Murdered: Soul Suspect is an example of a game that knows what it wants to be, but keeps losing focus due to an inconsistent presentation. Everything about the production is uneven, from the unimpressive technical aspects to the underwhelming characters, and yet, it has a solid foundation. Developer Airtight Games strives to produce a compelling, even unique mystery, and despite the obvious flaws, the adventure has its high points. It’s simply a matter of whether or not you can overlook the drawbacks and focus on the positives.
Graphically, I expected more. I was hoping for a mystical, haunting world that reinforces the fact that the protagonist is indeed dead. As a ghost, you can wander through walls on a whim and explore to your heart’s content. The problem is that the atmosphere feels decidedly uninspired and at times, even bland and empty. There just isn’t enough going on most times, and there’s a distinct lack of polish and detail in the game’s overall design. In brief, there isn’t anything to write home about here, although I did appreciate a few of the more otherworldly special effects.
The sound is a bit better, thanks to a few decent voice performances and an effective, dramatic score that complements the game’s overarching theme. Even so, that soundtrack is occasionally a little too insistent upon itself, and not all the voices are up to snuff. This is another example of the aforementioned unevenness that pervades the entire production, and it gets a little frustrating. While the audio isn’t bad, per se, it does little to elevate the game, and you’re only reminded of the fact that you’re playing the epitome of a missed opportunity. At the same time, I have no especially serious complaints concerning the technical elements.
You play as Ronan, a former hoodlum who is now a cop. The tattoos that liberally adorn his body tell the story of his past, which is a mildly interesting twist. At the start of the game, Ronan gets tossed out of a window by a hooded assailant, which results in the untimely death of our hero. However, Ronan’s ghost rises from the corpse of his former body, and he’s out to solve the mystery of his own murder. It’s an excellent idea for a dark, quirky thriller, although I will reemphasize that it’s not entirely unique: Shadow of Destiny for the PS2 used a very similar story, although that was more of a strict adventure game.
Anyway, one can’t help but be encouraged by such an intriguing beginning. This story’s promise is undeniable and provided we have an interesting, complex protagonist, we… Oh, wait. Unfortunately, Ronan is little more than a generic caricature of your stereotypical tough guy. He has his moments – as does the gameplay – but for the most part, Ronan is underdeveloped and as a direct result, we quickly lose interest in his motives and actions. This is a big problem, because how can we care about the main character’s killer when we don’t care about the main character? At this point, I was relatively convinced I would very much dislike Soul Suspect .
Thankfully, though, things get better. The game revolves around piecing together the mystery of your death, and finding the clues is quite entertaining. Furthermore, you occupy the same strange purgatory existence as other ghosts, and they’re sticking around for the same reason you are: They’ve got unfinished business to attend to. As such, you can find clues concerning their deaths as well, and this adds to the fun. It doesn’t feel like sticking your nose into the lives of others (as it often does in Watch Dogs ); rather, it feels like you're helping lost souls find peace. It feels like a noble, even divine venture, and I enjoy doing it.
However, I still can’t decide whether or not I like the combat section of the game. It just feels weird, because when you’re trying to deal with one of those reapers, it’s such an abrupt change of pace. It almost doesn’t feel as if the mechanic belongs in this game. Same goes for the stealth section, where you have to lead your medium partner through a guarded building. There’s nothing glaringly flawed about either gameplay system, so I can’t say they’re a detriment to the game. But while I typically welcome changes of pace, as they often infuse the experience with appreciated variety, some of this felt a little forced.
I keep going back and forth, though. Sometimes, I’ll pick up the game, play for an hour, and come away quite satisfied. I learned a bit more about Ronan’s demise, helped out a few lingering ghosts, and became immersed in a world of mystery and – at least to some extent – fear. Then, I’ll go back, play for another hour or so, and I emerge from that session somewhat disappointed. I couldn’t help but notice the clear shortcomings, Ronan felt more one-dimensional than ever, and the abrupt switches between clue-finding and battling demons was jarring. When I’m on the fence like this, I usually rely on a certain tipping point to determine a score.
In this case, I’ve settled on a positive tipping point. I won’t focus on the unrealistic behavior of certain NPCs, nor will I pick apart the flaws, which definitely hold the game back. I’d rather focus on what Airtight tried to do, and why it works to some extent: Even if Ronan isn’t quite so captivating, he leads a captivating pseudo-existence, balancing between life and death, and that in and of itself is curious. On top of which, he interacts with many other interesting individuals, and it’s especially gratifying to learn more about his widowed wife, Julia. Her story arc could’ve been even more fleshed out, as she’s undeniably more remarkable than Ronan.
On top of which, I’m always ready and willing to applaud a solid effort, especially when the goal is lofty. I can tell what Airtight wanted to do, and I give them props for even attempting it. In this day and age, when it’s just so much easier to produce a simple action game or shooter, we should commend the development teams that want to try a little something new. The execution leaves something to be desired, the protagonist needed to be more sympathetic or appealing in some way, and the game does suffer from a lack of balance and pacing. All that being said, it’s well worth trying, if only because it offers a breath of fresh air.
Murdered: Soul Suspect is a valiant effort and that’s always worth acknowledging. In spite of all the flaws, I do continue to go back for more, and I’m frequently driven by a desire to learn more about that ghostly world. This experience has nothing to do with making a character more powerful, or taking down a host of rampaging enemies (via weapons or guns). It’s more cerebral, more methodical in its approach, and it really tries to encircle the player in a world full of questions and uncertainty. It’s too bad that the production isn’t more refined but for what it is, it’s a minor achievement.
The Good: Occasionally effective and immersive atmosphere and stories. Appreciated gameplay variety. Multiple NPC narratives can be quite interesting and involving. Decent control. Has a great foundation.
The Bad: Technical elements are underwhelming. One-dimensional main character hurts the story. Pacing and balancing issues. A few too many bugs.
The Ugly: “Oh, what it could’ve been…”