Review by horror_spooky
How do you wake up dead?
Murdered: Soul Suspect is one of those games that is just destined to be a cult classic. I predict that, much like Deadly Premonition before it, despite the negative reaction from the general gaming press, the game will appeal to a certain niche, and it will pop up on "most underrated" game lists soon enough. At any rate, I for one loved Murdered: Soul Suspect and found it to be an extremely engaging and memorable experience all the way through.
The premise of the game is awesome. It is somewhat inspired by the DS title Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, but the premise is infinitely more engaging here due to the three dimensional graphics and the significantly better production values.
In the game, players control a detective named Ronan. In the first few minutes, Ronan is killed by a serial killer that the police of Salem have been hunting. However, Ronan immediately becomes a ghost. Unable to cross over into the spirit world due to unfinished business in the physical realm, Ronan has to stop his murderer and save Salem from even more terror.
Right off the bat, the quirky charm of the game is apparent. Ronan, despite being a ghost, smokes a ghost cigarette the entire game as he makes his witty one liners and makes observations about the living people around him.
The game's main hook is exploring Salem as a ghost. Moving through objects that would usually be used as cover barricades in other games is awesome. One of my favorite areas is an apartment building in which Ronan is able to move through walls to visit numerous apartments and screw with their denizens. I found myself walking around Salem and exploring every inch of it to find every single collectible in the game, and I was completely immersed from when I started the game to when the credits rolled.
One of the main benefits of exploring Salem is finding all of the collectibles. In most games, finding collectibles is hardly worth the trouble, but in Murdered, they add significantly to the gameplay experience. There are various collectibles that expand on the characters in wonderful ways, and others that go into detail about Salem and (obviously) it's terrifying witch trial past. My favorite collectibles came in the form of special objects that, if all were collected, would unlock a creepy ghost story about the place that you were currently exploring. I was somewhat reminded of the game Lost Odyssey, which was noted for having a variety of short stories that players could unlock, but instead of stories that will make you cry, Murdered has nice, short little tales that will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck.
Puzzle solving mechanics are thrown in the mix as well, but I didn't care much about them. They're fine, though they're nothing spectacular. I just got through them as fast as possible so I could get back to exploring and discovering the side quests, which were all very interesting stories. The puzzles involve finding clues and then selecting which clues need to be selected in that given situation in order to advance the plot, kind of like the Ace Attorney games or similar adventure titles.
As a ghost, Ronan has a variety of abilities that make exploring Salem a blast. Ronan can possess people to read their minds or influence them by making them think about clues that have been collected. Animals can also be possessed, such as cats that are used in minor platforming segments.
Ronan is able to manipulate objects in the environment using his poltergeist powers, which is good for a few laughs. Teleportation is also one of Ronan's ghostly powers, but by far my favorite is the simple ability to walk through walls and solid objects. They pulled this off perfectly and it's exactly how I'd imagine it. There aren't a whole lot of games where players can control a ghost, so Murdered just feels like a wonderful breath of fresh air amongst all the other gaming protagonists that are clones of one another.
Combat in the game is virtually non-existent. The game is not about fighting enemies or anything like that. You never even shoot a gun or attack a person. There are demons that float around and attempt to capture wandering ghosts. The appearance of these demons is marked by a bloodcurdling scream that almost always made me jump out of my seat. The demons are defeated using very simple stealth mechanics, so while they don't offer much of a challenge, they do break up the exploration gameplay nicely.
Again, I must reiterate how much fun it is to simply walk around as a ghost in Salem. The town of Salem feels organic and alive. This is accomplished by featuring NPCs that talk and think like real people. The town is always populated with people doing various things, which definitely helps with the immersion. My only gripe is that some character models are repeated, even some important characters, which can somewhat ruin the immersion a bit.
Besides human NPCs, Ronan also encounters ghosts. These ghosts are sometimes there just to do creepy stuff, but other times their stories are much more tragic. The side quests take the form of Ronan helping out ghosts that need to resolve their unfinished business. I was always interested in their stories and that was a huge part of the motivation that convinced me to complete every side quest I came across. Most games have side quests that are hollow or meaningless, but the great voice acting, animation, and atmosphere created by Murdered: Soul Suspect made me sincerely want to help all of the troubled ghostly figures I encountered throughout my time with the game.
While the game definitely isn't the best looking Xbox One game, it's no slouch when it comes to the graphics by any means. The areas are all highly detailed and unique from one another. The ghost world and the real world are separated by smart visual differences. Characters are extremely impressive and highly detailed. The animation was a bit stiff at times, but for the most part it's great and really goes a long way in making the world feel like one that is real.
The voice acting also goes a long way in making Salem feel like a real place, which is hugely important for a horror game. The voice acting is stupendous. The musical score is also great and helps set the mood perfectly. I was extremely impressed by the production values of Murdered: Soul Suspect across the board.
The biggest issue with the game is the length. I was able to 100% the game in one sitting. This took about eight hours. However, I have the urge to hop back into Salem and start all the way back over and explore every inch of it all over again. The town has a certain charm that makes it irresistible, and Ronan's adventure is so unique that there's really not much else in gaming like it. Because of this, I can see myself replaying the game numerous times.
Another thing I have to point out about the game is, yeah, it's short, but there's also no filler. Every place is important. The story developments are all major so there are no wasted cut-scenes or dialogue that are designed to just spin the wheels. People like to praise games for being ridiculously long. There are many JRPGs that can run about 80 hours, and people like to point to these as being games that get you a lot of bang for your buck, but the fact of the matter is a lot of these games are maybe 10 to 20 hours of original content and the rest is filler, designed to keep the players playing as long as possible just so the developers can say, "Yeah, my game is really long." Murdered: Soul Suspect is short but it is an experience that is far more gratifying than most gaming experiences available.
Murdered: Soul Suspect is a lot better than the professional reviewers give it credit for. The game is extremely unique, with an engrossing story, great characters, and a simple yet very effective gameplay mechanic that makes it really hard to put down. The game tells a lot of great, memorable stories that will stick with me long after it starts collecting dust on my shelf. I can't recommend this hidden gem enough.
Product Release: Murdered: Soul Suspect (US, 06/03/14)
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