Murdered: Soul Suspect
Murdered: Soul Suspect showed so much promise. Airtight Games' supernatural thriller threatened to offer something a little different from the bevy of shooters and action games that dominate the triple-A gaming line-up these days. Alas, it wasn't to be.
It begins with the bold step of killing off the main character. Salem PD maverick detective Ronan O'Connor comes off second best in a fight with a suspect in a series of grisy murders linked by a mysterious bell symbol. After a brief fist fight the killer hurls O'Connor out of a third-floor window onto the street below. He then makes sure to finish the job by putting six bullets in O'Connor's chest with his own gun.
O'Connor is unfortunate enough to watch the latter act in an ethereal disembodied form and then sets out on a journey through a wierd purgatory that exists half in modern-day Salem and half in the most traumatic events of the city's dubious past. And with than Ronan sets out to find his killer so that he can move on from this purgatorial existence and be with his recently-departed wife.
Salem, being the town notorious for its witches, is the idea setting for a supernatural thriller and it gave Airtight Games to throw some interesting obstacles in Ronan's way. He can walk through walls for example, except those supernatural ones that punctuate the purgatorial Salem that he exists in. But, he can't just walk into buildings as, due to the city's past all buildings are consecrated. So Ronan must wait for a door or window to open or give someone a reason to open one of these portals so he can enter.
These place some nasty obstacles in Ronan's way but luckily he has his skills of detection, amplified by his new ethereal existence and some other handy skills like possession which can enable him to find ways around such obstacles.
There are other obstacles in Murdered: Soul Suspect too. These take the form of demons, souls that have never managed to escape this purgatory and have been driven mad by their torment. They will attack Ronan on sight and he must hide in clouds of spirit remnants that are dotted around until he can creep up behind them and kill them. To be honest, it's not a great dynamic and while it adds a bit of tension to the game it feels like it's been tacked on rather than something that anchors the feel and dynamics of the game.
The majority of Murdered's gameplay revolves around finding evidence and following it like a trail of breadcrumbs to find the killer and hopefully catch him. Traumatic events leave partial footprints around crimescenes that Ronan can reveal once he finds them that will give him crucial information that he wouldn't have been able to find when he was alive.
It all works well enough although some of these footprints are difficult to spot especially in the side-invesitgations. On one occasion I spent a good half an hour scouring a beach to find the tiniest footprint that would allow me to solve a woman's death. This side-mission would not complete without this one piece of evidence and it became unnecessarily frustrating.
What's more the story isn't really that compelling when you get down to it and, for a supernatural murder mystery, it lacks any kind of hooks that spur you on to uncover the next piece of the puzzle. Ronan is fairly bland everyman type of character despite his bad-boy turned good history and the death of his wife weighing on his mind.
It's not the only frustrating thing about the game though. Subtitles are on by default. Not a problem, I hear you say, but they are a problem when they inexplicably include the direction instructions as well as the dialogue. Of course, you can turn them off but the game seems not to save this information and you'll need to turn them off every time you load the game up.
It's a basic bug that shouldn't really be there and it's not the only one. The 'Current Objective' box in the diary menu got stuck displaying the objective for the second crime-scene investigation and stayed like that for the rest of the game.
There's also the introduction of mechanics that seem only to serve one purpose. The Poltergeist skill is a major offender. Ronan can turn Tvs on and off, make phones ring, cause printers and photocopiers spit out a screed of paper and coffee machines to spray out steam everywhere. This could be quite fun but folks around seem to ignore these.
There's one occasion where you're in the bull-pen at the Salem PD headquarters surrounded by cops and none of them so much as bats an eyelid when the photocopier starts spraying paper everywhere. Ronan needs to help a girl escape from the station and as soon as this objective is activated all of a sudden the police start reacting to phones ringing and coffee machines going haywire. It's a small detail but breaks the game's immersion when it really needs you to be invested.
These are silly little details that just shouldn't be an issue but they are and they add to a sense that the game was rushed for release.
Visuals on the PS4 aren't particularly impressive. We were promised better visuals for the next-gen versions but it feels very much like a PS3 game with 1080p textures and a bit more mist rather than a true next-gen console experience.
Murdered: Soul Suspect ends up being rather a disappointing experience. It's not ridiculously broken but it's niggly little bugs and blandness of the story and main character fails to afford the ability to really invest yourself in what's going on in the game. Ironically Murdered: Soul Suspect's soul-lessness is what kills it dead worse than any bugs ever could.
Murdered: Soul Suspect is out now on PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One and Xbox 360.