I was soooo excited. Murdered: Soul Suspect appeared, at least to my nostalgic sensibilities, to be essentially a more brooding take on the life and times of Eddie Valiant…if the soured, booze hound detective in Toon Town was really played by a brunette Ryan Gosling. I was pre-ordering Watch Dogs when first I spied the Soul Suspect trailer. The concept behind Watch Dogs definitely looked cool to me, like a big-boy version of the slightly musty Assassin’s Creed franchise. (Don’t get me wrong, Watch Dogs looked like the souped up, savvy peer to other high-profile next-gen title released as of late. I can’t quite put my finger on what about it seemed…tedious to me. At any rate, it was played, and while I maintain it was as a little banal, Watch Dogs really landed on the unremarkable side of awesome for me.)
But Murdered, an action adventure stealth title out only just after WD, looked really cool to me. A detective, one Ronan O’Connor, is killed on duty in Salem, Massachusetts, and his soul becomes trapped on earth after his grizzly murder at the hand of a suspected serial killer (the Bell Killer, he’s called). In death, Det. O’Connor must catch his own killer before more innocent lives are taken. Moderately badass, I mused.
There was other, peripheral fodder, too, all of which sounds impressive and fun. Ronan was a troubled young man, a scrappy rabble-rouser who could hold his own in a fight (or at least that’s what the cinematics intimated). A little thief, and something of a wayward youth, Ronan appeared by all accounts to be in a general downward spiral…until he met Her. Julia. For the love of his new bride, Ronan sheds his streetwise revelry for a career as an officer and eventually detective alongside Julia’s brother in Salem. Yea.
But tragedy rips their love asunder, as tragedy will and does. And so, with reckless abandon, O’Connor throws himself into looking super inked up, rocking the shit out of a fedora, and serving up justice to the town’s criminals in order to deal with his grief. And it is on a case, heavily embroiled in a chase, that O’Connor meets his match in the form of a long fall from a high window at the hands of the aforementioned Bell Killer. This, mind you, is all more or less gathered from previews and game trailers.
So I go to play. I’m balls deep in Watch Dogs at this point, going back to complete side missions in campaign mode. Perhaps my problem with Murdered, then, lies in the fact that I was immediately comparing it to the previous week’s release, WD. But my expectations weren’t insanely high. I was just hoping, having determined that the graphics were impressive and the gameplay was very interactive, that Soul Suspect could fulfill my need for depth and a more likable character. Having already committed to reading my 500 word introduction, I should save you, kind reader, from another 500 words and just say now: this game sort of let me down.
The introduction to Murdered was obviously sponsored by the fine folks at Club Tattoo. This cop was the most inked up boy in blue that I have ever seen. In fact, Ronan O’Connor’s tattoo served as the story board for the story’s introduction: for each life event, crime and poor decision Ronan made, a tattoo appeared on his body. Some tattoos were kind of cheesy, I’m sorry to say, like the double roses that screamed 90’s frat wannabe biker gang, if that’s a thing. Other tats remained composed and held the concept together, but I was immediately shocked that this really great idea was so junior level. It seemed as if the idea was there, and the artwork, and the passion behind both…but then, it almost felt as if this title was rushed through production and given a push when it should be gotten a stretch and taken another lap. But it was over relatively quickly, and I was almost as impressed with the artwork and graphics thus far in Murdered as I had been with Watch Dogs; I remained hopeful.
Much like the wildly popular The Wolf Among Us, after you’ve been thrown from the window the game provides a few interactive opportunities to become embroiled in the cinematic. Ronan views his body as a specter, overlooking his own corpse as seconds and minutes pass following his tumble. Using the left and right triggers, you try to climb back into your body, aligning ghost limbs with real ones and doing a sort of Casper number on yourself. It looks like it’s about to work, too, when the perp bolts from the building to find your gun lying beside you on the cobbled city street. After the masked assailant unloads a full clip into you, the color from Ronan’s world dissipates into ghastly shades of blue, grey and green for the duration of play.
From here, a mildly homely ghost girl with pigtails named Abigail, who alludes she’s a fragment from the trials of Salem, leads you to a secluded park and acquaints you with the basic limitations and upsides involved with becoming a ghost. You will see Abigail, as well as a host of other ghostly figures, again. Players select from a range of things that Ronan can say or ask the ghostly tour guide into the afterlife, and in this way you learn that demons can “kill” you (you know what I mean), you can’t pass through doors of consecrated buildings without the assistance of a human trafficker, and you have access to a range of special gifts that are predetermined by the kind of lifestyle you led. Abigail is kind of a little shit––she doesn’t make much eye contact with you and when you don’t select a prompt for Ronan, she’s snippy and rude, and you’d think that given the circumstances she could at least be sort of…cordial? While I was sure Ronan O’Connors special abilities would include the power to ghost-tat someone with informative clues, that ludicrous option didn’t make the cut. You can, however, influence people, poltergeist things, posses things, and what have you, and these tools help to collect clues as you revisit your murder scene.
