Oh Square Enix, why do you do this to me? Not only do you announce that you are developing Kingdom Hearts for the PS4, but you also reveal that you are two years into development for a really interesting new title that's come out of nowhere - Murdered: Soul Suspect.
After slugging it through three intense days at E3, I wasn't expecting much from my last appointment with Square Enix. But damn, was I in for a surprise. At the booth I was shown some gameplay footage of Square Enix's new title, and I got the chance to sit down for a one on one interview with Doug Van Holme, Murdered's lead writer.
Murdered: Soul Suspect is a new detective / supernatural thriller that sees you take control of Ronan O'Connor. Ronan is a a pretty interesting guy. Covered in tats, chain smoking, and wearing a fedora, he was a former police detective - although Doug revealed to me that he's had a pretty checkered past with the law.
But there's not much use Ronan worrying about his past. Because's he's dead. A super strong hooded man threw him out a window and then shot him seven times in the chest. Ronan watched it all happen - and he's now a ghost.
Ghosts only stick around because they've got unfinished business and Ronan's job is to find out exactly who murdered him. To do that, he needs to investigate his case - and in the process unveil something much deeper and seriously sinister about the people of the town of Salem, Massachusetts - where he lives.
I asked Doug about why Airtight Games decided to locate the game there. He said it was because of the rich history that Salem has - and its formidable reputation as the most haunted town in America. Salem is explorable by Ronan and that the unique history of the place is reflected in the game. For example, in Salem, there is a local tradition of consecrating every house to keep it safe from evil spirits. That's also true in Murdered - Ronan can only enter a building if someone opens a door that he can slip through.
Ronan's ghostliness makes investigating his own murder pretty challenging. While he can interact with the human world - and Doug told me that doing so was a major part of the game - he can't just go up and talk to people. He's a ghost, remember. So all of that crucial interaction needs to be done through intermediaries.
Ronan can "possess" people and see what they see with their eyes, or can analyze objects that might be relevant to his case. However, instead of picking them up and poring over them - he recollects thoughts and emotions about them, done by you selecting relevant words on the screen.
This is an interesting and quirky new take on the detective genre, which should give fans of the style something different to experiment with. But for those who want a bit more action along with their problem solving, they won't be disappointed. Ronan told me that the core crime solving aspect of the game only makes up around a third of the gameplay on offer. The rest is made up by Ronan exploring the dusk (the ghostly world he operates in) and by engaging in combat.
Murdered's combat mechanic is curious, and Airtight Games were tight lipped about exactly how it all fit together. However, Doug was able to tell me that within the game there are demons that are looking to devour the souls of ghosts. Doug told me that there will be several types of demons, all of which need to be taken down in different ways - but the ones I saw in my eyes on could only be "executed" by sneaking up behind them.
That sneaking is aided by one of the game's innovations that Airtight Games were especially proud of. Ronan can do all the things that ghosts can normally do - and that means walking through walls. That doesn't sound amazing all by itself (we've had noclipping cheats for years in games) but Doug was excited about what impact that would have on gamer's spatial awareness when playing through the title.
It's a good point.
We all naturally imagine our built environments based on the structures within them - I too am interested in how gamers react to the reality of a world where there are hardly any barriers to how they move around. It's certainly unusual.
Taking the time to wander aimlessly through the Dusk also has its benefits. Doug explained to me that Ronan can meet other lost souls in the game who have side quests that he can help them with. If he does, he gains experience points that can be used to upgrade some of his skills and abilities.
I asked Doug about what was especially challenging when making the game - and he mentioned it was this new approach to movement within houses that had been difficult new territory for Airtight Games. I can see why; geometry and level design is a fundamental component of good games - and Airtight are clearly trying to give us a new take on the keystone mechanic.
I was really excited by what I saw of Murdered: Soul Suspect. It appears to have a really interesting and mysterious narrative and a good mix between combat, exploration, and questing. Over the top of that is a fresh new take on the detective genre. Taken all together it's a complex, but intriguing mix.
I can't wait to hear more from Airtight Games about Murdered: Soul Suspect, and judging by the plethora of best of show awards stuck to the Square Enix booth door, I think quite a few other critics are keen on it as well.
But we will have to wait until early 2014, when it will be available on the PC, Xbox 360, and the PlayStation 3.
The Good: A really inventive new take on the crime solving genre
The Bad: It's not going to be ready until early 2014
The Ugly: Watching yourself get flung out a window and then shot in the chest. So many feelings.