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Murdered, Soul Suspect: A Review
About the Author
John Roberts is a video game critic on HubPages and YouTube, reviewing that he sees worthy of the former, whilst reviewing Playstation One games on the latter channel. When he isn't watching silly guinea pig videos, he likes to run into walls and sue his local council for consecrating the surfaces he injures himself on, claiming that undead accessibility is non-existent in his town and should be.
The last time Roberts was thrown out of a window, he got up and went back inside to deal with the perpetrator. Because he lives in a bungalow his injuries were minimal.
Ghosts 'n' Goblins
If there's one genre that has been neglected in recent film, literature and even the medium of video games it's noire. Film noire is quite easily the most fascinating cult magnet around attracting mature audience of various ages even if they've no love for the obscure and the unappreciated. I've never really been a fan of the genre because I'm naturally rebuked by black and white cinema (even though I'd love to get into it), but in video games noire has always been an interesting means of storytelling and brings a whole different look at the form of media. It's definitely something to bring to the table when the argument "are video games art" is aroused. Games such as LA Noire, Heavy Rain and even the Bioshock franchise prove that noire in video games can not only be enjoyable, but thought provoking and act as a welcome change to the writing in modern titles. Be it in the form of romance, darkness or perhaps both, I want to see this genre in more video games.
But Murdered: Soul Suspect is when noire is done poorly, executing the idea as badly as the film adaptation of Max Payne. To be perfectly honest it's not the story that's an issue, nor the characters; in fact Murdered is one of the best modern noire stories next to the aforementioned Max Payne series, but the gameplay not only bores me to tears: it also makes me hate the genre when it looks like this.
"You have to play hide and seek with the forces of Hell. Riveting stuff."
Our hero is Ronan, a young and aspiring detective who was raised by a family of criminals in the slums of Salem, Boston. Throughout his life he's robbed buildings, vehicles and people, escaped death, gone to prison and performed countless misdemeanours which are tattooed onto his body like ribbons on a soldier's uniform. When his lover was murdered he plans to put his criminal past behind him and instead right the wrongs that both he and others have committed in his sleepy hometown. This is most of the character development you'll get from Detective Ronan told through a single cutscene at the beginning of the game, which in my opinion is done rather well. But what could have improved it was actually playing as Ronan while he was alive. Oh yes, he dies rather quickly. Don't worry, that's not a spoiler alert.
Yes, Ronan dies by being thrown out of a window by a mysterious serial murderer called the Bell Tower Killer. No-one can identify him because he always has his hood up, wears a very strange mask which hides all but his eyes and he doesn't seem to leave any finger prints wherever he goes. While Ronan may be free of his mortal body he still cannot ascend to an ethereal plane until he resolves the way he died. That's all I can tell you without spoiling the rest of the story and character plots which go on.
Your mission is simple: to conclude the case of the Bell Killer murders and join your loving wife in the plane of immortality. As a ghost you'd think you'd have a lot of freedom around Salem, or anywhere for that matter, but there are many rules and restrictions that prevent ghosts from solving the matter of their own demise. The first limitation is that you can't pass through closed doors or windows if they've been consecrated, whereas buildings that aren't allow free roam for the most part. A consecrated area or object will have a faint white glow to it, meaning that touching it simply makes you hit yourself against it. Expect to see a lot of these for the convenience of invisible wall design. Despite being able to walk through most walls, fences, cars and even people you're still bound to linear level design and compact areas, and it doesn't help when there's even more preventing you from progressing. You'll also come across desecrated ground that looks like it's been burnt with a red glow to it: this is the home of demons and stepping on it causes them to pull you into their lair. By performing a quick combination that blinks on screen (always involving a direction on the left joystick and one of the four main buttons), you can escape. Failure to get it right or perform it quickly enough and you die.
Demons are your main threat and they don't require much time to kill you. As a detective who was once armed with two guns you'd think we'd be able to shoot them down like Bullet Witch.... right? Wrong. You have to play hide and seek with the forces of Hell. Riveting stuff. To hide you must find faintly glowing rifts and dash through them in a chain so the demon cannot find you. Should they do so, they'll open the rift and deal damage to you, but if not, they'll turn their back and continue their patrol. Demons can be killed, but only from behind with a takedown, and even then it's a quick time event. This is pathetic.
The demons aren't scary and just seem to be an obstacle much like most of what the game consists of. There's hardly any beneficial features, as most of your time is spent going from one hindrance to the next, be it the occasional demon patrol, ghostly walls or lack of clues to continue your case. So if the combat is terrible surely the game has to more than make up for its flaws with detective gameplay.
