Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Murdered: Soul Suspect

Post-Launch Review
Murdered: Soul Suspect (PC)
Developer: Airtight Games
Released: June 2014
Played: complete in 7h:12min


Ronan O'Connor, a police detective with a rough past, is thrown out a window and shot to death while investigating the serial murderer known as the Bell Killer. Trapped in Salem as a ghost, Ronan has no choice but to find and stop his killer before he'll be able to move on and reunite with his wife.

At Launch

Soul Suspect launched to mixed-to-poor reviews, earning average scores of 59%. Reviewers praised the story and concept, but criticized the short length, limited interaction, and lack of difficulty or replayability. Some PC players reported issues with crashes and unsaved progress.

Post Launch

I'm not sure if any patches were released, but I didn't run into a single crash issue. I also didn't have any problems with saving side quest completion, but it's possible that's because of the order in which I played the game and that I did it in just two large chunks.

I don't look up reviews of games before I play them in order to avoid biasing my opinions with outside influences, but as I started this one, I was pretty sure I remembered hearing a lot of negativity about it. Couldn't remember any specifics, though, and I was also uncertain as to whether I was actually remembering critcism of this game or of Beyond: Two Souls, which has a sort of similar title structure.
Soul Suspect starts out with a bang - literally - as police detective Ronan is thrown out of a third-floor window and then shot half a dozen times. I already knew that the premise of the game is that you get murdered, become a ghost, and have to find your killer, but even then the intro was still quite gripping.

Well, mostly. Ronan seems to be an interesting and flawed character - he's made a lot of bad choices and is covered with tattoos for all the crimes he committed, but also has some for his wife and new job when he got out of the game and joined the police force. His relationship with his wife and with her brother have some real depth, and he's dealt with tragedy. But Ronan's voice acting and animation are pretty flat. Ronan seems awfully relaxed about having just been violently murdered and trapped as a ghost, and given all the hints about his past, he doesn't really seem like the type to stay so calm and rational and detached about his brutal death. Fortunately no one else is as flat as Ronan. In particular, Joy is great - well acted, and a great balance of bratty teenage rebelliousness with reluctant cooperation and a sharp wit. 
Ronan's ghost powers aren't quite as expansive as the intro to ghostiness led me to believe they could be, but the simplest ghost ability is the coolest: the ability to walk through walls and objects. There's a limitation in that you can't walk through exterior building walls and doors without an opening (which isn't explained well enough), and you can't move though ghost objects, but there's quite a lot you can walk through and even though it's a simple thing it forced me to re-think the way I interact with the environment in games. I'll admit it took me a little while to fully grasp the idea, but once I did it's really cool. I've played so many games where you can't walk through walls that this little thing really stuck to me.

The story was pretty solid. At first it seemed to be a standard serial killer story except you're a ghost cop instead of a regular cop, and that would've been uninteresting to me. Fortunately, the further you dig, the more the setting and ghosts tie into the case. There are a few little things that bugged me, like the demons being wholly unnecessary and justified with one or two throwaway lines in the finale. But the central mystery and the characters involved are interesting and engaging.
I was also impressed with how Soul Suspect handles its collectible items. In some games, collectibles are just a checklist of busywork - go to map icon, press button, repeat until all items are found. Here you have a list but no map, so you actually have to search for things yourself, but can still look things up online if you're really stumped. Each collection consists of notes that add depth to characters, or an item set that unlocks an audio story of a Salem citizen who encountered the supernatural. So these aren't just checklists - they expand on the world and the characters, which is exactly what collectibles should do.

Now a couple of negatives. A lot of critics felt that gameplay was a bit of a railroad that didn't allow the player to make any meaningful choices. I'm really skeptical of this kind of negativity after the critical success of games like Gone Home, which had a very similar structure with less to do than Soul Suspect. The structure didn't bother me at all - I kept moving forward because I wanted to discover the killer, and didn't have any particular criticisms of the gameplay.
Well, except for one thing: the investigation bits were a little bit weak. You pretty much just wander around a crime scene pressing E to find clues, most of which are completely irrelevant (for example, an old ship's anchor has nothing to do with finding the killer's motivation). On the plus side, you don't actually need to collect all the clues - if you find the important ones you can put together what happened just fine. That final step is probably the shakiest, though. Sometimes it's just busywork and it's painfully obvious which clues are the most relevant. Other times, it's counterintuitively simple. As an example, a side quest gives you the objective to locate the body of the murdered girl by influencing the killers to show you where they hid it. So how do I make the killers reveal the events of the murder to me? How about bringing up the murder weapons.... nope. What about this obviously out-of-place interest in a quarry... nope. No, the answer is actually straight up "so guys... how about that murder?".
So is Murdered: Soul Suspect worth playing? The game's weaknesses are mostly forgivable due to the strength of the story and worldbuilding and collectibles. I didn't run into any technical problems, and looking back at the reviews, I think they're a lot harsher than the game deserved. It's worth noting that Steam reviews are very positive, sitting a 82% rather than the critic average of 59%. I found the game engaging and interesting, and I thoroughly enjoyed messing with video game conventions of character interaction with walls.

Recommendation: play it.

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