Murdered: Soul Suspect - Review
If L.A Noire was the equivalent of a glossy big-screen attempt at a video game noir, then Airtight Games' Murdered: Soul Suspect is on the other end of the spectrum. It's the same as the weird, direct-to-DVD movies that come out in the wake of a popular cinema release; adding strange sci-fi/horror elements to make up for the fact that they can't nail down the time period properly. Chinatown this ain't.
At its core, Murdered is a point-and-click adventure game. You go to different places, do some investigating, piece together some clues and move on. The twist, in theory, coming from the fact that your main character, Detective Ronan O'Connor, is killed within the first ten minutes, meaning you spend the entire game playing as a ghost. A ghost that is frequently incapable of walking through wooden fences for some reason.
And that's the crucial problem that Soul Suspect has; despite introducing a fairly interesting mechanic in the form of "ghost cop", it then simply does nothing with it that could possibly be considered interesting. For example, early on you're told you can possess a cat in order to sneak into a house, since Ronan can't enter houses that aren't already open. Your brain begins ticking. Maybe you'll be able to possess people soon, and have to use them to solve puzzles, that'll be fun.
But no, Soul Suspect couldn't manage that. Possess a person and the most you're able to do is read their mind, where they'll spit out one line of dull, uninspired dialogue before returning to their glassy-eyed, puppet existence. Of course, the actual investigating doesn't fare any better either. Most "puzzles" consist of nothing more than pressing square in your immediate vicinity in order to have discovered all the pieces of evidence. One puzzle literally has you choosing between examining a knife, a fork, or the key you've been searching for, as if somehow your brain atrophied at the sight of fancy cutlery.
Tied to all of this investigating is the game's story, which, during some moments, threatens to be rather good. Since Ronan is a ghost, he strikes up an awkward truce with a young psychic named Joy, in order to help solve his own murder by hunting down the elusive Bell-killer. It's a fun set-up and both Jason Brooks and Cassidy Lehrman do a solid job with their respective characters, with the two repeatedly bickering and snapping at each other despite making a pretty good team. Some moments have you guiding Joy through an area while distracting guards as Ronan, they're poorly handled due to being ridiculously simplistic, but do hint at the potential cooperative aspects that could have saved Soul Suspect's game play.
Sadly, everything else about the story doesn't quite fit together. A huge chunk of the game is devoted to Ronan's dead wife, a character that's both poorly written and completely unrelated to the plot, yet continues to get in the way with an abundance of letters you can find strewn about town. There's also some, quite frankly, atrocious dialogue at points. Whether it's due to an awkward Japanese translation or simply bad writing it's another example of the game simply coming across as half-baked.
Since point-and-click adventure games are a little slow for the modern console generation, the game awkwardly shoehorns in a series of "evil" ghosts that threaten to eat Roman. Oddly reminiscent of the Bodachs from Odd Thomas, the ghosts will stalk the area in incredibly predictable patrol patterns, trying to root you out. Get spotted and you'll have to hide in designated areas whilst they frantically sniff about for you. Sneak up on them however, and you can perform a quick execution. The problem is that the ghosts simply don't do anything; they're not challenging enough to be a threat, nor are they suitably scary enough to creep the player out, they just come across as dull, animated obstacles that are there to slow you down slightly, which is exactly what they are.
Clocking in at just under six hours long, Soul Suspect is also a short game. Sure, there's an abundance of random collectibles thrown all over the place but there's very little incentive to actually go about picking up any of them. Side quests are dotted about the town of Salem but they are both dull and simplistic, being nothing more than another boring "find the evidence" pixel hunt that plague the main story.
It's not that Murdered: Soul Suspect's ideas aren't bad, it's just that the developers don't make any attempt to craft interesting game mechanics around them. Likewise, it's tone just doesn't work: it doesn't have the grit or grime of a modern neo-noir like Seven, but neither is it as surreal as Deadly Premonition, arguably the game's biggest influence. Deadly Premonition made up for its poor technical aspects by giving you a full town to explore. In contrast, all Soul Suspect gives you is a few brown streets to shuffle through and the odd lazy side quest.
With a bigger budget, and a bit more love and attention, perhaps something good could have been made out of this game. As it stands, this is one best avoiding, no matter how much fun it sounds to be playing as a ghost cop.
Murdered: Soul Suspect was released on June 6th for 360, Xbox One, PC, PS3, and PS4.
This review is based on the PS4 version.
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