Given the recent hysteria over Watch Dogs and that annual festival of advertising we call E3, it comes as little surprise that Murdered: Soul Suspect flew slightly under the radar. Undoubtedly a unique idea even if it borrows more than a little heavily from Hitman and L.A. Noire, it’s one worth investigating (excuse the pun).
The central premise is that you are a detective named Ronan, barred from entering Heaven until the unsolved case of your murder is resolved. After taking seven bullets in the chest in full hearing range of several witnesses, the local police still seem unable to solve the crime, so it falls to your ethereal limbo-form to do so instead. Oddly for a murder mystery, the villain is shown straight away to be a long-running serial murderer who the police seem unable to trace.
The writing is adequate although the plot is a little by the numbers for the initial segments of the game. Much more of the fun of the game is derived from flavour text and the internal thoughts of characters rather than chunks of actual plot.
Rather surprisingly compared to most ghost-based games, Murdered actually allows the player to travel through walls and objects. For those used to cheating in other games by playing with noclip enabled, it feels almost wrong although the game still finds ways to constrain the player through certain impenetrable objects (mainly exterior walls).
Previous games of this level of creativity – most relevantly Geist – have fallen down on the actual gameplay front, but given that Murdered was developed by Airtight Games, whose previous titles include jetpack-based shooter Dark Void and the Portal creator’s brainchild Quantum Conundrum, there were high expectations going in.
The investigations, which form some 30-40% of the game, are well-designed and rather reminiscent of those in L.A. Noire. The player explores a relatively small environment, looking at clues and possessing bystanders in order to control their actions, eavesdrop on their thoughts or – in one particularly clever moment – taking over a cat in order to crawl through a small space. At any point when you feel as though you’ve gathered sufficient clues, you can attempt to piece together what’s happened, although a more complete picture (not to mention achievements) is gained when all clues are gathered.
Puzzles too are usually well-designed and based around using established mechanics in creative ways. For instance, early in the game a pool of Ronan-consuming goo must be passed in order to proceed, but can’t be avoided or jumped across. The solution lies in possessing a priest vacuuming his floor, and waiting for his (living and thus immune) body to pass over the danger. At no point is your hand held and it makes the sense of accomplishment all the better for working out a puzzle on your own.
Where Murdered falls slightly flat is in its exploration/combat sections. When venturing near demons, Ronan must hide in clouds of ghostly vapour to avoid their ire. To actually kill enemies, they have to be approached from behind and executed stealthily. The problem is the game of cat and mouse played for every enemy quickly becomes tedious and it breaks up the flow of gameplay to spend several minutes battling each foe. Far better would have been to simply have an exploration and investigation based game. Not everything needs to have combat in order to be challenging and puzzles would have worked just as well and fit the tone better.
Graphics on the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions seem to have taken a hit and been scaled down from the new generation and PC versions rather than those being scaled up. This is the right direction, since it shows that developers are finally working specifically for new platforms rather than simply repurposing their old material, but it does mean those without them will suffer. For example, textures on NPC models are shockingly poor quality, and lighting leaves something to be desired in dark areas.
However much the game will be overshadowed by E3 announcements, it still deserves a play for the good effort made to switch up commonly used mechanics and innovate with its gameplay style. Although the writing and combat need work, they don’t seriously detract from what is certainly a fun game from a great little developer.