Outside of sequels to games I’ve really enjoyed, I typically only get excited for games that sound conceptually interesting. And if nothing else Murdered: Soul Suspect has a good conceptual hook. you’re cast as a ghost detective who has to solve his own murder. Now this sounds like an idea rife with potentially compelling mechanical and narrative possibilities (last I checked, “Ghost Murder Mystery” isn’t a super populated genre). Unfortunately, Murdered: Soul Suspect doesn’t really explore these to any meaningful extent. It’s a largely pleasant time for its eight hour duration, but my main take-away from Murdered: Soul Suspect was disappointment.
Murdered: Soul Suspect‘s greatest strength is its main narrative, which cashes in on noir and horror tropes to good effect. Protagonist Ronan O’Connor starts the game in a pretty bad way, getting thrown out of the fourth floor of an apartment and shot seven times in the chest by a mysterious assailant known as “The Bell Killer”. Now existing as a ghost, Ronan is promptly informed by his deceased wife that he needs to clear up any unfinished business before he can pass on to the other side. In specter form Ronan, who used to be a detective working on the Bell Killer case, resumes his investigation. He’s also joined early on by a spunky medium named Joy, who helps Ronan with his case for her own reasons. These two characters (or really anyone in Murdered: Soul Suspect) aren’t fleshed out particularly well beyond those descriptions. With that said, they manage to share a pretty solid back-and-forth with each other, consistently anchoring the story in even its rougher patches. And to Murdered: Soul Suspect‘s credit, everything moves quickly enough that the main narrative never bogs itself down too much, and even provides a pretty surprising revelation for those willing to stick through it.
As a ghost detective, Ronan spends most of Murdered: Soul Suspect at crime scenes trying to pick up leads on the Bell Killer. These are pretty simple events, with Ronan walking around a room and focusing on any pertinent objects in the environment, and fortunately these scenes are made a little more interesting by the abilities Ronan has at his disposal. Unable to physically interact with any objects at crime scenes, the player has to get information through other means (for instance, possessing and reading the mind of someone nearby). After assembling enough clues, the player is prompted to solve the prevailing mystery of the area; unfortunately this boils down into trial and error. The only punishment Murdered: Soul Suspect gives players that can’t figure out which clue to pick is a deduction of a badge rank, a concept it never bothers to explain in the slightest. It only serves to make these scenes feel more trivial, compounding on their already simple nature.
It’s a real shame, because Murdered: Soul Suspect is really good at making players feel like they’re a ghost – to an extent. Navigating environments by walking through walls and possessing people to navigate impassable obstacles doesn’t really get old. In fact, when mind-reading gets thrown into the mix, there’s even an element of voyeurism at play. It helps that Airtight Games’s supernatural Salem feels pretty well realized, with long-gone architecture melding in interesting ways with the more modern buildings and structures. Ronan can also occasionally possess cats, which gives him to access to otherwise unreachable areas, in addition to providing a nice perspective change.
This is all well and good, but these things ultimately suffer from a lack of complexity. Murdered: Soul Suspect‘s chief crime is that it lacks the ambition to expand, or improve, on its core mechanics in any meaningful ways. Salem, despite being a fairly sizable area, feels largely devoid of things to do outside of obtaining a myriad of collectibles. There are a handful of side investigations Ronan can do to help ghosts with similar issues to the other side. These add a bit of character to the world, but they rarely incorporate some of the more interesting mechanics of the main narrative and don’t last long enough to make the cases very interesting in-and-of-themselves. At least those are optional; the mandatory stealth sequences succeed at producing some genuinely creepy Dementor-esque creatures, but their connection to the narrative feels a bit weak and the actual act of completing them is really trivial. I appreciate Airtight Games’s desire to break up their investigation segments, but these sections feel unnecessary in the context of the larger game.
There’s also a lot of distracting small things about Murdered: Soul Suspect. Why are the majority of townspeople thinking the same five or six thoughts? Why can’t I walk through large rocks? Why are Just Cause 2 posters hanging in a police office? It’s a lot of things like this that make Salem less immersive, and that’s not to mention the myriad number of bugs and technical hiccups within Murdered: Soul Suspect. There were at least three instances where I had to restart at a checkpoint because the game glitched, and I encountered moments where the game outright froze for several seconds multiple times. For an eight hour game like this, the amount of technical mishaps are pretty aggravating.
But ultimately, would I recommend Murdered: Soul Suspect? Yes, but the amount of conditions under which I’d do so are distressingly high. Murdered: Soul Suspect‘s unambitious, although initially interesting mechanics, combine with a genuinely engaging tale to form a rather pleasant experience for its duration. Coming off of more heady titles, Murdered: Soul Suspect‘s commitment to its goofy tale is quite endearing. But it’s still quite a slight one, a revelation made no more clearly than by the ending twist. It’s a good and unexpected one, but its implications are barely considered before the credits abruptly start rolling. That’s representative of Murdered: Soul Suspect as a whole: There’s style and fun to be had, but any perceived substance evaporates when you try to engage with it.