Anything supernatural, mysterious, or slightly chilling never fails to spark my curiosity. When a game exhibits any of these qualities, however, I more often than not find myself playing with all the lights on, no volume, and with one eye closed. In my experience, supernatural themed games almost always become riddled with jump scares and more gore than three slasher films put together. Personally, I struggle to enjoy whatever eccentric story is playing out because I’m way too high strung from the last screeching, blood-dripping ghoul that just made me ruin my pants. Murdered: Soul Suspect is a thriller/detective tale that enlists a chilling atmosphere and plenty of spine-tingles, without needing to resort to “horror gore.” Investigating your own murder with otherworldly talents while still having to rely on your own detective abilities sounded somewhat interesting on paper, but once I started playing, I was immediately hooked. In fact, so much that I tried to finish the entire game in a single sitting!
As a long-time fan of detective stories and solutions shrouded in mystery, I wasn’t sure what I should expect from Square Enix. My trepidation for the story itself was that it’d be guessable, after all, what’s the point of a detective game if you’re just going through the motions as you wait for the characters to draw the same conclusions as yourself? Murdered: Soul Suspect cleverly blossomed the story and clues in a realistic, linear fashion: you didn’t know anything unless you figured it out. Several times during the game, I thought I could see the bigger picture, but in fact, I was nearly always incorrect in my assumptions; which consistently opened new avenues to consider.
It’s hard to say much about the narrative without giving away what is easily one of the game’s best features. With a first-person account that relies on a tough ex-con, I was waiting for an emotionless, self-centred narrative. Instead, however, the writers delivered an intelligent, character driven, and often introspective story. It was like a gripping book that I simply couldn’t read fast enough: I absolutely had to solve the mystery, but I was also conscious of not rushing and failing to enjoy it properly. Beginning the game with Ronan’s life flashing before his eyes provides the player with an almost intrusive look at his life. Telling his story quickly and visually with his tattoos being a part of his journey was also surprisingly effective at giving substance and life to this dead cop. Whether you like him in the beginning or not, Ronan’s character grows with the story and tugs at your care factor.
The appearance of Murdered: Soul Suspect was clear and concise throughout, and while there wasn’t exactly a huge map, I personally found that it was neither overwhelming or too small. Every building within the unnerving town of Salem had its own sense of foreboding, as well as unique layouts and occupants. The otherworldly merged well with the living world to create obstacles and a layered sense of the underlying freak-show you find yourself the centre of. Ronan, your character, begins as a ghost, and regardless of how you feel towards him after his colourful life flashback, you can’t deny he looks pretty damn cool. All the ghosts are frozen as they looked at their death, with details like glowing bullet wounds in Ronan’s case, and the ever-lasting “cancer stick” he smokes.
The realistic sense of the areas in the game also compliment the heart pumping moments when you’re up against demonic foes. For example, a peaceful refectory can become terrifyingly claustrophobic when you’re trying not to become the next victim of hell’s repo men. Throughout the game, I tried to make notes on the music, but failed miserably. I was too engrossed and hardly noticed any, but when it was present, I personally found that it never overshadowed the gameplay, and instead snuck in quietly to improve the atmosphere. It’s clear that the game was going for a sense of realism, rather than feeling “big”, so, in my opinion, the lack of music actually worked as an asset. It made your role as a gritty, seen-it-all-then-died detective so much more believable. The voice acting also fell into the category of being useful and realistic, with each voice actor matched perfectly to their character.
A ghost with the training and instincts of a detective, coupled with supernatural abilities like possession, teleportation and spirit exorcism is, to me, the setup of a game where your protagonist is all-powerful and equipped with the best of both worlds. Literally. Being able to walk through most physical objects and read the minds of anyone, or even influence their behaviour, seemed like everything would be easy. The game, however, reigns in your supremacy by quickly introducing rules: most buildings are consecrated and can only be entered/exited through open doors and windows. Ghostly objects are only visible to yourself and the other living-impaired Salem residents and cannot be passed through at all. Immediately my vision of running at a dead sprint from one end of Salem to the other, and simply passing through everything, came to a halt. Your abilities aid your search for answers and offer interesting ways to investigate without removing all of the challenge in the game.
Another thing that stood out was that the developers decided not to include something that, to me, has become a necessary design crutch: a map. The game offered a handy arrow for the next location, but without a map, it became a little less than straightforward. Some areas could not be crossed because of Ronan’s condition, being dead and all, so you had to recall what you knew about the town instead of relying on a trail or mini-map to do the work for you. In truth, though, I loved this as it put you more into the local detective frame of mind: no one was there to hold my hand and solve the investigation for me, so I better just nut-up and get on it. At first, the whole town being an unknown raised the creepy aura of everything, and in turn, had me trying to check every corner before I continued. In my opinion, it was a great design decision to simply let us find our way on our own.
Going in, the gameplay mechanics were always going to be a big factor as to whether or not I would enjoy the game as I personally dislike those horror/thriller titles that insist on leaving you defenceless, and force you to flee with crossed fingers. I also wasn’t keen to spend the entire playthrough saving citizens as some kind of hypocritical Ghostbuster, either. Murdered: Soul Suspect takes a little from column A and a little from column B: there is not much in the way of combat and stealth, but plenty of fleeing is recommended. Ronan is armed to take down demons he finds, and while they’re non-threatening and funny to watch through walls with your ghost sight; sauntering about like dementors at Mardi Gras; when they find you, they suddenly become infinitely unfunny. You get one shot to take them down from behind, fail or get seen early and the fact that you’re already dead gives no comfort: run, hide and hope that being shot was the worst thing that will happen to you all week.
Ronan’s other abilities are straightforward enough and lend themselves to solving side-quests and chapter investigations with more than his mortal know-how. Limitations on the reach of the abilities means you actually have to think for yourself instead of racking an NPCs brain for your answers. Each chapter is slightly different from the last, making every new puzzle tap your grey matter. When choices arose while making my conclusions, I was faced with story links I thought I knew, but was frequently surprised by things I’d missed in the gameplay. While it was necessary to correctly line up the camera angle in order to use the collect/use function in every case, it didn’t damage the overall gameplay. My one gripe in entire game was with the end: I loved the climax and was 100% satisfied, but when I opened my completed game, I found I couldn’t get out of the final area to finish the few items I’d missed collecting. I managed about 95% in my eight hour playthrough and the completionist in me wanted those last few items. I actually wouldn’t mind replaying this, just to satisfy the collections and mini stories.
In the eight hours it took to complete the game, Murdered: Soul Suspect never failed to capture my full attention; something which I’ve found happening a lot more often with recent games. Considering my only problem was that it didn’t let me keep playing after the story, I’d have to say it’s a pretty decent effort from Square Enix, especially as it’s an entirely new IP. It’s possible that some may find eight hours to be a little short, but I personally think any more than that would have damaged the flow of the story and created a lull in the suspenseful atmosphere. Murdered: Soul Suspect was advertised as a detective thriller, and the most thrilling thing is that’s exactly what it was. It made use of Salem’s spooky history and crafted the perfect experience for people like me: those craving the supernatural thrills of the horror genre, minus the cheap scares and emotionally scarring gore.
Note: This article was based on the XB1 version of the game, and provided to us by Bandai Namco Games Australia for review.