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Murdered: Soul Suspect – a game currently in need of intensive care

Thursday, 27th February 2014 15:59 GMT By Stace Harman

Stace Harman plays the opening hours of Airtight Games’ ghostly detective game and comes away more chilled than thrilled.

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“Murdered: Soul Suspect currently fails to compare favourably to any of the titles it elicits mention of.”

For a game with a relatively unusual premise – that of investigating your own murder – it’s surprising how many other games spring to mind when describing Airtight Games’ new supernatural detective title, Murdered: Soul Suspect.

Based on the game’s opening 90 minutes, there are elements of Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective in its narrative, whispers of Phoenix Wright in its evidence gathering and investigation, and even early Metal Gear titles and Mark of the Ninja in its approach to stealth, evasion and basic combat. It’s a shame, then, that Murdered: Soul Suspect currently fails to compare favourably to any of the titles it elicits mention of.

Primarily, this is because what’s on offer in this current build is more interesting to describe than it is to play. At its heart, Murdered: Soul Suspect is the story of rough-around-the-edges cop, Ronan O’Connor, and how he comes to be a shadow of his former self after being thrown out of a window and then shot seven times while lying prone in the street (which, on the plus side, imbues his ghost with a splash of colour to offset the otherwise muted ethereal palette).

Dead but otherwise undeterred, Ronan sets out to hunt his killer – who has killed before and will likely do so again – by way of a series of investigations and by interacting with other wandering spirits. Seeing as Murdered: Soul Suspect is set in Salem there’s likely to be more activity on this front than if the game were set in, say, South-East London and sure enough, within those first couple of hours I encounter a host of friendly and malicious supernatural beings. Consequently, I help locate a hedonistic girl’s hidden corpse so that she might find peace, banish patrolling demons and then nonchalantly chat with a spirit in a bath tub who laments his bad luck at being electrocuted while he was trying to slit his wrists (a rare instance of dark humour in the game’s opening section).

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What I don’t do, though, is very much actual investigating. Surveying first the crime scene created when Ronan landed in the street and later the third-floor apartment from which he was thrown, this early detective work is rudimentary in structure and lacklustre in its execution. It’s fair to hope that that both the complexity and scope of such scenes will ramp-up later in the game but early on they demand no more than walking around and finding items to interact with by manipulating the camera to just the right angle.

Progress is then determined by satisfying particular criteria and involves selecting one or more of the discovered clues to establish what a particular person was doing at the scene or where to head next for a lead. It sounds interesting and fun but, sadly, the pernickety manner in which clues are highlighted and Ronan’s laboured thought process and subsequent narration conspire to counter my enjoyment.

Speaking to Airtight Games senior design producer, Eric Studer, it’s apparent that the linear, single-
outcome story is taking precedence in Murdered: Soul Suspect. As such, the investigative elements cannot be failed, only succeeded to varying degrees on a three-star scale, as Airtight is keen to avoid presenting too many opportunities for player frustration.

“We have a very clear story that we’re telling based on the creative director’s [Yosuke Shiokawa] vision and that story has a singular ending,” says Studer. “Discovering the world as a ghost and uncovering the story through these investigations were the core pillars [of design].

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“In some of the [investigation] systems you can get the wrong answer, which means you have to attempt it again,” Studer explains. “The combination of going out of your way to find the extra clues and doing particularly well at an investigation means that you’ll do better overall and achieve a higher rating for the investigation.”

Another investigative tool at Ronan’s disposal is to possess the living, which initially amounts to hearing what someone is thinking. In some instances, Ronan can also attempt to manipulate their speech or behaviour by referring to a piece of evidence that he’s already collected in the hope of jogging the memory of an eye witnesses or making someone move away from an area that he wants to get at. Both of these tricks have strong potential to develop later in the game but both are also governed by the same rating system as the overall investigation, meaning no chance of failure. Being on the ball and selecting the correct piece(s) of evidence will net you a higher performance rating
but you’ll get to the right answer eventually, regardless.

“The opening hours of Murdered: Soul Suspect suffer from a worryingly narrow scope.”

The opening hours of Murdered: Soul Suspect suffer from a worryingly narrow scope. Alongside the lack of interpretive freedom in the investigations, there’s also a very basic stealth and combat mechanic that sees demons patrolling corridors and Ronan having to creep up behind them to execute them via random controller inputs that flash-up onscreen. Failing to execute this correctly results in the demon chasing you until either you give it the slip or it eats your soul; which is tiresome rather than taut. In addition, the progression system that sees Ronan unlock new abilities is tied strictly to the narrative and not your performance, so you’ll unlock skills as and when the game dictates.

