By Elise Olson
Generally speaking, I advise people to avoid men in fedoras, but I’ll make an exception for Detective Ronan. Developed by Airtight Games and published by Square Enix, Murdered: Soul Suspect is a mystery and stealth game for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation, and Xbox.
In this ghostly game, you play as Ronan, a reformed criminal turned cop for the Salem Police Department (his brother-in-law is a high-ranking detective who was able to hide his rap sheet, just go with it) who is pursuing the Bell Killer, a ruthless serial killer intent on reliving Salem Massachusetts dark past of witch hunting. Ronan carelessly pursues the perp without back-up and becomes one of the Bell Killer’s victims himself.
His dead wife, Julia, (yes, there’s even more tragedy to his backstory) appears to him and informs him that in order to join her on the other side, he must resolve the unfinished business that is trapping him in the earthly realm. He concludes that this must be the unsolved case, Julia disappears into the light, and a creepy little ghost girl in old-timey clothing explains that you have to avoid demons, can walk through some things but not others and strengths in life become powers in death. After some investigating around your own body you connect some clues to a missing psychic investigator, Cassandra, and find her daughter Joy, who is also looking for her mother. Joy is a lot like Ronan when he was fifteen; distrustful of others, smart but a drop-out, and exceptionally good at breaking-and-entering. There’s the typical “I don’t like you and you don’t like me, but we need each other to solve this case” as the driving premise which turns into “dang, I guess we both have hearts of gold and grow to care about each other” character arch. A little cliched but what is a good ghost story without some trite tropes? The mystery is full of twists and turns with plenty of secondary stories to unlock around Salem as well as little collectibles like notes on the both the fictional and real Salem. You can even help some stuck ghosts enter the light with your sleuthing. The narrative is solid and does not leave you feeling like the answer was pulled out of midair by production crew that realized they needed an ending for their game but had no clue how to end it, which is one of my biggest pet peeves next to good narratives that will never be finished (looking at you, Dark Dreams Don’t Die) so if you want a good murder mystery with a cohesive plot and not entirely 2-dimensional characters, Soul Suspect delivers.
Let’s talk about gameplay. Before we get too far into this review, I will say right now that I played the game on a laptop, which was probably not the ideal set-up for the stealth parts of the game, a.k.a. avoiding and exorcising demons. Everything was going just fine but once I got to about the last 25% of the game I could not exorcise demons at all. And yes, I was definitely doing what the on-screen commands wanted. I just… I don’t know. I tried. God knows I tried but suddenly demons could not be exorcised whatsoever. There had been times where exorcising the demons at the beginning of the game did not go smoothly but usually on the third or fourth try, once the command cycled back to “hold R, S, and left mouse button” it would work. Once I got to the museum scene, however, I had to resort to just running as fast as poor ghost-Ronan could and taking some minor damage while forgoing a few collectibles. Whatever, I can accept that. It was not I got the Judgement House that the method of running like a spaz was no longer an option and demons had to be dealt with in order to progress. After a gazillion attempts and losing my voice to the phrase “I did that you bastard!” (the game did not hear me, apparently) I finally said “fuck it” and opened the game file in Notepad and changed “ghost awareness” from “high” to “unaware” so I could finish the damned game. Now the demons wander the earth like oblivious idiots and I can wander about freely. Maybe this does not happen on regular P.C.s or Xbox and PlayStation, but speaking from personal experience, this part of the game was an absolute nightmare which is a bummer because otherwise, it was a really enjoyable game. I was genuinely interested in the storyline and enjoyed exploring the town to find the other mysteries and collectibles.
One thing that drove me wild and will be worth noting regardless of the platform you play this game on, is the checkpoint system. Enix and Airtight Games, what? Why on earth would you not put a checkpoint after every solved puzzle and cutscene? The checkpoints, namely in the first half of the game, did not feel frequent enough or natural. I would replay whole puzzles I previously solved, which was not a big deal, but after the third time of aiding some random lady into the afterlife, it got a little stale. At least your collectibles are saved so if you risk it for the biscuit- I mean hidden object- it pays off. There was also a point where the checkpoint was a read-ahead and I had to go back to a different area to respawn the demons and essentially double my spaz-running-method in order to progress because otherwise the world did not render properly and Ronan would fall into the sage green abyss of un-rendered nothingness. Despite this glitch, the game holds up shockingly well for something released in 2014. In fact, I have played more recent games with less impressive graphics. High-quality imagery and immersive environments get me every time. That said, we are in a time where “consequential choices” are a hot button, even for games that are not RPGs, and this might be the one area where Soul Suspect completely linear storyline shows it age. A reboot would probably have dialogue and decision options where the right choices lead you to the murderer faster, you might even be able to save one of the victims, but such as it is, all roads lead to Rome and all dialogues lead to the same answer. For some reason, you can pick a snarky question or a straightforward question but the result is ultimately the same. Despite the linear and guided nature, you do not feel as if the writers are spoon feeding you the answers and the overall story unfolds itself pretty naturally. Despite the glitches and my personal experience with the demons (personal demons, maybe?) I would still recommend this game to anyone looking for a good mystery to sink their teeth into. At $29.99 on Steam, Murdered: Soul Suspects may not be the first choice for everyone, especially those looking for something with more risk or consequence to their gaming experience, but the game definitely stands the test of time and is worth it for anyone looking for some ghostly murders mixed with some feel-good character moments.
Played Soul Suspects? Let us know what you thought! And if you happened to play Soul Suspects on a regular P.C. or another gaming platform, let us know if you had the same issues in the comments!