In the town of Salem Massachusetts, it is a place full of dark history, murder, sacrifice and supernatural forces. During February 1692, through to May 1693 this would be known throughout the history books as The Salem Witch Trials, where those accused of witchcraft would be executed in the most horrific of ways. In most cases it was the women that were accused and promptly executed and this perfectly sets the tone for the game in question, Murdered: Soul Suspect.
Murdered: Soul Suspect kicks off in an unusual way, with our protagonist getting murdered (as the title suggests). You play as recently deceased Detective Ronan O’Connor and after ignoring calls of back-up from his fellow law enforcement comrades, Ronan peruses The Bell Killer on his own, a decision that he will soon surely regret. The Bell Killer is responsible for a serious of gruesome murders in the town and with Ronan being the hotshot detective that the thought he was, he soon finds himself being thrown out of a high window and then being shot at point blank range in the middle of the street.
It wasn’t long ago that Ronan suffered the tragic loss of his beloved wife and upon his passing, he’d hoped that he would finally be reunited with her. As it happens that would not be so easy for Ronan and much like many trapped souls stuck in limbo, they have much unfinished business preventing them in truly moving on into the afterlife.
Ronan must find and resolve his demons before moving on and it seems this path to redemption will start with uncovering the truth being the serial killer known by the media as The Bell Killer. This leads Ronan to forge an unlikely partnership with physic/medium companion in Joy as they attempt to discover the truth and put an end to the town murders. But just who is The Bell Killer and what are his motives and will discovering these truths allow Ronan to be reunited in the afterlife with this long lost love?
Murdered: Soul Suspect is certainly an unusual concept and one for that reason I do applaud the developers for attempting something different. For example during the campaign you will not once fire a gun or come to blows with an enemy. This for some will quite possibly take some getting used to, but if you give this game enough time to develop, you will likely find yourself being immersed into its concept.
As already stated you play as Detective Ronan O’Connor and he has just fallen victim to his own grizzly death. Ronan cannot interact with the living as a ‘living’ human could, most cannot even hear him, let alone see him. This makes Ronan’s desire to move on all that more difficult, that was if it wasn’t for a young troubled teen Joy. Joy cannot only see the deceased, but she can also communicate with them too. This is where Ronan and Joy’s unlikely partnership and bond comes into play.
While Ronan isn’t completely powerless to interact with the living, he does have some ‘sway’ if you will. For example not only can he freely walk around a crime scene without being disturbed, he can have a physic touch with certain objects, providing him with flashbacks of that objects history and whom it has interacted with. He can also possess the living to influence their actions, read their minds and even peek through their eyes to get a closer look at some all important crime scene evidence. But to truly influence someone’s actions, he must discover the necessary evidence to a crime to gain the results he desires. This means investigating the crime scene at hand and piecing them together in order of relevance or timeline. If you think of a very basic L.A Noire, then you’re on the right path.
Unfortunately unlike the awesome L.A Noire, the crime scenes in Murdered: Soul Suspect practically offer no kind of real challenge. When you’ve gathered sufficient evidence, in most case you have to select the relevant pieces to solve the crime scene or influence of living person’s actions. But there are no consequence in selecting the wrong pieces of evidence, if you get it wrong, don’t worry because as long as you keep pressing X on the other pieces of evidence, eventually you will progress. This is even odder going by the fact that you are ranked on each crime scene out of 1-3 and even if you do score a maximum 3, there are no rewards for doing so. Perhaps some cool concept art in the menu system would have been a tidy reward for hitting top marks in an investigation.
Now getting back to Joy. As I’ve already stated Ronan can only do some much, thankfully Joy is at hand. Joy will help Ronan communicate with the living by asking them the questions he desires, she’ll also move objects and look (in some cases pinch) at certain pieces of evidence in order to discover the truth. She’ll also allow Ronan to posses her (which she’s not all that fond of) in order to cross over a demon portal (more on that later). But there are also plenty of moments where Ronan needs to help Joy out to, especially when attempting to sneak through a packed police station to seek out all important evidence. Ronan can temporarily disable CCTV camera or distract the living by spitting out cans of soda from a vending machine to distract the living, giving Joy the perfect opportunity to sneak on by unnoticed.
