Whodunnits. Commonly associated with TV crime shows, discovering who passed wind, and now, with Murdered: Soul Suspect, is the premise for a video game. There’s good reason for that, too. Whodunnits rely on tightly scripted narratives with carefully placed twists, and barring the talent present at Telltale Games, there’s few developers able to make a game focused almost entirely on story.
When first announced, I had optimistic hopes for Soul Suspects’ method of storytelling – Rex, a detective shot seven times through the chest, must track down his own killer and unravel a mystery that’s been plaguing Salem, Massachusetts for more than a decade. With naught but the clothes on his back, a fedora, and a burn-less cigarette that’d put tobacco companies out of business, Rex’s ghost travels through church, mental hospital and the friendly haunted neighbourhood to close the case.
To do that, the player wanders around each of the game’s seven environments, eavesdropping on police conversations, stealth killing demons, and scouring the game world for revealing clues. When enough clues are found, the player is prompted to solve the mystery at hand by selecting the most relevant pieces of evidence. Fail, and there is no penalty…wait, whaaaat? For some reason Airtight Games have decided the one unique calling card of the game should be void of challenge. In fact, Prima Games official online guide to the game, in the advanced tips section, says;
“To be fair, Murdered: Soul Suspect presents little in the way of a serious challenge … In one particular situation, players must race to save (spoiler) by selecting the proper clue to rescue her from the Bell Killer. For those struggling with this part (and because it is one of the only challenging moments of the game), selecting the (spoiler) clue will cause the Bell Killer to break his hold on (spoiler) and move you that much closer to completing the game.”
I actually failed this section on my first attempt. Guess what happened? The game crashed (seemingly dumbstruck someone had failed), I was confronted by an error message, and then booted back to the PS4 home page. It wasn’t the first time I’d encountered technical hiccups, either. For some reason, the pause screen and supporting characters have a tendency to ignore all progress made, attempting to convince me my current objective was one I had completed in the first hour. And dying, which is rare, leads to a 30 second loading screen for you to gloss your eyes over. Thankfully, the pain was all over in less than 8 hours.
So with glitches abounding, and the game’s detective elements being completely dismissable, does Soul Suspect get anything right? Well, the odd plot twists momentarily intrigue, plot pacing isn’t half bad, and you get to take control of pussy cats (yes, there is a completely useless meow option, but no chance to brush fragile objects off high dressing tables).
Every other opportunity Airtight Games gets to set itself apart, it squanders. The characters are as lifeless as Rex’s butchered body, and stealth killing demons – aside from having no practical relevance to the story – is an annoyance seemingly only included to make the experience seem more gamey. You’d think just being a poltergeist would have some novel payoffs (like terrorizing the local cemetery to make NPCs crap their virtual pants), but Murdered fumbles that too. Instead, poltergeist Rex gets to ring telephones and switch on televisions that nobody ever takes notice of, save for the odd printer used to distract police officers, and a single vacuum cleaner used to attract a nearby character.
The result is a B-grade interactive movie masquerading as a video game. Sure, you press buttons and shit simultaneously happens on screen, but it’s all a façade for what is a mediocre narrative with game mechanics as weightless and transparent as the ghosts that haunt the game’s environments.