Murdered: Soul Suspect is one of those games you would have expected THQ to release about 7 years ago. An interesting premise married to a middling budget is the kind of game that doesn’t really exist anymore. With big budget triple-A titles at one end of the spectrum and more affordable indie titles at the other, it’s strange to find Square Enix’s ghostly murder mystery sitting so comfortably in the middle.
Still, we shouldn’t complain – I for one was sad to see the middle fall out of the industry and am happy to see that games of this ilk still exist…..I just wish it was better.
Despite being home to a truly fantastic premise that has you solving your own murder as a ghostly detective on the streets of, Salem, Soul Suspect is a game that, despite the noblest of intentions and moments of genuine brilliance, never quite lives up to its fantastic premise. It’s far from a wreck and is not without its charms, but thanks to a combination of budgetary constraints coupled with some strange design choices, is a game that falls well short of its underlying potential.
One of Soul Suspects biggest problems is that the façade of choice isn’t nearly as convincing as it needed to be. Similar to the problems encountered by the likes of L.A. Noire (the games’ most obvious point of comparison), Soul Suspect is always funnelling you towards the games’ view of the truth and despite common sense occasionally pointing to the contrary, you are stuck in a process that insists that a crime is solved in a very particular way.
There are of course moments in which the player and the concept come together in perfect harmony leading to a genuinely gratifying sense of accomplishment, but far too often, Soul Suspect plays out like a game of find the shiny thing. Not only are many of the puzzles too easy to solve, but the process is often made unnecessarily laborious by the need to search though items and scenery to find the pieces that fit the fixed in place puzzle.
At the end of the day though, it’s the limitations of the development that ultimately let this game down. This is a great idea for a video game, but it’s a big one too, one that was clearly a little too big for the budget set-aside. For Soul Suspect to work, the mechanics needed to be consistent and the dialogue, acting and visuals all of an extremely high standard. While it isn’t the ugliest game you’ll ever play and certainly technically competent, the quality isn’t high enough to get the best out of the concept.
For starters, Ronan O’Connor’s story of deceased detective work is incredibly dialogue heavy, but sadly, neither the quality of the script, facial animations or voice work are of a high enough standard to truly bring this game to life (no pun intended). They are all passable, but when you spend so much of Soul Suspects’ 10 hour running time listening to and watching people talk, passable really isn’t good enough.
The limitations affect gameplay too; while walking through walls, possessing NPCs and reading the minds of other characters are all entertaining activities, the limitations of each mechanic are far too clear to see. Entering the mind of the ‘right’ character will invariably give up the goods, but just about anyone else is unlikely to provide you with anything but the most basic of responses. The possession powers too are so scripted and centred around the single approach objectives that, like so much else in the game, ultimately fail to capture the idea behind its implementation.
The biggest limitation though, comes in the form of the ability to walk through walls…..or inability as it were. A great concept within the game, and one that, when successfully realised, provides another glimpse of what Soul Suspect could have been, this ability is sadly curtailed due to the inability to move between consecrated buildings which essentially act as visible invisible walls….if that makes any sense.
Still, issues aside, Murdered: Soul Suspect, thanks in large to its ambition and premise, stands as one of those unique games that, despite never truly coming together, often manages to rise above its issues to deliver a flawed but often highly enjoyable experience.
From the largely likeable cast of characters to the pleasingly unique art style, Soul Suspect is easier to like than its collection of issues would suggest. Perhaps it’s the power of a truly unique premise, but I found it surprisingly easy to overlook the games’ faults and, despite some sections and investigations dragging on a bit, was always keen to keep the story moving. The reveal might not come as a huge surprise, but the on-going mystery behind the Bell Killer (the serial killer who so unceremoniously kills you in the opening moments of the game) is a consistently entertaining and engaging yarn.
It’s not all investigation either. Despite the majority of the game playing out as an interactive investigation, there are instances in which you will be chased down by soul sucking demons reminiscent of those found in Peter Jackson’s fantastic, The Frighteners (check it out if you haven’t already seen it). In these stealth-like sections, you need to hide in ‘soul residue’ before either getting the drop on your would-be astral assailant or waiting for it to get bored (usually the wiser option). These sections of relative high action offer a pleasing change of pace and provide an on-going threat while you continue on with the slower, more meticulous investigative elements of gameplay.
Murdered: Soul Suspect is a game with a truly fantastic and highly original premise, one that, on paper at least, is one of the most interesting releases of 2014. Sadly, due to a few poor design choices and a budget that clearly couldn’t match the concept, Airtight Games’ effort falls well short of delivering on its potential. It’s still an entertaining experience and it’s certainly nice to see a genuinely unique premise amidst the array of sequels flooding the market, but despite its noble intentions, it’s impossible to shake the overriding sense of disappointment.
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