|System: PC, PS3, Xbox 360|
|Pub: Square Enix|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Shelby Reiches
Murdered: Soul Suspect is not what one would have expected out of Dark Void and Quantum Conundrum developer Airtight Games. I don’t think it’s entirely what one would expect out of the modern video game industry at all, actually. In a landscape increasingly populated by linear action titles, shooters that all harbor a common lexicon, and experiences that attempt to shock and awe by targeting “edgy” instead of “thought provoking,” Murdered: Soul Suspect stands out because it is, at once, a title informed by classic adventure sensibilities, and at the same time, a title that tries something that has never been done before.
The protagonist of Murdered and your avatar, Ronan O’Connor, is a detective who serves with the Salem, Massachusetts police force. Rather, he was a member of the force until, being something of a loose cannon, he bit off more than he could chew and ended up launched from a fourth-floor apartment, and then he was shot in the chest seven times by his assailant.
To Ronan’s dismay, though, Salem is a city steeped in a tradition of the supernatural, famous for the witch trials conducted there in 1692 and 1693. He finds that, rather than passing on into oblivion, he has entered the Dusk, becoming a spirit that walks the earth in a quest to address its unfinished business. In Ronan’s case, this involves unraveling the mystery of his murder, as not everything is precisely what it seems.
In a behind-closed-doors demo, we were shown the first thirty minutes of the game, comprising two investigations and some exploration between. To call the title a mash-up of classic point-and-click adventures, or even a combination of L.A. Noire, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, and Metal Gear Solid would not be completely inaccurate, but it would be misleading. We did not see interrogations, as Ronan is dead and cannot interact directly with the living. They don’t see him, hear him, or ever seem to notice him, even when they pass through him.
He can, however, possess them at will and see through their eyes, hear their thoughts, and even influence what it is they think about. By doing this and observing physical evidence in the investigation scenes (along with other methods), Ronan is able to close out his investigations, which seem to end with a “quiz” that requires the player to choose individual words that represent Ronan’s deductive chain of reasoning. That last bit may sound dull in writing, but in practice, it’s an interesting way to keep the player invested in what is happening, ensuring that they’re engaged by what’s happening onscreen.
In addition to possession, Ronan has other ghostly powers (including some of which he isn’t immediately aware). The most basic is his incorporeal nature, which allows him to simply walk through people and objects in the environment without disturbing them. Never has there been a better excuse for poor hit detection in a game. This does present an issue in that objects cannot be picked up for further investigation.
The nature of Ronan’s non-physical body is such that, in most cases, he can even pass through walls or doors unhindered. This plays into the game’s enemy encounters, which are intended to be approached in various ways, but punish head-on assault. If approached unaware, an aggressive demon can be executed with little fuss.
The one hindrance for Ronan is entering buildings. Since most of those in Salem have been blessed specifically to keep spirits out, Ronan must wait to enter a building until a pathway has been made for him, such as by someone opening the front door. Once inside, though, walls and doors are no obstacle.
When he absolutely must interact with the living, Ronan is able to activate small poltergeists, causing specific, physical objects to behave in unusual ways. This can serve as a means of distraction for the living, if need be.
Lastly, Ronan’s most powerful ability is probably his teleport. It can be used to quickly approach foes from behind or simply to get around, and the range on it is fairly extensive.
This all serves the purpose of aiding Ronan in better solving mysteries, whether those be the small side quests upon which he might stumble, presented by spirits seeking his help, or the grand mystery of his own murder by a man who, it soon becomes clear, is in no way normal.
The kind of puzzle solving on display in Murdered: Soul Suspect is compelling enough that it actually makes me apprehensive about there being combat of any kind in the title. When the major draw of the game is its investigation element, locking them behind a stealth challenge seems counterintuitive. The last thing that interests me about the game is the idea of avoiding and executing demonic forces, but such are the sacrifices made in the pursuit of tension. Threatening death is certainly the shorthand way to provide it.
Date: June 13, 2013