Thursday 23 April 2015

Murdered: Soul Suspect (Xbox 360)

Developed by Airtight Games and Published by Square Enix, Murdered: Soul Suspect is a third person adventure stealth game that follows the plot of a dead Detective looking to solve his own murder, against the backdrop of the town of Salem, Massachusetts, where the supernatural is a very real thing indeed.

Salem, Massachusetts as you know, has a pretty brutal history concerning the Witch Trials and it’s always fascinating when Urban Fantasy decides to go down that route, and even historical fantasy has explored the town before with WGN America’s period horror drama Salem (which I would recommend for all lovers of American Horror Story) asking what if there were actually witches during the Witch Trials. It’s an exciting series, but I’ve never actually seen a game set in Salem that explores its history and that’s something that really drew me to Murdered: Soul Suspect.

Set in the modern day, the third person Murdered: Soul Suspect opens with a brutal murder of the main protagonist, Ronan, who goes in to chase after the mysterious serial killer and without calling for backup, gets thrown out of the window and killed. However, much to Ronan’s confusion – he wakes up on the streets moments later as though nothing is wrong, or at least, apart from the fact that his body is lying there dead in the street, people around him cannot see him, and he is a ghost, unable to enter the afterlife to rejoin his wife until he solves the mystery of who killed him. It’s a fantastic idea for a game, especially when set against the atmospheric, haunting backdrop of Salem at night and throw in some of the creepiest monsters that you’ll see in a video game. There are several scenes in this game where as one would expect will cause you to jump, and the demons, who are constantly searching for ghosts to devour and present the main obstacle for Ronan’s quest to uncover the truth, are as scary as heck, and I’ll admit it – I jumped more than once, because the game gets the tension so damn right.

The game itself is incredibly atmospheric, with some great visuals and the horror setting of the game really works well. Thanks to the decision to cast Ronan as a former Criminal turned Detective, the game feels a lot like a noir crime thriller, with the story being the strongest part of the game. It’s closely linked and interweaving as you’re pulled into a compelling game of cat and mouse as you attempt to hunt the killer, with several twists preventing the outcome from being obvious. It’s a satisfactory standalone game that works from a storytelling perspective, but when you bring in the game mechanics into the equation things get a little more problematic.

For starters, Murdered: Soul Suspect isn’t really a challenging game. It’s very much a linear approach with the game directing you down closed corridors with minimal exploration and not much staying power beyond the odd sidequests which you have to complete before you finish the last level, or else you won’t be able to go back and finish them. Whilst the hiding from the demons (often in hiding spots, where you can jump from one to the other to avoid the demons from noticing you – kind of like the hiding spots in Assassin’s Creed, only scarier) can be challenging especially when there are more of them, you will always find a way to get past them. The cases too, when you have to find clues at each crime scene, don’t really challenge you when you’re presented with multiple options because it will always direct you on the right course with no consequences.

The cast of characters are small and mixed in quality. Aside from Ronan, whose story you will be quickly invested in, there’s also the teenage medium who can talk to Ghosts, Joy. She serves a great counterpart to Ronan who ends up helping him through most of the story. However, there’s nothing much beyond that aside from a couple of stereotypes such as Baxter, a cop who always had it in for Ronan, and we don’t spend enough time with the rest of the cast to really get to know them. It’s also worth pointing out that as Ronan, you can posses people and read their thoughts, but they aren’t exactly notable, feeling average. (I did spot a cool reference to Tomb Raider when I was poking inside of someone’s head towards the end of the game, though).

Murdered: Soul Suspect isn’t action heavy. You don’t even fire a gun once (IIRC) but that’s not what matters. The storyline is fascinating and the world is great, with some interesting ideas like the ability to possess NPCs (and even animal NPCs, like cats, which allow for some of the more fun moments, gameplay wise) and influence machines like security cameras and telephones as a poltergeist. The mystery is compelling and it’s got a good resolution that won’t leave any room for any sequels. It’s very much a standalone game that’s well worth checking out if you, like me, haven’t quite moved onto a PS4 or a Xbox One yet (although it is available for both consoles and Microsoft Windows according to Wiki),  and despite its flaws (I only encountered one glitch towards the end of the story which was fixed when I restarted from the last checkpoint), it’s one of the few games that I actually have managed to complete (normally I end up buying a new game when I’m about 3/4s of the way in and never returning to the one that I’ve started), so that automatically earns it bonus points.

Would I recommend Murdered: Soul Suspect? Probably. It just about scrapes an eight out of ten on the ratings scale, also bringing not much to offer in terms of replayability value, especially if you solve all the sidequests on your first playthrough), it’s one that I never wanted to stop playing until I completed the storyline, with an incredibly atmospheric backdrop that for the most part, works. It’s not the most enjoyable game that I’ve played so far this year but it’s a strong one.


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