(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)
- The Game Itself
- 3.5 Stars
- The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
- 4 Stars
- The Audio: Rating the Sound
- 3.5 Stars
- Replay Factor
- 1.5 Stars
- Bottom Line
- Worth a Look
Murdered: Soul Suspect
- Street Date:
- June 3rd, 2014
- Reviewed by:
- Bill Braun
- Review Date:1
- June 6th, 2014
- Game Release Year:
- Square Enix
- Airtight Games
- ESRB Rating:
- M (Mature)
Digital PS4 version reviewed.
There appears to be a shortage of mystery-style video games that have been made available over the last several years. An argument can be made that Rocksteady’s 'Arkham' series includes a fair amount of detective work on the part of the Dark Knight, but I’m talking about games that, from start to finish, have you scouring for clues, following up on leads, and piecing everything together; culminating in an epic final reveal. Both 'L.A. Noir' and 'Heavy Rain' did admirable jobs of mixing sleuthing with action set pieces, but games of that calibre seem to be few and far between. 'Murdered: Soul Suspect', a supernatural, detective thriller, developed by Airtight Games, attempts to bridge this gap with a twisting narrative that drives the player forward with interesting characters and an intriguing script. But is story alone enough to carry the game?
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
An inventive cutscene introduces 'Soul Suspect' by presenting the back story of the main playable character - Detective Ronan O'Connor. His troubled past is beautifully rendered as tattoos ink across his arms, legs, and back, and his entire body becomes a tableau of storytelling that immediately brings the player up to speed on the thematically-heavy, story-driven game that is about to begin.
Ronan's pursuit of Salem's infamous serial killer, referred to as the Bell Killer, ends in dramatic fashion and with Detective O'Connor's body left lifeless along the street, riddled with bullet holes. Where some may think this represents the game's explosive conslusion, it is in fact the opening moments of Airtight Games' new IP. It's no spoiler that players assume the role of Ronan O'Connor's ethereal character, tasked with discovering the mystery of Salem's serial killer and his own personal murderer. Until resolved, he is chained to the world of the living, unable to find peace with his loved ones in the afterlife.
In his new form, Ronan is unseen and unheard by those that surround him. However, initial exhilaration turns to isolation when boundaries are established and the rules of the dead are set into place. Although walking through objects and people on the street quickly becomes second nature, gaining access to buildings previously sanctified - a reflection on the tumultuous history of 17th century Salem - is substantially more restrictive. If an outer door is closed, access is barred. A minor nuisance that prompts the game's tutorial; because, it's not much fun being a ghost without at least a few powers to play with?
Most significant of these powers - and detrimental to solving your murder - is the ability to possess random NPCs to listen in on their thoughts. While some deliberate on the ongoing chaos of the Bell Killer and how frightened they've become, others prattle on about their everyday lives; completely inconsequential to game as a whole. Other times, thoughts and details about the mystery project clues that lead you ever closer to revealing your killer's identity.
More interesting than simple mind reading is the ability to influence the characters you possess; planting subliminal thoughts prompts your host body to perform a variety of basic actions. Whether conducting a search of the internet or moving aside a pile of documents for closer inspection, these routine actions - no longer an option in your current ghostly form - add to the growing list of clues that require deciphering. And solving mysteries, big or small, is at the very heart of 'Murdered: Soul Suspect'.
Perhaps not the most challenging of game mechanics, deciphering these clues amounts to nothing more than the gathering and evaluation of the evidence, placing them in the correct and most detrimental order, and arriving at a conclusion. How much evidence you collect and how quickly you find a solution will determine how well you successfully completed that piece of the puzzle. While there doesn't appear to be much consequence to random selections, I found that by not paying attention - by not immersing yourself in the story - you lose out on a great deal more than a sense of accomplishment.
'Murdered: Soul Suspect' is not completely devoid of challenge, however. In an attempt to give the game a heightened sense of tension, the developers at Airtight Games added a touch of horror into the mix. Demons, with the power to take your soul, creep and slither (quite effectively, I might add) the hallways and streets of Salem. Perhaps another reflection on the historical trauma that Salem experienced during the Witch Trials of the 1600s, these demons add a bit of stealth and combat to the game. Although not terribly frightening in design, these demons will keep you on the constant lookout.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
'Murdered: Soul Suspect' absolutely drips with theme. The environment - a separate character in and of itself - mixes the ghostly world and the real world by combining sections of 17th century Salem with today's more current architectural designs. Gallows, fresh from a recent hanging, are solidly framed along Main street. Centuries-old fires still burn along the walls of buildings long since destroyed. And colonial ships that sunk in the harbor, drowning dozens, have washed ashore as if the tragedy occurred just yesterday. Every structure and lost soul from a past long since dead is enveloped in a ghostly glow reminiscent of Peter Jackson's 'The Frighteners' - providing the game with a wonderful sense of character.
Just as impressive are the character models that make up the bulk of the game - Ronan O'Connor in particular. Between his detailed tattoos, unshaven face, and Detective's vest and tie, his presence on screen is a consistent highlight of the game. The artists at Airtight Games deserve recognition for their work that went into detailing this character. More than just impressive character design, his (and other characters) ability to emote in such life-like presentation is continually impressive.
Still, as thematic as 'Soul Suspect' is, it is not without its share of technical blemishes. Aside from the occasional screen tearing and unaligned lip sync during character conversations, I encountered several game-freezing glitches; the first of which happened in the opening moments of the game. Thankfully, substantial game progress was never lost, and this was more a nuisance than a game breaker.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
The stronger-than-average voice acting of 'Murdered: Soul Suspect' is also an impressive feature of the game. One would expect (or at the very least, hope) that the main characters - playable or otherwise - would be top notch. What surprised me though was that many of the side-quest characters, those that you only encounter for brief moments, also delivered a confident ability to act.
As strong as much of the voice acting is, I was somewhat disappointed in the overall use of special audio effects that were employed throughout the game. This is, after all, a supernatural thriller; a genre that I expect to be substantially more dramatic with environmental effects and impressive sound design, ghostly or otherwise. While the effects that were used were not bad, they were very much of the common variety. On top of this, the lack of an appropriately creepy or whimsical soundtrack diminished the visual representation that I was so pleased with.
The replay value of 'Murdered: Soul Suspect' definitely warrants a few words. More of a warning really, rather than a discussion. As the game is very linear in nature, and there is no online or multiplayer component to speak of, the need to replay the campaign, regardless of how much I enjoyed it, remains fairly low. With that said, 'Soul Suspect' does provide for a large number of collectibles that, when gathered, unlock a variety of additional stories that help to further immerse the player into character development and Salem's rich history. I highly recommend taking the time to locate these collectibles, but suggest doing so before the game credits roll. Unlike other, possibly larger, games that keep the world open after the story has ended - allowing for further exploration - 'Murdered: Soul Suspect' closes the curtain after the final act has concluded.
Driven by its story, fans of Quantic Dreams' 'Beyond: Two Souls' and 'Heavy Rain' are certain to find 'Murdered: Soul Suspect' appealing. The setting, characters, and not- altogether-foreseeable-plot twist, truly set this game apart. As much as I enjoyed the experience, it's difficult for me to recommend it as a full priced retail game. Clocking in between 6-7 hours (even after locating about 75% of the collectibles), the game was just beginning to ramp up when the credits start to roll. With a lower than average replay value, and no multiplayer option, paying full price for 'Soul Suspect' may be a difficult decision to make. Still, playing the game now, waiting for a price drop, or adding it to your rental queue, 'Murdered: Soul Suspect' is a noble effort by Airtight Games and one that I enjoyed from start to finish.
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