I’ve been following Murdered: Soul Suspect for a while now, and I have often wondered how a game centred around a deceased primary protagonist would pan out. Obviously, gun play is out of the question, but what can make up for the lack of physical combat? Well, have a go at Murdered: Soul Suspect, and you’ll find out.
Murdered: Soul Suspect is not like any other game I have played. The opening scene is that of the end of a game: with death. You play as Ronan, an ex-con turned police officer, and are accompanied by Joy, a street-smart medium who’s future is tied in with Ronan’s, together they are investigating the case of the mysterious Bell Killer of Salem, a town in the United States, rich in paranormal history, which makes it the perfect setting for the story of Soul Suspect. After the killer has dispatched Ronan, his life flashes before his very eyes, giving us a glimpse of his past, and who he was, with each tattoo telling a story. His opening statement about how growing up on the streets makes you feel invincible is more than a simple throwaway comment, but a theme that runs through the game, but more on that later.
As I mentioned earlier, Soul Suspect is not like any other game I have played, it is unique in the sense that, the main character is dead from the get-go, which doesn’t seem to be the career ending event it used to be. I would honestly say that Soul Suspect plays out more like a psychological Thriller more than an Action Adventure, drawing the player in deeper and deeper with the engaging storyline and the relatable character of Ronan – he isn’t perfect, he isn’t necessarily a good guy, but he is trying his best with what he has been given.
Ronan hasn’t moved onto the afterlife as he feels he has unfinished business: namely, solving his own murder, which is another theme that runs through the whole game, with added side quests where you can help other lost souls find peace. Using his detective skills, Ronan must hunt down clues and use them to solve the problems at hand, which is a big focal point of the gameplay and is presented in varying different ways, especially seeing as Ronan is dead.
When searching for clues, as a member of the spectral realm, Ronan is unable to influence the physical world around him, but he does have a few interesting tricks up his tattooed sleeve. He has the ability to possess the living, yes, a little cliche, but an interesting mechanic, that Soul Suspect uses to help progress the story. When possessing another, Ronan is able to see through their eyes, to “Peek” at useful information, or, using memories, he can “Influence” them to carry out certain actions, at some points you even get to possess a cat, to reach places a normal human would not be able to get to, or by using his poltergeist ability, switch on a fan to blow papers out of the way, revealing information underneath. Now, the poses ability is limited, you cannot just jump into any old person and move them around, but I have noticed that you can read the mind of all NPC’s, and they each have something individual to say, or rather think, Airtight Games have made an effort to make these people seem real and lifelike.
A lot of the back story is communicated by flashbacks and collectable items. Each collectable comes with a little back story, to widen the narrative that much more, and in doing so, it makes collecting each item that much more rewarding, just little things, like why Ronan wears a fedora. I find myself actively seeking out new collectables in each new area, I want to know how Ronan’s life was before the incident of his death, I want to know how much information the SPD has on the Bell Killer. I spent about an hour searching the graveyard level for the one last collectable I needed just so I could hear the story that accompanied it, I have never done this in a game before, I usually tire of hunting them down, or the outcome is just not that interesting, but Airtight Games have built a sub-story into these items, and it really is something you don’t want to miss out on.
Now, when we think of ghosts, we often conjure up ideas of a white figure being able to walk through walls, while Soul Suspect’s Ronan O’Connor is no exception, he does at least have some limitations, which is nicely explained in the story; the original settlers of Salem had all of the buildings consecrated, this disallows any ghost to walk through the outer walls of a property, they can only enter or exit through an open door/window, though, any interior wall is fair game. I initially found this mechanic fun, but after a while, it gets very disorientating and can make finding your way around a building quite tricky, so to begin with I ended up searching areas from left to right, to ensure I didn’t miss out on anything. However, the more I play the game, the more I get used to the feeling, so maybe this is a deliberate ploy to give the player an idea of how Ronan may be feeling, as not only is this a unique gameplay mechanic for the player, but also a new experience for Ronan. Both player and Ronan would see a wall as a barrier before, but now, it is just a mere inconvenience.
