Ronan O’Connor is a pretty neat guy. He’s an ex-con turned cop, loaded with tattoos, a pinstriped trilby on his head and a cigarette permanently attached to his lip...and he’s dead. Murdered: Soul Suspect is the second game I’ve played where I got to be a ghost, and while it is arguably more ghostly than Beyond: Two Souls (is there a rule that games about ghosts need a colon in the title?) it felt quite lacking in almost every other aspect.
Let’s start with all the good things though.
In the opening scene, and as shown in the trailer, Ronan dies via seven gun shot wounds from a serial killer. This means Ronan is trying to figure out how to be a ghost. The mechanics of ghostliness might be the funnest part of the game. Ronan can walk through walls, possess people, make electronic objects turn on and off and, later in the game, teleport.
At first it seems like a collision glitch as Ronan walks straight through doors and walls and people. It’s also very disorienting. With no map to help you, Ronan wanders from room to room ignoring doors and other regular methods that your brain uses to figure out floor plans. At times I was stopping and asking myself, exactly where I was. It was the good sort of confusion, one that makes you think about your surroundings more, rather than be an annoyance.
There are some things you can’t walk through. All of the buildings in Salem are consecrated, because of all the witches (I’ll talk more about Salem soon), this means the exterior walls, floors and (for some reason) front steps, cannot be passed through by ghosts. You also can’t pass through front doors unless they have been opened.
As a ghost Ronan gets visions of where the spirit world enters the real world. As a spirit himself, Ronan can touch these things, so if you encounter a “ghost wall” you can’t get through it. Teleporting can help sometimes, but more often than not it’s there to block you.
This intersection between the ghost world and the real world is very well done. Mostly the ghost buildings depict tragedies, for example a wrecked ship or a burning building. As you watch, living people walk through the flames completely oblivious while it remains impenetrable to you. It also means there’s ghosts about.
Salem is a haunted city. The famous witch trials left plenty of angry dead to wander the streets, but even a normal city has a lot of horrible deaths that leave spirits. Ghosts are everywhere, flickering in and out of your vision. For the most part Salem’s ghosts are just static images of dead people; creepy children and ghostly figures. At first they are super creepy, and I assume are taken from historical photos maybe even from mourning portraits, after a while though the flat 2D images become repetitive and you start seeing the same spectres over and over.
There are also more tangible ghosts, ones you can talk to. More often than not, they’ll simply be confused souls uncertain that they are dead or not interested in talking. Others though will need your help to find their way into the light. This is where your detective skills come into play.
These side missions are similar to how you investigate the your own death. Ronan was killed by a serial killer who has been stalking the streets of Salem. The glowing bullet holes in your chest and back are a constant reminder that you were murdered.
To investigate your own death you move from crime scene to crime scene, collecting clues. Each area has a certain number of clues to be found, some are useful, some aren’t. For example, you may have to collect 11 clues in an area, some will be relevant to your case, some will just be interesting, and some will only be unlocked after you possess a person and get them to remember something. Some clues get you to identify a sound, others make you chose certain words that describe it (for example was the person hiding or searching?)
To solve each scene, you will be required to select the three most important clues. This sounds like a tough detective type mechanic, similar to LA Noire, but instead it’s incredibly simple. I won’t go into exactly why, but I found the investigation challenges to be far too simplistic as the choices seemed too easy.
Finding clues was also annoying. Much like LA Noire, you are unsure of what exactly could be a clue in the scene. Twice while playing I was missing the third clue I needed to solve a scene (you can solve a scene without collecting all of the clues, as long as you have the three most important ones), both times the final clue was partially hidden and off to the side. Not something that looked like a clue or that was differentiated from other detritus in the room.
This leaves you wandering around the scene, waiting for the “investigate” icon to appear. Something that would work if the icons were reliable.
Soul Suspect is a third person game, and the game is very picky about whether or not it thinks you’re looking at something. Some items require you to reveal them (another ghostly power that allows you to bring through certain things from the spirit world), but even after revealing you can’t collect them until you’re looking at just the right angle.
The story, for what it’s worth, is actually fairly good. The main characters are blind to the seemingly obvious motives of the tracker they’re after (yes, Ronan does get some help, but you can find out for yourself), but no more so than you see on TV or in movies. It uses Salem’s awful history to it’s advantage and a lot of the side missions add to the overall creepiness of being in a ghost world.
Where Soul Suspect really falls down is in it’s general population.
If it’s not a character with a speaking role, then every single other person looks identical. All of the women are slim with mid-length hair and wear trousers. The men are all the same height with identical body types and a short haircut. And everyone is white. Thier expressions and movements are minimal so that when you encounter two people talking you’re not sure which voice is for which person. Even entering their minds reveals similarities.
Ronan has the ability to possess people and read their thoughts. When investigating scenes this can be useful for getting more clues, but in general it’s just a fun diversion… until you realise that, like the ghosts and the people themselves, the thoughts begin to repeat.
As you play all of the little things grow on you: the generic NPCs, the closed in town, the endless collectibles. While the main town is a free roaming environment, the attached levels are generally pretty linear. But in order to get all the collectibles you can’t simply follow the linear path, you’re forced to check every corner and side room, a task that sometimes comes with gems but more often than not feels like grinding.
I think this is what annoyed me the most about Murdered: Soul Suspect, the game has so much potential and it feels squandered. You play as a murdered detective trying to solve your own murder and track down a serial killer, that’s a hell of a premise! But the end result feels half-baked.
At one point in the game you make your way to a gala being held in the museum. Despite being a big event, and two generic NPCs being turned away at the door for not having tickets, the hall itself is practically empty with more servers holding drinks trays than (generic NPC) guests.
Despite the new power of the PS4, the town is essentially (if you’ll excuse the pun) dead. NPCs stand or sit in the same place constantly, their faces devoid of emotion. The only one who actually looks alive is the man with seven glowing bullet holes in him.