Which you do, in spades, immediately following Abigail’s disappearance. You can inspect, dispossess or posses, mind read, peek, eavesdrop, unlock the residue of a powerful memory, evade and take out demons, and influence the living in very limited capacities, all of which you must do to advance the story. You learn to teleport as the game progresses…maybe 40 or 50% in? Your ineptitude and intuition make up the basis on which you are scored as you progress through the story, earning badges at the completion of tasks and missions to indicate your effectiveness as a detective. Ronan moves from the crime scene to the scene of the struggle and the apartment from which your character was thrown, to a church, and then to a graveyard, and so on and so forth.
Your spooky adventure leads Ronan to many well-developed and spooky locations, some of which are incredibly impressive and well-rendered; others, however, seem contrived and slightly weak. The demons that do indeed hunt for souls are absolutely terrifying (well, maybe not terrifying, but these demons were almost Silent Hill scary upon first appearance), the streets, buildings and most of the environment are great. Other spooks appear all around the town; you’ll see capsized ships, buildings aflame that only you can see, suggestively graphic evidence of suicides and murders, and a lot of fun-loving ghost dogma in general. I was impressed in this regard. I had access to the interactive map for the game, which was helpful, but which I also really ceased to use with any kind of consistency after maybe an hour or two.
The music in Murdered keeps players engaged and on-edge in a really effective way. I was impressed at how involved the soundtrack remained in the game, going so far as to prompt players to guess at clues based on the sounds played before the presentation of said clues. I appreciated that. Other really fun aspects of the game were the way that players interacted with the characters––I don’t know why, but I like all that choose-what-to-say nonsense. I appreciate that level of connectivity and engagement to the story line, as well as that false sense of control. My favorite sound-based aspect of Soul Suspect? When Det. O’Connor possesses a cat in order to reach a remote location, and one of two options available is “Meow”. Super adorable. I climbed onto that old lady’s lap in the church and meowed for like 10 minutes hoping she’d react somehow…which she did not. Super sad. (I noticed that when you poltergeist into that vacuum to avoid the demon portal, you can’t make the vacuum emote or exclaim in any way. That would have been a fun option, too.)
The high points of Murdered, for me, outweigh it’s let downs. But I know that I am speaking for myself here in many regards. Friends and companions complained that there were a number of issues that made all of my bold claims that this title was going to rival Watch Dogs seem naïve. Again, I don’t necessarily agree with all of these complaints, but I will enumerate them:
• Demon takedowns are damn near impossible. I sort of agree. This complaint goes hand in hand with the gripe that targeting is not completely spot on, below. I’m not a developer, but I imagine things like this are relatively easy fixes with a patch or similar update. Still, it was frustrating to be caught in a ghost residue for almost five minutes at a time while trying to line up an attack. (O’Connor’s only protection from soul-thirsty demons was hiding in ghost residue left by other spooks, which supposedly confused the demons.)
• Same character models over and over. This is actually the only one that I added to the list, because that is a HUGE pet peeve of mine. Why on earth would you develop a game for any period of time and NOT invest in unique character models? It drove me insane in Ryse: Son of Rome, and at least those models were complex. The characters outside of Ronan and the major players (Baxter, Joy, various ghosts Ronan encounters) all look incredibly similar. Offensively similar. The women in the apartment bear few discrepancies to the women at the park, or the woman in the church, or…you get the picture. That poor dead frat ghost at the cemetery? How did he look any different than the ghost from the apartment in act one? Or maybe six of the police officers, for that matter? I’ll let it go at that, but that is one of my most major complaints.
• Targeting is difficult. This refers to the same problem with the sensitivity of the demon targeting. It seems as if unless your character is directly on top of a clue or object than it is inaccessible to him. It detracts from the integrity of the game, circling a small, glowing clue on the ground that is inaccessible unless approached like a virgin on prom night. Clues, memories that Ronan taps into, enemies and sometimes just objects in general don’t seem to interact quite as you might expect them to.
• Investigations get tedious. This is one that I don’t necessarily agree with. This title shared a lot of similarities to the Condemned series, for me, which I really enjoyed. For some of you, that probably makes a lot of sense why I would be willing to overlook the game’s faults in exchange for what it offers: a chance to explore the darker and more brainy side of action adventure games.
• “Side cases” are involved and require a lot of investigation. It’s true. Sometimes you can be looking for all of the required clues for what seems like an interminable amount of time. Solving the side cases was more fun for me than campaign mode, just because I like that crap, and that’s what attracted me to the game in the first place: ghost cinematics. Others found this to be boring, and a boring break from a boring campaign mode that failed to pique their attention.