Ever since I completed Heavy Rain and walked away from it looking for a similar departure, I've been unable to find a suitable replacement beyond the realm of classic adventure gaming. Though Heavy Rain was plagued with its own special set of problems, it left a lasting impression on me, a missing link to the golden days of adventure gaming, blended with something decidedly modern. Beyond: Two Souls seemed promising, but I soon realized it was merely a husk of the game I had hoped to see.
When Murdered: Soul Suspect arrived on the scene, it looked like it might fit the bill perfectly. And while the once venerable Square Enix branding may once have meant I could skip along merrily in the confines of the game that wore it so proudly, that certainly isn't the case these days. Thus, it was with much trepidation that I approached Murdered: Soul Suspect, in the hopes that I wouldn't get burned once more. Today, I emerge from the flames with a warning: to stay away until this one invariably hits the bargain bin.
Murdered: Soul Suspect (Xbox One [reviewed], Xbox 360, PS4, PS3, PC)
Developer: Airtight Games, Square Enix Japan
Publisher: Square Enix
Released: June 3, 2014
It's a shame, too -- Ronan O'Connor is exactly the sort of protagonist I'd normally be drawn to. He's a detective taking a page out of the Handbook for the Recently Deceased, except his version of the Deetz's house is a seemingly never-ending lead on a serial killer in Salem, Massachusetts. Sans fedora, he's the kind of neo-noir tough-as-nails gumshoe I'd be rooting for in any other game. Having been taken out by the Bell Killer during a particularly violent scuffle, O'Connor is doomed to walk the earth until he uncovers the identity of the one who took his life. Luckily, he's got a plucky sidekick to help him through all the tough times - and despite her hilariously over-acted dialogue, I can live with her, too. In fact, I quite like the cast, honestly -- any excuse to make me feel as though I'm the earnest young detective looking to learn from the wizened oldie on the team really revs my motor.
It's unfortunate then, that there simply isn't much else to love about the game. I could admire Airtight Games' attempt to instill a sense of duality with the spirit plane and the human world, especially the fact that there's an entire world to excavate right alongside the land of the living. Humans simply glide along through every day life, touching pieces of a ghostly realm that they'll never see. It's a stark reminder of how the two worlds can collide, but they'll never fully be intertwined again. And for a moment, when you're scouring a crime scene in-game for clues, you reflect on what could have been before you realize you're being dragged along on a glorified hidden-picture hunt that's better left to one of the best Big Fish games, only with better production values.
Hunting for clues isn't the only thing Ronan can do, but it certainly feels like the most useful. You can inhabit the bodies of the townsfolk around you and read their mind or control them, but this is a fairly useless mechanic that isn't good for much else besides gleaning additional information about the plot that isn't exactly helpful. It feels much more like a gimmick than a useful tool in uncovering the truth behind the Bell Killer, but then so do most of the things you end up doing as Ronan throughout the game. Considering the rest of your time is spent aiding ghosts who need some assistance in coming to terms with their deaths and residual feelings, the ability to "mindjack" acts as a bit of padding to the rest of the game's barebones structure. It's not that it's all bad -- it's just painfully bland, with no real direction.
For a game that places such emphasis on story (which crashes and burns about halfway through), Murdered: Soul Suspect shoehorns in some particularly boring segments that center around ghouls that have lingered on in the land of the living far too long. Suddenly, an area you're casing for clues will force you to come face to face with a quick time event to banish the ghastly ghoulies from this plane. It's not engaging, and acts as a minor annoyance. Scary? Not even. Creepy? I suppose, if all it takes to get the hair on the back of your neck to raise is a bit of moaning and somewhat "scary" imagery. It all feels like a bid to make the game something that it's not -- engaging, perhaps, is the word I'm looking for.
And when you can't truly "fail" when it comes to combing scenes for clues and combining them with the ideas and information you've collected in a meaningful way. You simply try again and again until you come to the conclusion the game is looking for. What's more, things will "click" for you much quicker and in a much more cohesive manner than they will for the characters in the game, which is frustrating beyond belief. At one particular moment I found myself pulling a "scary movie" and yelling at my screen. How were the police so dim-witted that they couldn't put two and two together? And why did I even care enough to continue playing if I had solved the "mystery" before the game decided I should be allowed to?
I truly wanted to like this game. It combines several of my favorite tropes and ideas into one cohesive whole, and I respect what it was trying to attain. But combining an underdeveloped hide-and-seek operation with a ghost story that seems ripped straight from a casual game isn't the way to hold my attention. It's a half-baked concoction full of lofty ideas that don't quite mesh well together topped with a fedora. And I don't think that's a confection anyone really wants to devour. Save this one for a rental.