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By Ethan . June 29, 2014 . 5:01pm
I really wanted to like Murdered: Soul Suspect. On paper, it’s a game that appeals to me on a couple of levels. I like mystery stories, and Soul Suspect is an interactive mystery experience the likes of which I haven’t played since LA Noire. I like it when big publishers like Square Enix take a chance on a new IP or an unusual game genre – Soul Suspect is both. It bothers me when video games are violent just for the sake of the violence, and Soul Suspect, despite telling a story about death and the dead steers away from interactive killing.
So, again… I really wanted to like Murdered: Soul Suspect, but I don’t. It’s not enough to be the kind of game I root for. Writing this doesn’t make me happy but I don’t think any of the many game mechanics in the game really… work.
Murdered: Soul Suspect is a classic mystery starring a lone detective with a mean streak. As such detectives must, our protagonist Ronan O’Connor interrogates witnesses and collects clues. Let’s start with the clue collecting part. The game is good about telling the player how many clues are left to be found and containing the player in the right area until all clues are found. That’s absolutely necessary, because some of these clues are the absolute worst sort of pixel hunt nonsense. We’re talking finding those tiny red health pickups in Silent Hill 2 nonsense here.
Things don’t improve once the clues have been collected. Clues are represented in a menu as icons that can be combined or applied to certain conversations to provoke new responses. It’s very similar actually to the crime scene investigations in Trauma Team. And just like in Trauma Team, there is far too much guessing as to what the designers were thinking of, when it comes to using your collected evidence.
Clues collected through interrogation are represented in that same menu, but acquiring those clues is even clumsier. As a ghost, Ronan is unable to directly communicate with the living. He can, however, possess a body. He can’t animate these bodies much, but he can influence the direction of conversation by presenting collected evidence to a character Phoenix Wright-style.
Much more direct are the rare conversations between Ronan and another ghost. These dialogue tree conversations are stilted and awkward still, but at least they do away with the artificial game construct that makes the basic detective action of questioning a witness such a pain.
Not all ghosts are potential witnesses, mind. Most of them are tortured sprits/demons of one variety or another. They roam places that Detective O’Connor searches for clues and fancy him a delicious treat. Remember how I was up on this game for not throwing violence into the mix just because “that’s what video games do”? Well, instead of violence, you get stealth. And while it pains me to admit this, I might have just preferred a mediocre gunplay system over the mediocre stealth I got instead. Mediocre stealth is the worst. Trial and error? Unfathomable enemy sightlines? Camera controls that are not designed for scoping out enemy patrol patterns? Check, check, and check.
And you know what the real tragedy of all this is? The story that this game is trying to tell is pretty good! It’s not ground-breaking or really going to surprise anyone too familiar with mysteries, but there’s something to be said for taking what works and giving it your own occult/afterlife spin. There are so many ways a mystery story can go wrong. The leaps of logic need to be fast enough that the reader isn’t predicting everything ahead of time, but is still able to follow along and make his/her own theories. The characters need to both make the reader question them while also lulling the reader into a false sense of security before surprising them.
My experience with the mystery of Salem in Murdered: Souls Suspect was that it leaned a tiny bit on the predictable side, but I still enjoyed it and I read an awful lot of mystery. It’s such a shame that Soul Suspect gets so much of this tricky story genre right while the mechanics intended to turn this mystery into a video game just detracted from it. I couldn’t just hunt for clues; I needed to do the stealth game song and dance to get there. I couldn’t just interrogate witnesses; I needed to interface with them via the clue card chart. I couldn’t make theories myself, I got to make theories by combining clue cards.
So, I suppose what I’m getting at is that I couldn’t just enjoy the mystery—I needed to play Murdered: Soul Suspect, and that was the problem.
Food for thought:
One last damning note: every so often in this game the camera zooms in and gives the player fine manual control of a specific motion. Moving a hand up to a doorknob to open it for example. Good luck with these bits on a mouse and keyboard. Most of the game works fine without a controller, but these seemingly innocuous (and heavily LA Noire-inspired) interactions become horrifically frustrating without an analog stick.