That being said, the developers have used this as a great way to hide the games main antagonists from the player. I am talking about the demons. Remember before, I suggested that feeling invincible was a running theme throughout the game, well, it seems that this may have been planted to lure you, as the player into a false sense of security. The narrative explains that demons are souls who have lingered too long and have become twisted and now hunt down the souls of those who have yet to pass on. Great. Suddenly, the idea of an invincible character is replaced by one who is much more mortal, despite his current predicament.
Soul Suspect uses these creatures to create a tense atmosphere, and conditions you not to run through walls carefree. Demons, more often than not lurk where you least expect them when they see you, they will pursue you, your only hope is to hide in the residue left behind by other spirits. When their backs are turned, you are then able to dispatch them.
Here’s the thing, these hiding places are everywhere. I mean it, there is no shortage of places to hide should you happen upon a demon, and should is the keyword. The demon appearances are little, and far between, making you question whether or not you will see one. I walked through one wall and was greeted by the unearthly scream of one of these twisted souls, and as it ran for me, let’s just say I am now more tactful when phasing through objects.
Salem is a town, that has been made most famous for the prosecuting, and burning of witches. While it is true, that, in 1692, 20 people were put to death in Salem for allegedly practising witchcraft, none of them were executed by burning at the stake, though, this has not prevented the lore to be spread like wildfire through history, the Salem we are presented with in Soul Suspect is also rife with its own tapestry of historical acts, mirroring that of its real world counterpart; by interacting with plaques and areas of interest the player is presented with an interesting fact about Salem, and being a bit of a history geek, I loved this, it just engaged me more, and made me feel like I was watching the events of a real life situation unfold, and I wasn’t just playing a video game.
Soul Suspect is not a free roam game, to some extent, it is quite linear, but I liked the way it was presented. When an area was inaccessible at the time, instead of placing invisible walls or forcing Ronan to turn around and say he cannot go there yet, Airtight Games have come up with a better way of denying you access in fitting with the game’s theme, and this is by simply loading an obstacle in its way. I know, this sounds bad, but it has been done in a way that really fits with the game. Throughout your wandering, you will notice various sections of scenery that give off an unearthly blue glow, and if you take a closer look you will notice that these sections are also not from the same time period, that’s because they are in fact echoes from the past, ghostly imprints that randomly pop in the world between worlds. These do not affect the living, and only ghosts can see them, but they are also unable to pass through them, as they are constructed of the same energy. These apparitions not only act as a barrier, but also a look into the past at a time long since gone by.
Furniture and parts of houses are not the only imprints that have been left behind. You often see the ghostly outlines of spirits in the distance, only to find they disappear when you get near to them. At first, this really creeped me out but I got used to it. But it furthers the idea that ghosts, if at all real in any sense, truly are everywhere, just watching the world of the living pass them by.
Overall, I would say Soul Suspect is an incredibly engaging game, with a story that is rich with real-life history, and if you’re like me, and you’re collecting all of the extra items in the game, you’ll be rewarded with a more in-depth look at the main characters.
That being said, it is not without its faults and glitches. My game is continually telling me to “Exit the Attic”, which was one of the very first missions I did, and I have found that if you’re not looking at a collectable just right, the on-screen prompt won’t show up allowing you to pick it up. Occasionally I noticed a slight texture issue with possessing someone, but these are things I can live with and can no doubt be fixed with a patch. The possession idea is a great way to change up how you interact with the world around you, and it is a nice change to not have to shoot something to kill it, however, I did find the game a little easy. On the flip side, I couldn’t get enough of the storyline, which, I feel is the driving force behind the game, and it really shows how much care and detail has gone into making it a true thriller, and honestly, some of the scenes were truly horrifying to watch.
As much as I enjoyed Soul Suspect, I am unsure if Airtight Games can make a continuing series out of it, and in this day an age where every company feels the need to make a sequel, I hope they leave it as a one-off, it is a solid testimony of what they can do as a company, and I look forward to seeing more work by them. I really did love the nod to Just Cause 2 as a poster on a wall, and the “It’s a trap!” badge worn by the witness, it’s another great technique to get your audience, or in this case player, to really feel connected with the gripping storyline, driving you more and more onwards your ultimate goal of “who done it”.