After reading the largely disparaging reviews that have centered around the recent release of Square Enix's Murdered: Soul Suspect, I decided to pick it up and give it a whirl on the Xbox One to see if this detective game truly missed the mark. While Murdered may not have hit all of the high notes that I would have hoped for playing as a ghost-detective trying to solve my own murder, it delivered a fun experience in a new type of 3rd person action-detective game.
Let me begin by saying that I have come to expect great things from Square Enix (See: Tomb Raider, Just Cause 2, Deus Ex, to name a few) so I was going into this game with high expectations. Even with that in mind, the faults that I found were in no way game breaking, but rather led me to wonder if the developer could have went a step further in implementing several aspects of the game.
In Murdered: Soul Suspect, you play as Detective Ronan O'Connor, who is killed in Salem by the notorious Bell Killer, and cannot pass to the other side until he figures out his murderer's identity. Enter the spirit of Ronan's dead wife Julia and a host of other NPC ghosts, all who try to help or hinder Ronan's journey to solace. It's not the most original of supernatural tales, but it is entertaining and complimented by numerous side quests which involve helping other spirits to pass to the other side. Ronan's tale becomes more interesting the more that you explore, which is something that is necessary to solve the riddles of Square Enix's sandbox Salem.
At its core, Murdered functions well as a 3rd person detective game. The movement is not dated or clunky, as I have come to expect from this niche genre, but feels crisp and responsive. Solving each case file, whether the main campaign or side missions, involves searching for clues and possessing NPCs, followed by making educated guesses based on the evidence that was found. There are no penalties for taking extra guesses, which is a shame to more hardcore gamers, but adds an ease of accessibility for those who are less concerned with a perfect score. My fiancée greatly appreciated being able to play at her own pace, without worrying that she would mess up the game by making a wrong choice.
The inclusion of some sort of reward or penalty system for working on cases would have given more reason to carefully analyse every clue before jumping to any conclusions. As was mentioned, posessing people can often lead to new information about a case, but often it is just mindless thoughts that have no relevance whatsoever. You can influence people sometimes, but full posession and manipulation was not included as a staple of this game.
But then there are the demons. Ohhhhh the demons. Quite possibly the best part of Murdered are the demons that are searching for lost souls to suck up and take down south. Looking like much more terrifying versions of the Dementors from the Harry Potter movies, you have to hide from the demons within ghostly residue, and get behind them to exorcise them. Which is actually scary, exhilarating, and satisfying to pull off. It becomes easier with practise, but my first few encounters were chaotic and ended poorly for me.
While not the massive "sandbox" that we have come to expect when we hear the term, Salem offers a wealth of environments to explore, from apartments and city streets to a police station and mental hospital. The effect of flickering spirits in the backgrounds creates an eerie ambience that is not felt in many games, and often these little effects can be the scarier moments of the game. Many of the buildings have been consecrated by the townsfolk though, which closes off a lot of the world, but does not hinder the game intrisically.
Like every sandbox though, the world is full of collectibles and side quests that can be taken in or ignored at your leisure. I found helping the other ghosts pass to the next side in the quests to be one of the most satisfying aspects of the game though, and often their stories are captivating in and of themselves. I won't spoil any of them here, but they are full of their own surprises!
The graphics, especially on the next generation consoles, create an eerie Salem environment, which is a wonder to look at and explore. While it is not the best thing that I have seen on the next generation, the character models and the ghosts in particular look great. You cannot walk through everything, but that is explained away by the consecration of certain areas, and by the fact that ghosts can bring objects into existence to block paths as well. This can get annoying, but it becomes easy to spot the blueish hue of objects that cannot be passed through.
Regardless of the things that could have been taken to the next step (possessions, a truly open world, a reward system) Murdered: Soul Suspect was a thoroughly entertaining game that got me attached to the character (albeit later in the game) and even enthralled with the stories of other ghosts who has lost their way.
While it may not have blown my mind with fantastic new innovations, Murdered: Soul Suspect has certainly set a baseline for what I will expect from any future paranormal murder mysteries. Supernatural, I'm looking at you. Besides, how many other games have you played as a ghost, evading demons while trying to solve your own murder and help other ghosts pass on? I'm going to guess zero.