Murdered: Soul Suspect Review
Playing Murdered: Soul Suspect is a peculiar experience, and not in ways that its creators intended.
A smorgasbord of half-baked (and in some cases downright non-existent) gameplay systems that mostly just threaten to exist, it feels like a project that had its budget and development schedule lopped clean in half at the last available moment.
Developer Airtight Games – a team now semi-famous for their affiliation with Portal co-creator Kim Swift, following their collaboration on 2012’s satisfying Quantum Conundrum – have created a genuinely curious thing.
Murdered: Soul Suspect promises to use gameplay schemes to embolden its plot, before deciding to insist that there is nothing more entertaining in this world than walking around closed-off areas and repeatedly pushing a single button.
And yet, it all starts so well.
The Story Of Murdered: Soul Suspect
You play as Ronan O’Connor; a Salem, Massachusetts policeman who is alive for all of ninety seconds before being gunned down by a hooded serial murderer known as the Bell Killer.
O’Connor is briskly revealed to be a fairly unpleasant piece of work, but voice actor Jason Brooks plays him like a subservient corner shop clerk.
It’s an odd choice to have made in such an unceremonious hunk of pulp trash, and yet it’s initially rather engaging.
But was Brooks trying to take the character in an interesting and unexpected direction, or is Ronan O’Connor simply the least compelling copper in the entire, roomy history of videogames? It’s difficult to tell.
Murdered: Soul Suspect is not a lavish or expensive game, but O’Connor’s backstory is hastily delivered in a fashion that can only be described as stylish: past dilemmas are disclosed before being subsequently insta-animated onto his body as tattoos.
The taut ingenuity of the sequence does nothing to advocate what follows it.
Soul Suspect’s Detective Gameplay
Ostensibly a supernatural L.A. Noire, the game involves marching a dead man between many, many points of interest and pressing a button.
This nets you a clue for one of several different cases but ludicrously, most of them have nothing to do with the central dilemma of solving your own murder.
Almost all of it is needless backstory; backstory for a main tale that’s perilously short, derivative and consistently bereft of drama.
You are constantly invited to interact with your environment: things like paperwork, telephones and vending machines are always vividly highlighted.
But unless you’re engaging in one of a very small number of applicable “puzzles”, idling NPCs don’t react (at all) to you doing things like hurling paper in their faces.
The detective elements are completely free of challenge.
After you’ve found a certain number of specific collectibles (and never before has a game world this small held so many) then you can attempt to crack the case: by selecting the two or three relevant pieces of information.
If you choose incorrectly, you’re given the opportunity to retry until you get it right, which is every bit as thrilling as it sounds.
Without even a cursory achievement or trophy to strong-arm you into attempting to ace them first time, these sequences politely ask if you’ve been paying attention before allowing you to score with inattentive guesswork.
Murdered: Souls Suspect Review
To be fair, the implementation of this kind of gameplay system often seems like a no-win scenario: make these interactions unforgiving and you alienate people, but offer absolutely no kind of challenge and how will they ever hold anyone’s attention?
You can also possess and read the minds of almost every NPC that you come across but again, it’s only worth playing ball on the few occasions that you can actually progress from doing it.
Most of that internal dialogue is so inane and superfluous that you quickly become reluctant to read anyone’s mind at all; even when the story dictates that you have no choice in the matter.
There is also some extremely mild combat, which amounts to using a ripoff of Batman’s Detective Vision to sneak up on demons and kill them with a stodgy two-button combo.
Like everything in Murdered: Soul Suspect, it’s a system that’s tiresome, derivative, agonisingly simplistic and barely used at all. Ditto the stealth-based hiding spots. Ditto your ability to possess domesticated animals.
Murdered: Soul Suspect does do a faintly competent job of creating a practical and alluring universe.
The Salem depicted here might not be even mildly original – with its stray midnight tourists, gunmetal glow and tokenistic “eerie” pigtailed child – but at least it’s true to itself.
At least, it’s true to itself until you discover things like a Just Cause 2 poster in the Police Station lobby, and that those beavering, late-shifting cops are actually tapping away at a static Deus Ex menu screen.
So there are some genuinely nice flourishes in the writing – your inability to walk through certain walls is imaginatively explained – but by the time the all-too-predictable finale rolls by, all goodwill has well and truly left the building.
This is a very short game that’s long on broken promises, a game where at least 60% of the “content” involves nothing more than looking around for a button prompt, and yet it never ever stops threatening to become interesting. Don’t fall for it.
Version tested: Xbox One