You might not have ever guessed it considering I’ve never really said a word about it, but Murdered: Soul Suspect is a game I’ve been genuinely curious about since its release. Which, um, was way back in 2014. Y’know, when cars began to fly, entire meals were in a pill, and aliens visited us peacefully to share all the knowledge of every galaxy ever. I remember it well. It’s got all the trappings that I often enjoy in my digital entertainment–ghosts, a murder mystery, lots of collectibles, an emphasis on exploration and not combat, and playing detective. It’s kind of like the Blackwell series of point-and-click adventure games on a bigger budget.
Murdered: Soul Suspect is all about once-criminal, now-cop Ronan O’Connor, who is killed off immediately at the start of the game–major spoiler alert!–as he hunts down the elusive serial killer known as “The Bell Killer”. The game takes place in a fictionalized version of the American town Salem, which is famous for its seaport and burning witches. Anyways, for some reason, Ronan returns as a ghost. His long-dead wife, Julia, also in spirit form, says that the only way he can join her on the other side is by solving the Bell Killer mystery. Sure, sweetie. Will do. I mean, that’s what I was trying to do before I died so I might as well keep on keeping on. Also, I might want to see what is up with that creepy ghost girl.
The gameplay in Murdered: Soul Suspect is both simple and linear though there is some room to explore at your leisure, but that’s only if you want to find all the collectibles, which I totally did. You navigate ghost Ronan around town, and since he is physically body-less, you can pass through walls and other solid objects, so long as they aren’t blessed. There’s also some contrived reasons that Ronan can’t enter buildings with doors that are closed, but I don’t remember the exact phrasing. Your search to unravel the Bell Killer mystery will take you to a church, an apartment building, a graveyard, a mental hospital, and so on. More or less, you walk around an environment, looking for clearly identified clues, and Ronan has some ghostly abilities up his see-through sleeve to help in this endeavor, such as teleportation and possession. Each area has a specific number of clues to collect to progress through the level and the story, and they are found and put together in a way similar to L.A. Noire‘s investigation sequences, except you are not trying to catch people in a lie or hopping to and fro various locations.
The story is entertaining enough, but fairly straightforward, and that’s including the twists, which are not difficult to see coming. Ronan befriends a young, troubled girl called Joy, who is a medium and able to interact with ghosts, and she is, without a doubt, the best part of all of Murdered: Soul Suspect. Eventually, you’ll learn about why the Bell Killer is targeting his victims and how Salem’s history fits into everything. Much like an episode of Criminal Minds or Law & Order, the game steers you towards a specific person as your suspect right until the very end.
There’s been some talk recently about playing detective in games and what ways work and what ways don’t. For sure, Murdered: Soul Suspect does not work, but I’m not mad about it. I didn’t come to it for that one aspect. Still, honestly, the game constantly felt worried that I wouldn’t get the answer right, which occasionally lead to me overthinking things. Take for instance one of the earlier optional “Unfinished Business” cases in which Ronan helps a young female ghost figure out how she was killed and what happened to her body. I scoured the apartment of a cranky old couple until I found all the clues I could, but two of the clues needed to be drawn directly from the old man and woman, respectively, and to do that, you needed to select a clue you already found to influence their train of thought. I assumed the “gardening tools” or “newspaper clipping” would have sufficed, but all both needed was the initial inquiry about a missing girl that started this whole thing off. It felt strange and wrong and that all my years of watching police procedures was for naught.
Some other quibbles because I’m me. First, while I can’t resist picking up every single collectible shining on the ground, I do wish many of the item’s descriptions had voice-over work so that I could continue to explore my surroundings while learning about what I picked up. Instead, you have to read a small, somewhat uninteresting paragraph of text for each one, and I eventually stopped doing this altogether. Second, the game gives you a lot of tools, but not the freedom to do much with them, such as using poltergeist to affect tangible objects, but only when needed to distract a guard in one specific sequence. You can also possess a cat, but only when possessing a cat is vital to getting somewhere high up. Lastly, I too suffered from the “Investigate the War Room” bug, which stayed as my current objective until the end of the game, but thankfully I was able to remember where to go next as I basically played through Murdered: Soul Suspect in a few multi-hour bursts and it’s not too difficult to figure out where to go next.
I enjoyed Murdered: Soul Suspect quite a bunch even though it is far from perfect, but it does sadden me to know that Airtight Games is no more and so a sequel, a chance to improve on the lackluster detective work or zero-fun combat scenarios with demons. The only other game from Airtight Games that I’ve played is Quantum Conundrum, though I walked away from it once the puzzles became too complicated. Oh well. Not everything can be as easy as a ghost going into someone’s body, peeking at their computer screen, and then manipulating their thoughts based on this information to have them do exactly what you want to move the case forward.