Oftentimes you'll be tasked with finding clues in an area, and finding all of them or pressing the "Y" button (Triangle for PS3/4 I imagine) will allow you to piece the puzzle together if you don't have them all. This then shows images of the clues you've found with a vague description, and you have to choose the ones most relevant to the question at hand. So it's not just about "who's the killer? Pick 3 pictures", but rather about the stage you're at in the case like "where did the witness run off to" or "how did I die?". It's comparable to LA Noire with the interrogation sequences, only in that game there was risk and reward. In Murdered if you get the wrong clue you just have to start again and find the one or three most relevant, a system that doesn't give me any reason to even try or feel any need to succeed. There is a rating system however, where there's an equal amount of badges to relevant clues - if you get an answer wrong, you lose a badge. There's one problem with this though: the system doesn't matter. It doesn't add replay value like LA Noire where I wanted to get 4/4 stars in a case, and even then getting all clues didn't necessarily mean you'd win. You had to be careful and the purposely missing "reload last checkpoint" option means that if you want that perfect rating it's back to the beginning of the case.
To obtain clues you can simply approach items of interest, or possess people in a similar way to Mindjack. If your game is being compared to that atrocity, you're in deep trouble. You can read people's minds even though they only have two lines of dialogue, peek at something in somebody's hand like a book, cup of coffee or notepad, eavesdrop on conversations and influence people. You know when you have something on your tip of your tongue, and can't quite describe or remember what you wanted to say? Get possessed, and out of a selection of noteworthy things you can recall a single event! The possessing gimmick is quite interesting but not at all fun especially after a while. The most fun I had was possessing cats and using them to reach places and useful items. Not the sign of a good feature.
You can also solve the deaths of other ghosts around the world; some care about how they died, and others just want to remain on the planet and not care about the ascension to further afterlife. This is the same but with less clues to work with, more emphasis on cutscenes to see how it plays out, and aren't required to move on. If there was a karma or reputation system I might be more obliged to help other ghosts, but more often than not it's a boring chore to see what happened to these people after looking for that final clue. There's not enough reward to care and the only thing that made me was Ronan's connection to the witness of the crime; I wanted to see what happened next, and the further I got away from the gameplay the better.
This is how you do your noire soundtrack
Grabbed by the Ghoulies
If you're like me and find rewards in collectables Soul Suspect won't disappoint, as it's jam-packed with items of interest and stories associated with them. Only on a few occasions did I find all the items and if you don't find them all, you won't unlock the full story so it's all or nothing. This is something else that bothers me; why can't the story be told in increments like pieces of a jigsaw almost coming together? That'd give me reason to go after them, especially when there's high quantities of them and lots of places to go. Again, let's look at LA Noire with the newspapers or the cutscenes after every few missions with Cole Phelps in the war; what was wrong with that?
Possibly the worst thing about Murdered is that it's afraid to challenge the player in any way. It doesn't scold you for getting the wrong clues when asked which ones are most relevant; the demons do minimal damage and in the rare event you die the checkpoints are generous. How many times do I have to sink my head and point straight to LA Noire? In that game the suspects, your partners and the captain will critique your driving skills and accusations. Soul Suspect insists on you succeeding, trying too hard to convince players that these games aren't meant to be hard or punishing, when the fact is they can be while also very entertaining.
And would you believe that's all of the gameplay to my knowledge recovered? If I could be posessed by a ghost to influence this review that'd sure help, but perhaps I already am to get this far? The game's visuals don't represent how I imagine noire - it's not as dark and gritty as it should be, but is far too smooth and light-grey to be immersive. It kind of feels like 14 year old Twilight fan's idea of noire, and considering I'd followed this game since it's announcement it's a huge shame to say such a thing about it. The soundtrack is non-existent whereas in noire it usually contained a lot of slow jazz and blues especially in areas where the protagonist talks to himself a lot. Get Yuji Ohno or You & the Explosion Band from the Lupin 3rd films to compose your music, Murdered. In fairness there are hints of what sounds like Bob & Barn's soundtrack for the PS1 classic Medievil, but these few seconds are rare and easily missed. When I hear those tiny pieces of music, I melt with delight.
Outside of this Murdered: Soul Suspect brings few new features to this kind of genre, and what originality it brings is not executed well. The noire feel isn't quite there yet as it feels more like gothic fan fiction than it does a story of romance, murder and loss. In the hands of another developer the story of a ghost detective working with a young medium could work wonders, but this is just another stain on Square Enix's already questionable reputation. Why this game was given to the developers of "DerpBike" I'll never know. Recommended? Only for a rental, and even then get it as cheap as possible.
Thanks for reading, and have a pleasant day all. Don't forget to follow on Twitter at @TheOneJohnbonne for more updates on upcoming articles!