REVIEW / Murdered: Soul Suspect (PS4)

 

For a Salem police detective with a less than stellar past whose life is brought to a shocking and violent end, Ronan O’Connor will learn that his grand adventure is just beginning in Square Enix’s noir thriller, Murdered: Soul Suspect.  Hot on the trail of a notorious serial killer that is terrorizing the denizens of Salem, Massachusetts, Ronan must face his circumstances head on and accept that he is now dead.  The only way that he can figure out why all this has happened and to escape the limbo world of “Dusk” is to track down his killer using only finely honed detective skills and a few supernatural abilities.  Taking place in a damp and dreary east coast town, you will be able to explore New England-style wooden houses, Gothic churches and historical landmarks while navigating the narrow streets for clues.  Demonic spirits will attempt to block your path despite the fact that you will need to assist wondering spirits in their quest to determine the circumstances of their deaths in order to dig up information on your own.

 

A close relative of Ronan's examines the crime scene.

 

Murdered: Soul Suspect is a murder mystery in the truest sense of the term.  As Ronan, you must investigate clues found in the environment as well as helping lost souls to discover the reasons for their demise.  Although Ronan is in ghostly form, he can’t just go anywhere.  You can walk through most objects but you can’t walk through those that have been consecrated or enter or exit buildings that have been consecrated unless there is an open door or window. Ronan can also possess people and animals in order to find clues or to get to places that he normally wouldn’t be able to otherwise.  Clues will come in the form of letters from his deceased wife scattered around Salem, vestigial imprints of major events in Ronan’s life at the spot that they occurred, memories and thoughts held by certain citizens and information gained from other spirits that are stuck in “Dust.”  For most of the ghostly citizens of Salem, death has clouded their memories and it is up to Ronan to help them discover the events that ended their lives.  In the process, Ronan will discover clues that will not only help the lost soul to move on to the afterlife but set him on the path to finding his own killer.

Finding clues and talking to the myriad of lost souls is really entertaining and is a good way for the game to allow the player to proceed in a fashion that compliments the detective narrative of the game.  However, certain irregularities in the game often makes trying to interact with the environment a bit of a chore.  For some reason, the camera has to be in exactly the right position in order for an interaction prompt to appear on screen.  Sometimes this window is very small and you have to position the camera in the exact right spot in order to have the prompt appear.  Being able to find that window in a timely fashion can sometimes be the difference between escaping a demonic spirit and becoming its latest victim.

 

This guy could put an end to you unless you react quickly.

 

In his ghostly form, Ronan possesses certain abilities that he must take advantage of in order to progress through the story.  In addition to being able to possess humans or animals, Ronan can re-materialize items in the world of “Dusk” that are pertinent clues to the untimely deaths of the lost souls that he will encounter as well as the imprint of significant events that occurred in Ronan’s life.  He can also remove items in this limbo world that may block his path like wooden gates or crates.  In addition, he can possess mechanical items such as fax machines, Xerox machines or coffee makers that are scattered throughout the many areas that he will need to visit.  This comes in handy when you need to distract a police officer or other NPC while investigating Ronan’s death.  I found it kind of weird though that NPC’s will only react to your possession of these items when it is connected with the storyline.  Otherwise, they will offer no reaction to the Xerox machine spitting a ream of paper all over the floor for no apparent reason.

The visuals in Murdered: Soul Suspect definitely help to set the tone of the game.  After all, this is a story about death and love and the setting of Salem really helps to put the player in the right mindset to undertake this quest.  The streets of Salem are dark and dreary and the buildings seem to be stuck in a sort of time warp as they reflect an architectural style that harkens back to the colonial past of the area.  The overall design of the visual elements in the game, i.e. backgrounds, shrubbery, streets and buildings, really fit the storyline and helps to immerse the player in Ronan’s plight and that of the many souls that he must assist.  Strolling down the dark, narrow streets with only the light of the moon, the illumination from a nearby streetlamp or a random porch light creates an atmosphere that feels and looks absolutely amazing and helps to make you feel that you are in Ronan’s shoes navigating this old, damp, dark town.