While Murdered: Soul Suspect doesn’t have any direct combat as such, that’s not to say that Ronan won’t face any dangers in the afterlife. Ronan’s biggest threat will come via the demons that will attempt to reap your soul. The demons won’t offer any danger to Joy, but she can help Ronan stay safe. The demons will float around on a short programmed path, but if they catch you, then it will result in a checkpoint restart. I suppose seeing as you’re already dead, you can’t technically die again.
You can however execute the demons from your surrounding area, this is done by sneaking up behind and performing the execution prompt and like a ‘puff’ of smoke they will disappear. The demons don’t pose any kind of real threat or challenge, especially as there’s no real consequence when you get caught (other than a checkpoint restart), they seem to be more there to get in the way as an obstruction, rather than a direct challenge.
In some cases certain paths maybe obstructed by the demons, making it very difficult to get by, but thankfully you have a couple of handy moves to sneak on by. The best way I can describe them is by calling them ‘Spirit Orbs’. There will be plenty of spirit orbs scattered throughout any area, especially to those currently populated by demons. Ronan can hide in these spirit orbs which will allow him to pass by undetected. Also if you are discovered by a demon they will chase you, as a result you can hide in the spirit orbs in an attempt to escape their clutches.
After a short while hiding, the demons will give up their search for you and will resume their normal programmed path. You can also prompt a sprit crow to squawk which will alert a demon to its location, giving you another opportunity to sneak by or execute. Ronan can also possess a cat, which can help him remain undetected, as well as climb and jump to previously unreachable areas. Other than the standard floating demons, you will also come across many demon portals located on the floor. Should Ronan walk across them, it will surely prompt the inevitable checkpoint restart. Ronan can however safely cross these demons portals by either possessing Joy or any other NPC that may cross over its path, or later in the game by using the teleport power that you will acquire.
Much like the story development, the gameplay mechanics do take some getting used to on a very basic level and there were moments when I thought I’d never warm up to this game. But if you think of it in a way similar to that of the unlikely friendship between Ronan and Joy, you’ll soon warm to Murdered: Soul Suspect and hopefully much like a fine wine, as you progress further into the game everything will fall into place and might find yourself hooked into its unique concept.
Graphically however Murdered: Soul Suspect won’t blow you away; but thankfully visuals are not the be all and end all here and it’s quite possibly the games concept that is its strongest aspect. While the world in most part looks fine and you will see far worse looking games on the new generation, I was still expecting that little more, especially when playing Square Enix’s other new gen offering with Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition. The mini-sandbox town of Salem soon begins to feel a little samey and some of the random NPC’s that you will find scattered around the town actually look far less living then the spirits that actually haunt them. Thankfully though other then Ronan and Joy, the vast majority of key NPC’s do look fine.
Once it warms up, Murdered: Soul Suspects story will likely have you gripped throughout, giving you that urge to play on for just that little bit longer. This of course is largely down to the very well written script that wouldn’t look out of place if it was made into a TV series, a movie or even a novel. In fact if this games universe was expanded into the later written from a different characters perspective, it would certainly be a book that would tempt me to pick up.
The other factor to the gripping storyline is also down to the voice talent that has done a superb job in playing out their roles. Jason Brooks does a fine job in playing Detective Ronan O’Connor and I can see more lead roles for him in future within the videogame industry. Cassidy Lehram playing the somewhat lovable role as Joy and Tim De Zarn playing the irritating cop that you love to hate with Officer Syewart. Many of you PS4 owners may also recognise the voice behind Detective Javier Reye’s, who of course plays the role as Delsin Rowe’s brother Reggie Rowe in Infamous: Second Son. Going back to Cassidy Lehram who plays’s Joy, I think her character is so well written and portrayed; it’s just a shame that we didn’t see more of her throughout the campaign. If I’m honest, if Murdered: Soul Suspect was played from a different character perspective, I believe Joy would have in fact made for a more intriguing lead character.
If I had one criticism in the audio department, then it would be in regards to the games soundtrack. This is even more disappointing when I consider who has composed Murdered: Soul Suspects soundtrack and it is none other than British Academy Award Winner Jason Graves. He is the man behind the amazing soundtrack of the rebooted Tomb Raider and legendary survival horror series in Dead Space. In fact until I was questioned about the Murdered: Soul Suspect soundtrack by a fellow Push-Start colleague, I’d not even noticed the soundtrack, which kind of says it all really.