While the potential to be able to guide Ronan’s incorporeal form straight through physical real world objects, barriers and people initially seems exciting, this potential is almost immediately neutered by the appearance of ghostly objects that bar your ghostly passage. What’s more, with Salem’s history being what it is, the majority of its buildings have had their foundations consecrated to quell the activity of troublesome spirits and bar their coming and going. In game play terms, that means you can’t just walk into any building that takes your fancy.

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However, once inside a building by way of an open door or window, you’re free to pass through interior walls at will and into the lives of some of Salem’s listless residents as they indulge in such salacious activities as watching TV, playing cards or reading a book. Currently, the camera lurches from one side of the wall to the other when you try this trick, although that’s something that there’s plenty of time to fix ahead of release.

It’s rare to come away from playing a preview build with so little optimism and it should be noted that, with several months’ development time left ahead of it, Murdered: Soul Suspect could yet grow into an engaging and interesting game. In fact, it may already be an interesting and engaging game, just one that starts very, very slowly. However, what’s most disheartening is that Murdered’s issues appear to stem from the very mechanics, characters, premise and story upon which the whole experience is predicated. Whether there’s the scope and the desire to make the necessary changes to its foundation and delivery methods in order for it to realise its potential is a mystery that only time will solve.

Murdered: Soul Suspect is set for release on PC, PS4, Xbox One, PS3 and 360 in June

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6 Comments

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  1. Fin

    Thought as much.

    #1 2 months ago
  2. fihar

    I arrived at a single conclusion after reading all this.
    A supernatural L.A. Noire.

    I’m sold.

    #2 2 months ago
  3. Edo

    Yeah,we’ ll see.

    #3 2 months ago
  4. BrokenSpline

    I can’t wait for this even if its linear as its by a new developer who is trying their hand in triple A and not only that is by the studio with Kim Swift. Its a crew of 15-30 people as well so if you were expecting something groundbreaking gameplay-wise you were lying to yourself.

    #4 2 months ago
  5. TheWulf

    I had suspicions that this might be the case. It’s by Airtight, who’re the people who brought us Dark Void and Quantum Conundrum. The highlight of their catalogue, in my opinion, being Quantum Conundrum.

    I honestly think they’re trying to mainstream too hard, here. They almost did that with Dark Void, too, but I felt like Dark Void had some redeeming qualities. It’s more that they want to make money, but they’re not happy with or passionate about making games like this, and it shows. They’re going through the motions and doing ‘pay the bills’ projects.

    The thing is though is that they can’t help themselves, they want to have fun with this stuff, so Soul Suspect does sound like it’s got some fun ideas, but it’s been drowned under the try-hard they coated it with to sell it to the mainstream. I think that without that coating it would have actually been a fun game, and all they’d need to do is just give up on the mainstream audience they’re trying to court with these efforts.

    Despite everything, Quantum Conundrum was well loved and it’s something of a cult classic, not unlike the original Portal. And whenever you can get a more boring person to set aside their preconceived notions, to sit down with it and actually play it, the result is almost invariably that they’ve found something that they’ll never forget. It was one of those memorable games that you won’t forget. Perhaps it was the charm of de Lancie, or the personality of the environments, or how fun it was to play, but it was great.

    Even the humour. It was a blast finding out that the Professor wasn’t just stuck in a pocket dimension, but literally a pocket dimension. If you were nerdy enough to appreciate that, anyway. Which my particular circle was and is.

    And that’s what they do best.

    This isn’t.

    This is them trying to be popular. It’s not working. They’re weirdo nerds who have charm to the right audience, and if they make games which embrace that, then they’ll be at least somewhat successful. They need to be way less intelligent and way more bro-culture than this though to court the mainstream.

    So that’s what I see happening, here. They’re trying so hard to court the mainstream, but they can’t change their nature.

    Hopefully they’ll remember that with their next game.

    #5 2 months ago
  6. TheWulf

    @4

    Quantum Conundrum was already groundbreaking gameplay–wise, it’s just that the bro-cultured mainstream never really gave it a chance to prove that, it had too much character and individuality for that audience.

    But once you got at least two of the glove powers, the puzzles they threw at the player were, quite frankly, genius. I’m going to be in a minority here and say that I liked the gameplay of Quantum Conundrum better than I liked that of Portal 2. With the original Portal, it’s hard to decide which I liked better, but QC is definitely miles ahead of Portal 2 in just about every way.

    So they are capable of groundbreaking experiences, but they just have to remember their roots to be able to make those games.

    #6 2 months ago