Among the living
I was looking for something new to play recently and I did not have a notion as to what I wanted. I’ve been making rather incredible progress through my backlog, and wanted to take a bit of a break from it by finding a short romp which I could blast through.
I was looking through the PSN sales last month and I came across Murdered: Soul Suspect, an action/adventure title from Airtight Games, published by Square Enix. The name sounded familiar and I looked into it some more.
I recall it being released to minimal fanfare at the time in 2014, being a mere footnote in gaming history at this point. The mixed reviews it received at the time certainly didn’t help bolster sales.
After looking into the premise, and understanding the central character is dead and investigating their own death, I found myself oddly intrigued by this title which once flew under the radar.
It was 1.99 as well, I should have mentioned that.
The incredible adventures of ghost detective lad
So, here’s the skinny.
You play the badass lone wolf detective Ronan O’Connor, whose name is ceaselessly denounced as strange. He is a former criminal who seemingly gets a tattoo for each crime he committed for some reason, and then is made a cop by his brother-in-law, also for some reason. Ronan turns his life around and dedicates his life to upholding justice, after the untimely death of his wife Julia. The notorious Bell Killer is running amok and the good detective manages to track him down… only to be murdered himself
I won’t lie, it was pretty hammy right from the start but I was actually quite invested to see where it goes. The story of Ronan and his wife Julia is told through a series of flashbacks in the early part of the game and it is quite sweet at times
Upon his death, Ronan steps outside of his body with a blue, incorporeal, unable to touch anything in the physical world. Confused, he soon realises what has happened and has been reinvigorated in his search for the Bell Killer.
A surprisingly strong start from a game that received middling reviews at best.
I’m blue daba dee daba die
So, how does it actually play?
This isn’t a run and gun game by any means, with the focus being more on investigation and exploration. The bulk of the gameplay consists of gathering clues at crime scenes, and piecing them together to reach an understanding of the murder, or whatever situation you’re looking into.
At a given crime scene there will be a number of clues you need to gather, to reach a conclusion. You don’t by any means need to get all clues, just enough so that you can get your answers by piecing them together. Once an investigation has been concluded, this usually means you move on to the next location in your journey.
Overall I found this aspect of the game unchallenging, and without paying too much attention to clues, it was easy to solve the puzzles with guesswork. Regardless, it’s fun and brought back some fond memories of LA Noire.
Another major facet of the game is exploration and collectibles. The collectibles are absolutely everywhere to say the least, and they are segregated into different collections. Once you complete a set, you have an opportunity to watch a cutscene, detailing a story from the locality or history of a building/location. I found this to be a great method of expanding the lore, and I actually wanted to gather as many as I could. The stories were genuinely interesting and well-written, for the most part.
There are a handful of side cases to be found as well. Much like the main story investigations, they’re relatively straightforward to complete and act as reasonably interesting distractions in between main objectives. You won’t spend more than 10 minutes really on each of them, but in that short space of time the developers tell a worthy story, so kudos to them for effective storytelling.
Ghost in the machine
There are some truly excellent ideas in place here which tend to be unfortunately undercooked.
Possession is one of the most fun mechanics in the game. You can possess any living being in the game, even cats. Possessing humans can be useful for investigations. You can’t interact with the physical world, but if you for example possess a cop who is reading a report, you can see through their eyes and gather information. The same can be done when they’re speaking on the phone, with a colleague, etc. You can possess cats to access hard-to-reach places and even meow. The meowing functionality doesn’t do much in a practical sense, but by god it is cute. Possession is unfortunately underused and for the most part relegated to use on unnamed NPCs, whose minds you can read. This can be pretty funny at times but overall not useful.
I’m sure at this point you’re asking yourself, is there combat? Why yes, yes there is! Barely.
The enemies in the game are demons, evil spirits of people who were unable to resolve their unfinished business from the living world, and have been trapped for eternity in a ghastly form. Pretty cool idea in concept. Fighting them involves sneaking up behind them, pressing a button, pressing another button, and they’re defeated just like that. If they spot you, you need to warp between… Ghostly hiding spots?... that are littered in the combat areas until they give up their search. You can then simply sneak up behind them and eliminate them. Once again, there is no real challenge to this at all and proves to be disappointingly underdeveloped in this respect.
Combat and investigation, the two core pillars of gameplay, are incredibly forgiving and would have been far more fulfilling if it were more fleshed out, with an added dash of difficulty.
A very fun mechanic that does get some loving is that of the poltergeist power. With this, you can possess inanimate, electronic equipment such as vending machines, printers, cameras etc. This is used to distract people in the living world, and is a lot of fun. Even when it’s not necessary for progression, it’s a lot of fun running around manipulating the electronics in a location. A massive missed opportunity here is that 9 times out of 10, no one reacts unless they’re meant to in a scripted scenario. Such a shame, this could have been a great method of gathering collectibles or posing challenges to the player.
The story is paced quite well and I was very pleased by the reasonably short duration of roughly 10 hours. The story is presented clearly, and progresses in a way that is easy to understand. It could have become overly complicated and muddy, but thankfully avoids this. It’s inherently ridiculous, but never off-puttingly so and as long as it’s not taken too seriously, you’re going to have a fun time unraveling the central mystery of the Bell Killer.
There are some atmospheric environments, most notably the graveyard and the church. While the game is never outright scary—coming from a person who does not do well with horror games—there is certainly an unsettling undercurrent that supports the creepy atmosphere. The game isn’t much of a looker, it’s from 2014 and a cross-generational release with the current and previous console generations, but it does well with what was at their disposal at the time.
Outside of our main man Ronan, there are a few other major characters. Joy, who is a medium, is your connection to the world of the living and is the embodiment of every alt teenager who has ever existed. Baxter, is a p***k cop, and that is where his character starts and ends. Ronan’s brother-in-law, Rex, is a seemingly good guy cop and how he got onto the force in the first place. The dog-named man is the lead investigator on the Bell Killer case and looks like he should probably be Harvey Dent.
Okay so I didn’t go into this expecting a masterclass in nuanced characterisation or thrilling story.
All I wanted was a bit of class for my cash.
Don’t spend it all in the one place!
Using incredible scientific method, I have broken down exactly where my craic was had, down to the cent.
As you can see from the informative chart above, the game cost me 1.99, and a solid quarter of that value was from possessing cats alone. Do I know how to apply my revolutionary method of calculation to more critically acclaimed and more expensive games? No. Does it make sense? Probably!
All told, this was a surprisingly fun affair and would recommend any bored gamer to give this a chance—find something cheap as chips, and give it a go. You could be pleasantly surprised with what you’ll find. While it’s not an amazing game by any means, I would love to see a sequel or spiritual (or soulful heh) successor to this, with more well-developed mechanics.
The foundations of a great game lie in here.
All images taken from the Murdered: Soul Suspect press kit here
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