Detectives solve mysteries, that’s their job after all, but what happens when the murder they must solve is their own? Murdered: Soul Suspect was one of the more unique premises to come out of E3 2013, sharing obvious connections to L.A Noire and to a lesser extent the wonderful Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective. It’s certainly the most ambitious game that Airtight Games have created, but is this supernatural murder mystery hiding some disturbing secrets?
As ghost detective Ronan O’Connor, a reformed criminal who joined the force to atone for his past mistakes, you must solve the mystery surrounding the identity of the Bell Killer. While much of the game is spent walking around and grabbing clues or morsels that flesh out characters that are living or deceased, it’s hard to relate to a protagonist that shows such little emotion, despite his motivation being to reunite with his dead wife. It’s B-Movie stuff, as full of holes as the main protagonist, but somehow the world building works.
A real ghost tale
The presentation on the Xbox One version is capped at 30fps which might annoy a few, though the 1080p visuals look stylish, if not technically impressive. Salem is a confusing place to get your bearings, but Murdered: Soul Suspect manages to give a gloomy vibe that sets the tone thanks to some eerie sound design and haunting spectres that fade as you get nearer.
However, it is at times a bit wonky, with framerates fluctuating all over the place in isolated circumstances and there are glitches abound that damage the immersion. One NPC that you can solve the riddle of how they died will magically reappear after they ascend to the heavens, with the button to interact with them still present but not activating anything. This is far from an isolated case, though it was the only one I was able to recreate during my seven-hour stint with the game.
Speaking of which, Murdered: Soul Suspect isn’t a long game though it is littered with collectables. Discovering some of the side stories associated with the few unique characters of Salem is a highlight, though they could have made obtaining them a little more interesting than just simply unearthing relics. During the campaign, there are parts where the objective was to take down Demons in occasional, unwarranted stealth sections; or possess a cat to get to higher ground. Yet I was amazed at how little combat there was. It was refreshing to see it take a back seat.
But what did I really want out of this game? A good old-fashioned murder mystery with a supernatural twist like the premise; or one that has stealth sections, collectables that share ghost stories, and cat possession? In trying to cater for the mass market, the developers have lost sight of what made the original premise so compelling. More cases where you solve the deaths of the confused ghosts instead of yet another demon avoiding sequence would have been more compelling. More crime scenes to look around and uncover more secrets would have been more compelling than escorting a medium through an asylum.
In fact, where I had the most fun was solving cases, either the main ones where you need to gather clues, or help the deceased come to terms with their particular trouble that prevents them from moving on. Investigation scenes aren’t as fleshed out mechanically unlike L.A. Noire, but they’re engaging nonetheless. Some ghosts are utterly despicable, while others are fascinating subjects. The same can’t be said for passerby NPCs whom despite knowing there’s a serial killer on the loose act completely blasé about the ordeal.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that Murdered: Soul Suspect wasn’t what I was expecting and for once, that’s a shame. Its case is ultimately disappointing, but there are waves of brilliance that kept me glued from beginning to end. Are the cases enough to base an entire game on? Maybe not, but the workarounds featured here don’t really work well, almost feeling like they’re from a different game! If you can get around the red herrings though, this is far from a dull murder mystery.