Murdered: Soul Suspect Walks Between Life and Death Hands-on Preview

Murdered: Soul Suspect Walks Between Life and Death Hands-on Preview

It’s hard to not be intrigued by Murdered: Soul Suspect. It was certainly refreshing to see at last year’s E3; sitting between the trillion shoot-and-explosionfests that checkered the show floor was this weird supernatural detective game, a noir-ish mystery that asks you to slow down, listen to other people and genuinely think about what’s unfolding before you. It’s a game that puts you in a weakened state from the word go, gives you zero guns and is ostensibly about a man confronting his own mortality. Its premise is different and interesting, and the triple-A games world could always use more of that.

I was able to play the first 45 minutes or so of Murderedat PAX East this past weekend, and while I did find some potentially problematic flaws over that time, my initial interest remained intact.

Murdered’s setup hasn’t changed since the first time I saw it. For the unfamiliar, here’s the gist of it: You play as Ronan O’Connor, a fedora-wearing detective who just got thrown out of a five-story window. Ronan is shown to have been a bit of a hard-ass during his time on the force, but he got even more reckless when his wife passed (because of course she did). That attitude led him to investigate a disturbance in the town of Salem, Massachusetts, which resulted in him getting into a scuffle with a hooded criminal, who then killed him.

The game proper starts with Ronan arising out of his body as a ghost. He quickly attempts to revive himself (in a captivating scene), but that ends once his mystery killer finishes him off with three shots to the chest. Ronan eventually finds out that he’s trapped in a state of limbo called the Dusk, in which he’s still rooted to the living world, but goes unnoticed. He briefly sees his wife, and learns that in order to escape the Dusk — and, presumably, join her in heaven — he has to solve the case of his own murder, resolving his time on Earth. And off you go.

I imagine that one of the trickiest parts of Murdered’s development – it’s being made by Airtight Games, by the way, which made Quantum Conundrum– is reconciling Ronan’s dueling states of being a ghost and being in a videogame. Videogames necessitate rules and boundaries, but ghosts are all about existing beyond physical limitations. The two don’t seem that compatible.

Murdered’s solution seems to be largely based on cosmetics. A young girl explicitly lays out the rules of the Dusk to Ronan towards the beginning of the demo, and it’s apparent right away that this is not a game you can break.

You can walk through walls, of course, but not all of them, because you’re told that Salem’s old residents consecrated certain areas of the town to fend off spirits. That works fine enough from a historicalstandpoint, but it’s still overtly contrived. You‘re a ghostly white hue, you see other spirits wandering around, and you get a few supernatural abilities too, but Ronan feels just as weighted as any other game character. I can’t help but feel like Airtight is missing an opportunity when its ghost protagonist spends 30 seconds walking up a flight of stairs.

Indeed, my time with Murdered made it feel a great deal like past detective games, only filtered through a moody, supernatural tint. If you’ve played L.A. Noireor any recent Sherlock Holmesgame, you should know what you’re getting into here. You go from scene to scene like an invisible voyeur, following leads, gathering clues, and then piecing everything together until you can deduce what you need to deduce.

You get a counter at the bottom of the screen (0/8, etc.) during these moments, so you’re always aware of how close you are to finding every clue in a given area — though you don’t need all info to move along. This process applies to both the game’s main quest and its various side investigations, which you can pick up from other ghosts stuck in the Dusk.

The twist here is in the wayyou gather clues. Ronan can’t interact with any physical objects in the real world, but he can still manipulate the living to gain intel. You’re capable of inhabiting the body of almost any NPC, and from there you can listen in on their thoughts, look through their eyes, or subtly influence their actions by putting a pre-set idea in their head.

All of this sounds different, but in practice, Murderedfelt like little more than the typical process of go here, find the odd-looking thing, and press X. What I played was a simplistic point-and-click adventure through and through, only with the added inconvenience of working a third-person camera. The only action here comes from brief moments of fighting demons that haunt the Dusk. Those play out like uber basic stealth sections, and they’re quite random in context.

None of this is helped by the fact that Murdered only gives you one right way to progress at any given time. There is no way of outright failing the game; instead, you get a ranking out of three that determines how well you approached a given deduction. Come to the wrong conclusion and you’ll get a point taken off, but the story will chug along all the same. Airtight has said there’s only one way Murdered‘s story will end too. It made this feel less like an L.A. Noire-style detective game and more like an slightly more involved interactive drama, a la Heavy Rain. That could be a tough sell when you’re asking players to spend so much time wandering levels for clues.

So, much of Murdered’s success is probably going to come down to its writing. That can be okay — The Walking Deadisn’t the greatest capital-g Game in the world, but we all love it anyway. Thankfully, the narrative bits I saw got me intrigued. More than a few characters showed some surprising wrinkles over the course of the demo, and there’s certainly room for Airtight to throw in some twists, turns, and meaningful character development in a weighty whodunit like this.

And even beyond the main narrative, Murderedseems to be playing with the idea that no character is exactly who they appear to be at first blush. For instance, one section of the demo took me to an apartment complex, wherein I quickly came across an elderly couple. At first, they bickered like any pair of old folks, so I moved along, thinking nothing of them. Eventually, I took up a side quest for another ghost in the area. In the process of gathering clues for it, I returned to my elderly friends apartment, possessed them, and found that they were actually involved in the murdered of a once noisy neighbor.

I didn’t expect that. This was an instance where Ronan’s ghostly abilities functioned in harmony with the game’s themes, and it made me want to explore what other secrets Salem and its inhabitants had to offer. It was also an example of Airtight subverting traditional detective game design, in which many NPCs are one-dimensional pieces of scenery. This is all good. More please.

I’m hopeful that many of my demo’s hangups will improve once Murderedmoves past its opening stages. What I played (that being the key word) was too slow, too simplistic, and, well, a bit too lifeless. It felt like a game that wanted to get out of its own way. That can be acceptable if its story works – and there’s reason to believe Murdered’s will — but with all the varying fact-finding mechanics here, I’m not so sure that’s what Airtight is going for. We’ll find out for sure when Murdered: Soul Suspecthits PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One and Xbox 360 this .





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