When gamers think of cutting-edge modern titles, they probably don't think of adventure games with intimate stories and minimal combat. "Murdered: Soul Suspect" is not perfect by any means, but in a world of titles whose budgets are matched only by the number of in-game bullets flying, it's a welcome breath of fresh air. This detective yarn is not too gritty, long or ambitious, but if you yearn for the days of small-scale point-and-click adventure games, you'll feel right at home.
In "Murdered: Soul Suspect," players take on the role of Ronan O'Connor, a street-tough-turned-detective in Salem, Massachusetts. After a fall from a second-story window and an unfortunate case of seven bullets to the chest, Ronan dies. However, he lingers on as a ghost, hell-bent (somewhat literally) on solving his own murder by the mysterious Bell Killer. The game is equal parts exploration and investigation as he makes use of his ghostly abilities and his police skills to do so.
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For a character without a corporeal body, Ronan is surprisingly capable. Although at first, Ronan can simply walk through certain walls, he quickly learns how to possess people and animals, read and influence minds, cause electronics to go haywire, reveal hidden objects from the past and teleport from place to place. These skills make navigating through Salem and picking up clues simple and fun.
Investigations take center stage in "Murdered: Soul Suspect," although there are not that many of them, all things considered. When Ronan comes across a crime scene, such as the site of his own murder or an apartment where a brutal attack occurred, he can search his surroundings for clues.
Sometimes, finding clues can be as simple as inspecting an object, but the more interesting clues come in the form of simple puzzles. As a specter, Ronan can detect traces of emotions that happened at a crime scene, and finding the most relevant ones will yield clues. For example, at one point, Ronan can determine that a witness of a break-in felt intimidated and cautious rather than bold and inquisitive, leading to a revelation about her escape plan.
Other simple puzzles include picking out the most relevant piece of information on a computer screen, influencing a cop to move a stack of papers covering a relevant photograph and figuring out the order of events regarding a grisly suicide. The investigations are not exactly brain teasers, but players still have to employ a little logic and critical thinking, which is appropriate for a detective game. Still, more difficult puzzles with ingenious solutions would have been a very welcome addition.
Beyond that, players will spend most of their time exploring the city of Salem, cheapened somewhat by the fact that this virtual place bears little resemblance to its real-life counterpart. The game is not open-world, exactly, but players can venture through a hub area of the city and revisit past areas at-will. Before the game is done, you'll explore an apartment building, a police station, a cemetery, a mental institution and other adventure-game mainstays.
Exploration is generally fun, especially since there are a ton of optional items to collect and extra mysteries to solve. Revealing a handful of spectral rifles, for example, unlocks a video about a ghostly Civil War soldier who haunts the local precinct, while ghostly visions of Ronan himself explore the character's backstory. Possessing agile cats or teleporting through cracks in walls in order to reach the collectibles adds both color and some much-needed playtime.
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The problem is that these diversions ultimately feel a little pointless. Solving the mystery of how a woman drowned in a rowboat or learning about the Bell Killer's other victims are interesting in their own right, but Ronan doesn't learn any new skills or receive any gameplay enhancements from them.
One aspect of gameplay feels totally superfluous: the demon hunts. Occasionally, Ronan will stumble across vengeful spirits who refuse to move on, and he must hide from them before sneaking around to exorcise them permanently.
It's not combat as much as a mix of stealth and randomized button combinations, which makes these sections both tiresome and jarring. Thankfully, the demon encounters are few and far between, letting players focus on the meaty investigations.
Ronan, a chain-smoking Salem detective, is hot on the trail of the Bell Killer, a masked serial murderer who offs his victims in particularly gruesome ways. After a botched confrontation with the Bell Killer, Ronan dies and realizes that he finally has a chance to reunite with his departed wife, Julia. Before he can do that, though, he will need to linger on Earth for a little while longer to solve his own murder and unmask the Bell Killer once and for all.
"Murdered: Soul Suspect" does not exactly tell a story for the ages, but it's the sort of contained, focused narrative that made the point-and-click adventure games of the '80s and '90s so memorable. Ronan is not out to save the world or learn some (after)life-altering truth about himself. There's a detective and a murder mystery, and aside from the diversionary collectibles, there's not much standing between the two.
In light of the thoroughly decent detective yarn, it's a shame that the characters are generally so underdeveloped. Ronan is a former criminal, but that never really comes across in his calm, workmanlike demeanor. He's a little hard-bitten, but still compassionate, and he mostly plays by the rules. Although Ronan is a pleasant character to spend the game's 10 or so hours with, there's not much to him.
In fact, "Murdered: Soul Suspect" suffers from the same problem as a slew of other modern titles, including "BioShock Infinite," "The Last of Us" and "Watch Dogs." In all these games, a scruffy, middle-aged white-male protagonist has a much more interesting female sidekick who isn't a playable character. In this case, the sidekick is Joy, a teenage medium who is Ronan's only way to manipulate and communicate with the world of the living.
In a sea of fairly bland archetypes (the good cop, the bad cop, the almost-too-perfect wife, the Irish-Catholic priest), Joy stands out. With her feminist-punk attire, her "Star Wars" pins, her contrary demeanor and her inexperience with her unusual abilities, Joy is considerably more interesting than Ronan, and it's a shame that she doesn't take center stage.
Graphics and art
While the art style in "Murdered: Soul Suspect" isn't very creative, it's still a good-looking game on the whole. No, the map of Salem isn't accurate, but it's still a fun little town to explore, complete with parks, cafés and secluded alleys. All of the characters look distinct, particularly Ronan's tattoos and Joy's attire. It doesn't look radically different from other current-gen titles set in the real world, but it has a few nice touches, such as the ghostly, translucent-blue scenery, and characters to represent things and people from another time.
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We were also extremely pleased with the smooth frame rate on the PS4 version of the game, which never faltered, even during chaotic action scenes. Players on previous-gen consoles may experience less-crisp graphics and a lower frame rate.
Music and sound
While the music and sound effects in "Murdered: Soul Suspect" tend to just fade into the background, the voice acting is worth a mention. No one in the game gives a career-defining performance, but each actor gives a heartfelt reading and helps imbue some life into the otherwise-forgettable characters. From the hotheaded policeman Baxter to the enigmatic psychic Cassandra, there's something to like in just about every character's voice.
"Murdered: Soul Suspect" is not going to win any Game of the Year awards or set the stage for a whole new generation of adventure games. It's also not for everyone; this is a game in which you don't fire a single bullet or drive a single vehicle.
Where the game excels is in keeping its scope small and its storyline tight. Whether the game is worth the $60 asking price is debatable, but it's definitely worth a look for anyone hankering for a good old-fashioned gumshoe potboiler.
OS: Windows Vista 64bit with Platform Update for Windows Vista
Processor: High-Performance Dual Core CPU or Quad Core CPU
Memory: 2GB of RAM
Graphics: AMD Radeon™ HD 3870 512MB RAM / Nvidia GeForce 8800GT
DirectX: Version 10
Hard Drive: 12GB of available space
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Airtight Games
Price: $59.99 ($49.99 on PC)
Release Date: 6/3/14
Platforms: Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, PC