Its sad news when a developer shuts the doors for good after building a team and working together for several games. Airtight games closed up after the release of its latest title and after playing the game I have to say, I understand why. It may seem harsh but Murdered: Soul Suspect is sadly a huge disappointment in all respects.
The game follows detective Ronan o’ Connor, who’s on the hunt for a serial killer in the sleepy town of Salem. After following a lead which takes him to the killer, he is brutally murdered and his restless soul must now solve his own murder. With his ghost powers, Ronan can go through walls as though there is no collision detection, possess the living (including cats) and teleport too hard to reach places. Sounds like a winning concept if only the execution wasn’t so poor.
The story itself is a pretty standard affair, good guy trying to stop bag guy with a girl with supernatural powers and a few ghosts. There is a vast amount of back story to build the characters and location to be interesting but the plot itself has no depth or charm. It does nothing to shock or surprise you as it is a standard who done it murder caper. Find a clue, move to next area, find another clue that was in plain sight and repeat until you ask yourself why the hell has no one caught the killer. The process of finding the clues and progression feels dim witted.
The plot never rises the tension to a high enough level to grip you and instead focuses on a dull Chess Board strategy where you move from one space to another. But unlike a game of chess, there is not much thought or wisdom to make it stand out. This style of story telling follows through right up to poor ending. If the game offered more twists during the story, a red Herring or maybe a time for Ronan to reflect on his life more thoroughly, I would of engaged more with the story.
Any new mechanics come right out of the blue and don’t feel earned or rewarded. Normally you earn a new power by defeating a boss or finding a particular item. But here, a new power shows up when Ronan needs it and I mean that literally. Ronan at one stage needs to jump a gap to follow a lead and so learns how to teleport without an explanation of how he learned the skill. Other than “he’s a ghost so he knew it all along”. This also includes how Ronan just happens to know how to destroy demons too. Other mechanics such as combat is direly basic, repetitive and dull. Sneak up behind enemies and with a QTE (Quick Time Event) you finish them. No new tactics for combat are introduced at later stages and there is no vast array of enemies to battle. Just the same design of demon, patrolling and waiting for you to sneak up and finish him.
Once you get a ¼ of the way through, nothing really dynamically changes with the gameplay. It gets to the point where you learn the basics and nothing more engaging happens, along with the difficulty staying the same and no new dangers entering the game world means you ain’t got much to do. That leaves investigating which happens to be lame. Murdered tries to follow in LA Noire’s footsteps and offer an engaging and thought provoking way to investigate and solve the mystery. But without the clever mechanics and branching paths like LA Noire has, Murdered makes it difficult to find the clues but once you have, you can never screw up the investigation. You can make as many mistakes as you want that the game won’t fail you and thus no real challenge is present. The questions asked after finding clues are so easy you’ll most likely get them right the first time.
It was nice to find out the history of Salem through several stories about personal hauntings which gave the game world some depth. But to unlock these you need to do one of the most boring game objectives imaginable, find the hidden items! So you go and collect about a dozen objects in one location and thus unlocking the story. These are long and uninspiring tasks that could have been made more interesting to do as the stories themselves are pretty good, but not worth a boring side quest. It just feels like tedious grinding and grinding is the lazy developer way to make a game longer.
There are other ghosts in the population of Salem with many rich in personality, enough to be an enemy, almost. Yet, you have a brief conversation and they’re forgotten. They give such a disturbing performance that you feel like they should be more involved in the game world, such as having them as an enemy for Ronan to combat. Just like how Ronan can help ghosts pass onto the other side, maybe he could also help condemned these sickos who wonder around haunting poor innocent people. It’s rather annoying to hear about them moan and discuss their twisted plans of scaring little kiddies and not be able to do anything.
The Town of Salem is a place with great depth and history, but not so fun to be in and not just because of a serial Killer on the loose. Traversing the town of Salem can be rather confusing as you are without a map to help direct you with many small roads and alleys to help get you lost. A cool feature in the town are ghost buildings which add to the scenery but these are under played as they lack any real interaction. Often enough they just act as a obstacle in your way making you find another way round. I have to ask how does a boat die? I understand a Ghost ship in the sea, but there’s one in the middle of the town. Did it die of Loneliness?
The possession power has its own problem in terms of gameplay and for the story. It seems like Ghosts can control people, Ronan can only read the minds of those he goes inside (Ewww) and influence them to say things they should tell the police anyway. Mind reading has no real point outside the main missions as most NPCs in Salem will just babble on about scratching their bum, watching Breaking Bad or wondering if there will be a season two of Firefly. It would have been nice to read minds and learn some real information about the Town, its people or gain more side quests. Not just read the thoughts of a Kingdom Hearts Fan fiction writer.
There are other things he can do, such as turn on tvs, mess with printers and spook cats which get the attention of those NPCs nearer to you. Its fun until you notice that NPCs don’t seem to mind your ghostly jokes and if they reacted more it would be entertaining. As always though, the people of Salem are voided of emotion and have more of an annoyed response when you blow up their 42 inch plasma TV. Another mechanic that could be used better if developed and add more variety to the game’s objectives and quests.
SPOILER ALERT [Highlight to reveal]: The twist end could have worked if not for the game’s dumb and confused nature. It turns out that a ghost of a young girl who was executed for being a Witch has come back and decided to possess certain men to kill “modern day Witches”. She has possessed several of the town’s police force to do the horrible acts, which would be a good enough twist but the game goes further like M Night Shyamalan. We find out that Ronan was also possessed and killed one of the victims. This doesn’t work well as it feels too forced and too much. We’re also not given any indication that he was a killer other than a very vague letter hidden in a game. It could have worked if Ronan was the only killer. But the writer felt the need to add more twists and turns to make it more dramatic and instead it felt over bearing and needless to do so.
All I can say is, Go play Deadly Premonition.