 

Lighting effects are very nicely done.

 

While Ronan’s character model is meticulously crafted, the character models of the many NPC’s in Murdered: Soul Suspect just do not live up to the rest of the visual design of the game.  Ronan is the quintessential neighborhood dick and he dresses the part.  From his finely creased slacks to his weathered leather gun holster to his worn chapeau, the details in his character model are stunning.  He even has very intricate tattoos on his arms and torso that are nicely tied into the story and are represented on his body in stunning detail.  Even though Ronan is somewhat translucent for the entirety of the game, it is these details that make him a believable character and helps to get you invested in finding his killer.

The same, however, cannot be said about the other characters that he will meet on his journey.  While the main supporting characters are only slightly less detailed, it is very noticeable and the random citizenry of Salem are ugly and drab and look as though they were created by interns or something.  The differences are so startling that it kind of takes you out of the story when you have to interact with them.  More effort definitely needed to be made in keeping all of the characters at the same visual fidelity.  In addition, there is only one model for the demonic spirits that wonder the buildings, streets and cemeteries of Salem.  These demonic spirits are lost souls that have stayed in “Dusk” too long and seek to pull Ronan down into oblivion but it got to feeling very repetitive when I was dispatching my tenth demon.  Using the same model doesn’t add any scariness to them and they just became an uninspired obstacle in my journey to discovering Ronan’s true fate.

 

Bystanders trying to see what all of the commotion is about.

 

The music in Murdered: Soul Suspect is another high point of this game.  Being a murder mystery, there isn’t a lot of high energy theme music that plays while you are investigating for clues except when you are facing one of the many demonic spirits that may pop up and attempt to stop you in your tracks.  There are very nicely crafted musical tones and fanfare that will play when you find a clue or discover information that will advance your investigation into Ronan’s death.  The voice acting can be a little cheesy at times but for the most part it is very well done.  Sound effects like Ronan’s footfalls on wet pavement, the crackle of a fired pistol or the shriek of a woman in the dark sound alive and shows the care that went into making that part of the game almost perfect.

My time spent in Salem was a welcomed respite from shooting aliens in the face or stomping on the heads of hapless turtles.  It was very refreshing to play a game that allowed me to use my own powers of deduction in order to solve the puzzles and to proceed in the game.  There are a few odd elements of this game that still leave me puzzled even now, however.  I am still wondering why Ronan’s wife’s personal letters are scattered all over Salem in places or distances from their home that they could never be blown to by the wind (this is assuming that she happened to drop them outside in a wind storm for some reason).  This is a minor issue and fetching these pages is only there as a way to flesh out Ronan’s back story and by no means hinders your progress in the game if you don’t choose to hunt them all down.

 

During your investigations, you will sometimes have to choose the correct clue in order to proceed.

 

There are a few omissions from the function of the game that also left me scratching my head.  For example, this game could have greatly benefited from an onscreen map or at least one in the pause menu so that you could find your way around Salem without having to memorize the location of many of the places that you have to visit.  I found myself running around in circles at times because I couldn’t remember the path that I had taken to get back to a particular location in order to continue my investigations.  I also came across a glitch in the objective reminder function in that it would be stuck on a mission that I had completed some hours earlier and only changed when I entered a whole new area in the game.  Other than that one reminder that you can find in the pause menu, there was no other way to track your progress or to find information about what your current objective is at the time.

For the many shortcomings that I encountered in Murdered: Soul Suspect, I still had and enjoyable time trying to decipher the clues that would lead me to the identity of Ronan’s killer.  Could this game have been better?  Yes.  In a lot of ways.  Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed dusting off my own powers of deduction and tackling the clues to find the answers that I needed to move forward in the game.  If you don’t expect a whole lot from the game, you won’t be disappointed.  At the same time, if you are just looking for a fun game that you can complete in about 12 hours or so that offers monsters, creepy back alleys and ghostly emanations, then you should give this game a try.

 

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