Title: Murdered Soul Suspect
Format: PS4 (also PC, Xbox One, PS3)
Price: USD 59.99 (PS4, Xbox One), USD 49.99 (PC, PS3)
There is a certain type of person who is going to see Murdered Soul Suspect as an enjoyable and above-average cat simulator with an unnecessary murder-mystery attached to it. There are a number of parts of the game which require taking control of fearless and athletic felines, and these play rather well. I also suspect that one or more of the developers have kitties at home due to the attention which has gone into these sections, including the addition of a “meow” button. I can honestly say I was enormously entertained by this, meowing like a maniac as I zoomed through church air conditioning vents, annoyed repair men, and jumped all over old ladies trying to give their daughters marital advice.
While I do encourage the development community as a whole to put some thought into a cat-based adventure game of some sort (perhaps a cross between the cheerful silliness of Goat Simulator and the diabolical mischief of Lucius), that is not quite all that Murdered has to say for itself. This is not the so-called Triple-A territory of the biggest publishers, but Square Enix are no small fry and it’s pleasing to see mainstream support for the development of a game that tries to do something different. There is some reliance on standard gaming conventions – most notably backstory-as-collectibles – but in terms of narrative, this is a very interesting project.
You play as police officer Ronan O’Connor, and you are killed at the beginning of the game. Some further exposition reveals Ronan was hunting the Bell Killer, a serial murderer terrorising the historic city of Salem, Massachusetts. Unfortunately for Ronan, on catching up with the hooded and masked suspect, the Bell Killer uses apparently supernatural strength to throw the helpless officer around a fourth-storey apartment, out of the window of said apartment, and then shoots him seven times in the chest for good measure. As the newly-deceased Ronan wryly comments when investigating his own death scene, somebody really wanted him dead.
Ronan is then greeted by his dead wife Julia, who tells him he cannot pass over to join her until he concludes his life’s unfinished business, but warns him he must do so quickly. Ronan then meets the ghost of a seventeenth century girl who tells him more specifically that there are ‘demons,’ those who have lingered too long in this limbo and have lost themselves, now existing only to consume others. And so here is Ronan’s task: stop the Bell Killer not only for the sake of the town, but to pass over before it is too late. The narrative then unfolds over the course of the rest of that night.
The game is then a hybrid of stealth and investigation, with a number of key buildings acting as levels, connected by the city of Salem as semi-open world hub. The main plot is advanced by solving key crime scenes in each area. This is done by hunting for and interpreting clues, deducing which clue is the most salient, and occasionally selecting the right order for the clues to determine a sequence of events. Ronan can also possess people, which can be used either for eavesdropping, getting a look at key data, or using collected clues to try to jog a witness’s memory.
In order to get to these key scenes, Ronan has to traverse the level, which allows opportunities to find side quests, such as helping ghosts resolve their business and pass on. There are also a certain number of level-specific objects in each area, and collecting all of these triggers an unrelated but spooky story about Salem’s past. Finally, there are story-related collectibles, which are highly varied, and include articles about the Bell Killer, the diaries of Ronan’s dead wife, and the Salem witch trials of the 1690’s which become entangled in the narrative. There are also often demons in Ronan’s way, which he can sneak past, distract, or, if the player’s timing is good enough, eliminate altogether. Ronan also develops powers along the way which can be used to solve puzzles or get past previously blocked pathways.
If this seems quite a variety, it is, and it keeps the game ticking along nicely without feeling like filler. The controls are fit for purpose, with the standard move on left stick and look on right, run and teleport on left shoulder buttons, and detect and ‘act’ on the right. As a ghost, Ronan cannot interact with the world directly, but he can reveal hidden secrets, temporarily influence machinery with his ‘poltergeist’ ability, and of course possess people, all off the same right trigger button, context-dependent. On PS4, the only oddity is using the central swipe pad as the quest menu button. As with every PS4 game I have played so far, use of the swipe pad seems forced, as if Sony is requiring developers to use it for something to justify its existence. There’s certainly no benefit in having the swipe pad to bring up the quest menu – it’s just a button press after all.
There is a small range of supporting characters as well, who are all interlinked to each other and hence to the story. Without spoilers, there is Joy, who witnessed Ronan’s murder, and whose mother, now missing, was working with Baxter, a disgraced officer with a hatred for Ronan, who was demoted by Rex, the police lieutenant who was also Julia’s brother and hence Ronan’s brother-in-law. Wheels within wheels for sure. The only let down is Ronan himself; frankly, despite his unusual tattoos, he is a little bit too much of the clichéd Gruff White Guy Protagonist. However, as the protagonist, his lack of distinction is less a problem as he is the player’s avatar and effectively transparent, and the supporting cast are well-drawn and the voice-acting is pleasingly credible.
As I close, I know the issue I need to address is price. This is the first ‘mainstream’ game I have reviewed here and it’s very jarring the jump from the 10 – 15 dollars indie titles cost to 60 dollars for the ‘next gen’ versions of this game. I will tell you here, I started the game on a Saturday morning with my coffee, and finished it at close to 2am Sunday morning, some 14 hours later. What do we get for that higher price, for less than 20 hours of gameplay? In the case of Murdered, there are some lovely (although not jaw-dropping) visuals, and on PS4/XBone/PC they are in next-gen sharpness. There are polished controls and gameplay, and some excellent game design. But there is the lingering issue that with the reduced costs of digital download, it continues to be scandalous the digital versions cost the same as their physically distributed disc counterparts.
However, I feel that is a general discussion, and not one for which Murdered should be made to be solely accountable; all ‘mainstream’ titles are in this kind of price bracket. So I caveat my summary as follows: if you are OK with paying USD 50 – 60 dollars for a mainstream game, Murdered is no worse value than any other, and is most definitely the best mainstream game I have played in a long while.
If we remove that price discussion, Murdered is a very enjoyable, narrative-driven investigation-exploration game. There are hints of Heavy Rain and even Deadly Premonition, although without the kitsch of the latter and less disjointed than either. As mentioned above, the narrative and thus the game take place over the course of one night, and in that sense I enjoyed this the same way I do a great novel that I devour in a single afternoon.
Murdered Soul Suspect
|The protagonist and supporting characters have complex links to each other, interwoven with and underpinned by the history of Salem. Rich and well executed|
|Bar the jarring use of the PS4’s swipe pad, controls are intuitive. Voice acting is excellent. As a ‘cross-gen’ title (last and current) visuals aren’t mind-blowing, but look nice and crisp in 1080p|
|Almost none. Well paced in terms of introductions of powers, puzzles, and numbers of demons faced.|
|A thoroughly enjoyable and well-paced narrative-driven mystery. Best mainstream horror game of the year so far – with added cats! Recommended|
This review was originally published on Fextralife.com. Used with permission