It seems that in recent years an increasing number of new videogames have been falling into one of two categories: high-profile, high-budget, “AAA” blockbusters; or smaller-scale, low-budget, “indie” titles. But what about the middle-ground? What about those games which don’t really belong in either category and instead fall somewhere in between? These “Stuck In The Middle With” features are dedicated to looking at some games which, whatever their final level of quality, could be described as mid-tier releases.
Detective Ronan O’Connor may look like a prize twat, what with his fedora, numerous “tough guy” tattoos and generally forced visual design, but to be fair he’s probably deserving of a little slack, because he’s having a bad day. A “thrown out of a window and then shot in the torso seven times” level of bad.
Unlike real life, where people simply respawn at their most recently activated bonfire when they die, Ronan is dead. Dead-dead. At least, his physical body is. Because while Ronan has shuffled off this mortal coil, his spirit remains on Earth as a ghost, and this is where Murdered: Soul Suspect begins.
Developed by Airtight Games and published by Square Enix, Murdered: Soul Suspect was released in 2014 for PlayStation 4 as well as several other consoles and PC. You take control of the ghostly Ronan and must help his soul to move on to the afterlife by first uncovering the identity of the serial murderer named the Bell Killer, the man responsible for Ronan’s brief flight and ventilated torso. The game is set in a fictionalised version of the American town of Salem, a place infamous for the witch trials which took place there in the late 17th century, and one portrayed as a suitably eerie location in-game.
Utilising a third-person camera, the game is a mystery-focused adventure, the majority of the gameplay involving the exploring of environments and the finding and correctly piecing together of clues to advance the central plot and complete optional side-quests (if you’re inclined to do the latter).
The core gameplay sees Ronan visiting a location and exploring it for as many relevant clues as possible. Once enough clues have been collected, the game offers you the opportunity to conclude the current investigation, but to do so successfully you have to study the information to hand and choose the correct clues which will point Ronan in the right direction and move events forward. The number of clues present at a scene – and how many of them you’ve collected – is shown on-screen, so you’ll know if you’ve missed any.
Although Ronan may be deader than Peter Molyneux’s credibility, that doesn’t mean he’s useless. In fact, his ghostly form grants him some otherworldly powers, one of which is the ability to possess living beings. This can come in useful during investigations, allowing Ronan to hear a person’s thoughts and sometimes see through their eyes, which can reveal more clues.
The investigation system is interesting and can occasionally demand thoughtful consideration, but unfortunately there are times when clues can be too vague or similar to one another, leading to blind choices which might turn out to be incorrect. This isn’t really worth worrying about, however, as the only thing affected by how many attempts it takes you to solve a mystery is a grading system which has no impact on gameplay.
As well as carrying out investigations in the course of the main story, side-quests also implement the same system. Ronan is far from the only restless spirit tied to the mortal realm, and you’re able to help some of these ghosts move on by uncovering the facts surrounding their deaths. While these side-quests don’t offer anything new in terms of gameplay, they do help to break up the main plot by telling their own contained stories which are fairly interesting and add to the overall atmosphere.
Although solving mysteries makes up the bulk of the gameplay in Murdered: Soul Suspect, the game also includes a number of stealth sections, with Ronan having to overcome areas patrolled by malevolent demons either by bypassing them entirely or sneaking up behind them and dispatching them via a quick time event.
These stealth sections are no doubt intended to create moments of peril by placing Ronan in danger, but they offer little in the way of tension or challenge, the implementation of stealth being pretty basic and feeling tacked on. So although these sections are fairly brief and not especially frustrating, they still feel like unnecessary obstacles getting in the way of the more enjoyable aspects of the game.
The graphics, while not overly impressive from a purely technical standpoint, are decent, with the visuals helping to create the subdued, eerie atmosphere the game is aiming for: demons boast a sinister design, the streets of Salem are dark and lonely, ghostly figures sometimes appear at a distance only to vanish as you approach, and spectral images representing how parts of Salem appeared in the past intertwine with the physical, present-day world.
Also, you’ll visit a number of fitting locations during the course of the game, including a museum, a police station, a graveyard, a mental hospital, a church, and more. You can revisit almost all of these locations after your initial visit, allowing you to collect any clues or collectables you might have missed.
Ah, the collectables. It should be noted that although it’s a pretty short and often linear experience, Murdered: Soul Suspect is a haunted piñata stuffed to bursting with spectral collectables – in fact, there are over two-hundred of them scattered around the game-world, some being easy to find while others are well-hidden. Some offer further information on Ronan and other characters, while others look at aspects of Salem and its history. Also, completing certain sets of collectables unlocks some enjoyably creepy ghost stories.
The writing throughout the game, while nothing groundbreaking or utterly captivating, is generally good, from the plot to the characters (apart from the cliché “bad-ass with a troubled past and heart of gold” that is Ronan) to all of the information about Salem and its history and inhabitants. There’s also a really nice twist during the final act of the game.
Although the game has plenty of good qualities, it can feel slightly low-budget and unfinished at times, when it’s noticeably missing the extra degree of polish which a little more time in development might have provided. For example, a specific mission objective kept appearing on my screen long after I’d completed the objective in question, one NPC had dialogue which simply refused to trigger for me, and in one part of Salem is a working fountain in which the clearly running water makes no sound however close you stand to it. Issues like these are far from game-breaking, but they can make the experience feel rough around the edges at times.
Ultimately, despite its flaws, Murdered: Soul Suspect is a really enjoyable game the likes of which you don’t see all that often, especially on consoles. So if you don’t mind the lack of challenge and replayability, as well as the occasional rough spots, then don’t be afraid of no ghosts but instead dive headlong into this atmospheric and interesting adventure.