Murdered: Soul Suspect: fascinating, flawed, frustrating and ultimately forgettable

Jon Mercer
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Murdered: Soul Suspect
(PS4, Xbox One, PC)

Strange goings on are afoot in the town of Salem, Mass.
A fiendish slayer known as the “Bell Killer” has the populace held in a grip of terror, and it falls upon grizzled cop Ronan O’Connor to end the maniac’s reign of violence.

The ghost of detective Ronan O’Connor works a crime scene in “Murdered: Soul Suspect.” — Submitted image

There’s only one little obstacle to overcome ... it seems that Ronan is the Bell Killer’s latest victim.

Oddly enough,”Murdered: Soul Suspect” describes itself as an action-adventure title.

This is barely a half-truth. I cannot think of an instance in the entire span of “Soul Suspect” when so much as a single fist was thrown.

Outside of several segments involving stalking demon creatures and a half-baked stealth mechanic, there’s very little action to be found in this game.

And based on the irritating chore this becomes as more and more encounters with the phosphorescent grinning uglies are piled on to pad out playtime, and how easy it becomes to dispatch said orange beasties with a numb mini game, perhaps it is best if this was the only action to be found.

No, the real steak and potatoes of “Soul Suspect” is to be found in how the game handles Ronan’s investigations.

Since he is a ghost, there is no barrier that can hold Ronan back in his search for the truth. Layman’s terms — Ronan explores a tightly restricted area in what can only be described as a ghostly take on the “detective vision” from the “Batman: Arkham” titles.

Players are tasked with highlighting clues and solving basic puzzles that have them choosing the right words to piece together a crime.

It’s not exactly challenging, unless one is concerned with an unenthusiastic ranking system that rates detective skill on a scale of 1 to 3.

Other than that, there is no real penalty for simply playing a guessing game if a specific clue is missed.

It’s an intriguing game mechanic, but sloppily executed.

Exploring the world of “Soul Suspect” is handled with a similar level of excitement (or lack, thereof).

Ronan may be a ghost, but he is hardly free to enter any place outside of areas the game intends. In fact, the spirit world is just as walled off as the human world.

Only places that have an open door or window can be entered, and even then, walls of negatively charged ectoplasmic goo act as barriers to keep players focused on following the intended path of the story.

Outside of the uninspired, but mildly interesting, detective puzzles — and the occasional bouts with the soul-sucking orange demons — “Soul Suspect” also offers a handful of environmental puzzles that have Ronan acting through a physical medium to interact with the corporeal plane.

You see, as a ghost he cannot touch or communicate. However, through creatures that are attuned to the spiritual plane, such as the occasional cat (crafty little devils), or a sarcastic teenage empath named Joy, who may or may not have witnessed some of the Bell Killer’s heinous acts, Ronan can touch, pick up, and move objects.

While the results are hardly ambitious and even less cinematic, I can’t help but feel a soft pang of respect for the attempt at adding a ghostly spin on these tired old point-and-click puzzle clichés.

The best parts of “Soul Suspect” come in the form of its straightforward, yet gripping story.

Like any whodunnit worth its salt, this mystery doles out just enough teases of reveals and subtle hints to push players onward and upward, to keep the controller firmly planted in their hands, to succeed at holding their attention when every other facet of the game has failed at being anything more than run-of-the-mill.

Bog-standard escort missions, featuring Ronan clearing out human obstacles with ghost tricks and scare tactics, and Joy opening doors and flipping switches are made palatable by the prickly dialogue and cheesy charisma of the characters.

And while the twists are fathomable from a mile out for anyone who has ever read a ghost story, or looked into the history of Salem, it’s a fresh enough setting and a murder mystery with just enough of a new spin to be worth a weekend spent.

Of course, once gamers are through rooting for the underdog, there’s little more to keep them hooked on “Murdered: Soul Suspect.”

It’s one of those quirky titles that I feel collectors will wax poetic about in the later years of this generation, but as fascinating as the story and setting are, the gameplay is equally flawed and frustrating, leading to an immediately forgettable game that won’t be appreciated when it matters most, while it sits on store shelves.

Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC (PS4 version reviewed)

Developer: Airtight Games

Publisher: Square Enix

Release Date: June 3, 2014

Rated: M for Mature.

Walking through the wastes of the digital frontier, Jon Mercer fights a lonely war against the nefarious agents of boredom and mediocrity. If you seek his help, or wish to join his cause, send a communiqué via thejonmercer@gmail.com.

Organizations: Bell Killer

Geographic location: Salem

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