A well composed and well timed soundtrack is as strong of a storytelling aid then almost another other aspect and without one (excuse the pun) it can feel a little soul-less. Not to say that Murdered: Soul Suspect’s soundtrack is soul-less, because it is in fact well orchestrated. I just feel that the soundtrack didn’t pick up at the right points, when tension should have been at its highest in the story and when the soundtrack did kick in, much of its timing felt random and a little out of place and it soon loses what it appeal it may have had early on, as the much of the same music is recycled throughout.
While the campaign of Murdered: Soul Suspect is a very enjoyable one, once finished it’s unlikely that you’d want to playthrough it again, unless you’re desperate to clear up all the trophies/achievements. During your first playthrough you could be looking at around the 10 hour mark, give or take. But what did annoy me quite a bit after completion; is that you cannot revisit Salem to find the remaining hidden objects or partake in the extra side-quests. I would have thought with Salem being a more confined sandbox, you would have at least had the option to revisit and finish up whatever may remain.
Also Murdered: Soul Suspect only has one difficulty setting, so there’s not even an extra incentive to play it again in that respect. But if you really did want to 100% this game and if you didn’t get everything during your first playthrough, you will have to start up a new game from scratch. If you really did want to take that route, there are however a fair number of side-quests and hidden items to discover, many of which tell a little more back story in the dark history of Salem.
There any many lost souls in Salem; thankfully Ronan has the detective skills to help them move on. Though it will take no super detective to solve the riddles, as in most cases the side quests will involve finding various scattered clues from within the area, piecing them together and informing the lost soul of you findings, allowing them to move on from being stuck in limbo. You will also find various key objects often related to your current predicament to hunt down which offer some of that all important back-story. You may also find various letters from Ronan’s deceased wife Iris, as well as clues related to the history of The Bell Killer.
While I am a fan of side-quests and hunting down hidden objects and as long as they’re not done to the oversized repetitive nature of the 300 comic books to discover in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Videogame. If you’re the kind of gamer that likes to search every nook and cranny, there’s a high chance that you will discover the vast majority of hidden items during your first playthrough of Murdered: Soul Suspect. I don’t expect the side-quests to be well hidden and you will find many of the trapped souls along your natural path, but as for the hidden items, most of which are not all that well hidden and any slightly extended search a few yards out your way, you’re very likely to find a hidden item. It’s just a shame that this aspect didn’t offer a little more of a challenge in that respect.
Murdered: Soul Suspect is an acquired taste and perhaps won’t appeal to the mass market of gamers, especially to those that like a bit more bite and action in their games. But for those of you that like a good supernatural movie or novel, even TV programs such as Supernatural or the more tame Ghost Whisper, then this game could be worth your time, even more so if you enjoyed L.A Noire. Murdered: Soul Suspect is a very slow burner, but once you start to discover many of the stories dark secrets and you warm to its characters, it’s a game that you may find very difficult to put down.
It’s not even a game that will really challenge you all that much, but its well written story is certainly its strongest point. Square Enix and Airtight Games has attempted to make something a little different here and gives us something a little different to the norm. Now I know there have been a lot of games that’s tried something different, some have been a success and some have fallen flat on their digital faces. Murdered: Soul Suspect isn’t likely to blow you away, but once you’ve succumb to its world; I’m sure it’s a game that many will look back on in future years very fondly.
If you will, Murdered: Soul Suspect is the marmite of gaming; many will love it, while many will not. But regardless of your marmite taste buds, I recommend taking a side-step to what you’re use to and give Murdered: Soul Suspect a try, at the right price. This is a game however that really should have scored truly high marks, but its lack of challenge and incentive to play it again results in it falling short of the top marks it should have received.
Don’t get me wrong I did enjoy my playthrough, but once done there’s nothing there that made me want to do it all again, like most great games should. But in saying that I really one hope that this is the start of an expanded universe and future games to come from Airtight Games as Murdered: Soul Suspect provides an excellent platform to build upon, because if executed right, Square Enix could have a great new gaming franchise in their hands.
+Learning more about the Bell Killer gives you that “one more go” vibe
+Solving crime scenes add meaning, despite lack of difficulty
-Not quite the ‘Next Gen’ visuals you’d expect
-Offers no real challenge
-Not all that scary
-Can’t revisit Salem after completion to mop up trophies, you have to start a new game