Murdered: Soul Suspect Hands-On Preview - Dead on Arrival
Written Thursday, February 27, 2014 By Lee BradleyView author's profile
Ronan O’Connor has been pushed from a top floor window of a house in Salem, then shot with his own gun by a mystery assailant. He’s dead, stuck between worlds until he solves the mystery of his murder. Thankfully, in life he was a detective. All O'Connor has to do is find the killer and he can join his deceased girlfriend in heaven.
Murdered: Soul Suspect’s opening five or ten minutes are dire. While the story concept is kinda fun, the intro layers on expository guff and weird narrative excuses for gameplay limitations with all the elegance of Miss Marple on a skateboard. It’s just so poorly written and worse, it repeatedly snatches control away from the player in order to shovel yet another cutscene down your throat.
There’s a short section near the start, where O'Connor’s dead girlfriend informs him that he can’t cross over because he has unfinished business on Earth. “What about your life is unresolved?” she asks. And he doesn’t know! Just three minutes ago he was thrown out of a window then shot dead, but he can’t think of a single thing. It makes you want to eat your face.
Once O'Connor works out why he’s still on Earth, he returns to the scene of his death. Evidence, policemen and onlookers are scattered around the cordoned off area. This is how the core of the game seems to play out. O'Connor wanders around a scene, clicking on things until he has amassed enough evidence from the available clues to progress. It’s all rather uninvolving.
Part of the evidence gathering process includes possessing people; eavesdropping on their conversations, reading their mind or influencing them in some way. This is how you get information. But there’s no skill to it. You’re just clicking through options until you happen upon the correct one. Perhaps it gets better later, but for the first couple of hours it’s as interesting as toenails.
Once you’ve investigated every scrap of information at a scene you are presented with a strangely vague question and a number of answers, represented by little images. But it doesn’t matter which one you select. If you get it wrong you just get to pick another until you’re right. There’s no deduction involved, there’s no penalty for failure or reward for quick thinking. It’s pointless.
The game opens up in the next section. In the building from which you fell you can walk through walls and explore each apartment, some of which are inhabited by people, families. Most seem completely oblivious to the major crime scene outside. Appropriately for a game about a dead man, Murdered’s world is lifeless.
If you approach televisions a button prompt pops up saying “Poltergeist”. Click it and the TV springs into life with static. I did this in two or three different apartments but there was no reaction. Even when there were people present, nobody seemed to notice. Salem’s doctor must do a roaring trade in mood suppressants.
There are little side missions in some of the apartments. Mysteries to solve, where the “mystery” is revealed in the setup. Characters to engage with, like one poor dude that slits his wrists and then accidentally electrocutes himself in the bath for good measure. There are things to do then, aside from identifying O'Connor’s killer, but at this early stage they feel like little more than filler.
On the way to the top floor from which O'Connor was flung, there are also demons to avoid. You do this by zipping between little clouds of “The Dusk”. As long as he remains within them, he can’t be seen. It’s basically an ultra-simple stealth section, topped off by sneak kills. It’s probably the most engaging part of Murdered’s opening hour or two, but it’s still just fluff.
Up on the top floor and the police have already cordoned off the era, allowing you to root around for more evidence. You can also trigger little flashback cutscenes which explain what happened in the lead up to your death. A girl is involved. Something to do with the occult. Your murderer is called The Bell Killer and he’s done this before. The plot thickens, but my interest doesn’t.
You can see what the developers were going for. Murdered: Soul Suspect tries to be an old-school adventure game in three dimensions. Look around a scene, collect evidence, make a breakthrough, move onto the next scene. But the writing is poor, the evidence gathering is boring and there’s no sense of achievement. You don’t feel like a detective. You’re just wandering around clicking things until all the things have been clicked.
To be any good, Murdered: Soul Suspect has to make you feel like you’re working something out. It has to make you engage with the motivations of its characters. It has to present you with a puzzle, not just a set of things to click in whatever order you like. And failing all of that it has to deliver a good story, with a strong mystery that pulls you through until its resolution. On the evidence of the opening, Murdered: Soul Suspect has none of these things.
Murdered: Soul Suspect hits Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3 and PS4 in June.