem, it citizens, Ronan’s history and intriguing tales of gruesome murders, it just didn’t end up clicking like a fully-polished game should. The game’s soundtrack becomes noticeably absent at times, removing the intensity of a dire situation. NPC side quests seem to be thrown in at the last minute, in an effort to pad a content-devoid story. There’s only one damned save file available (on PC)! Airtight Games looked like they had a touchdown on their hands, but somewhere along their own 30 yard line they dropped the ball.
I truly wanted to enjoy Murdered: Soul Suspect for what it is; a camp supernatural tale of justice from beyond the grave with an extremely-detailed story in a well-crafted backdrop. If it weren’t for the watered-down gameplay elements, extreme hand-holding, easy-as-pie enemy encounters and lack of polish, I could recommend this to any craving a good story-based genre game. Unfortunately, just like Ronan, I just could not wait to move on.
(A copy of this game was provided to GameSided for the purpose of this review.)