A plunge from a fourth floor window to the street below isn’t quite enough to kill hard as nails detective Ronan O’Connor. The seven bullets that follow are. The introduction to our hands-on with the PlayStation 4 version of Murdered: Soul Suspect was certainly arresting, and made us eager to find out more about this upcoming action adventure title from developer Airtight Games. Fortunately, the lengthy slice of gameplay on offer gave us a good idea of how the final product will play, while still leaving us pondering whether we’d merely scratched the surface of the release, which is set to materialise in June.
Despite being forcibly shuffled off the mortal coil by the serial killer terrorising the town of Salem, Detective O’Connor isn’t taking it lying down. Standing over his own dead body – a ghost of his former self – it quickly becomes clear that no one else can see the recently deceased spirit, and he’s left a silent witness to the scene unfolding in front of him, as local residents attempt first aid on his lifeless corpse. A glance down a side alley alerts Ronan to the presence of another apparition – this one in the guise of a small girl. After approaching her, his suspicions are confirmed: he’s dead, and in order to move on to the afterlife, he’ll need to bring to a close the unfinished business that’s tying his soul to the living world.
Convinced that solving his own murder and uncovering the identity of his masked killer will set him free, he returns to the scene of the crime to pick up the trail. In the intervening time, his colleagues in blue have cordoned off the area and started their own enquiries into the death of their comrade. It’s at this point that we got our first taste of the investigative gameplay that formed a major part of our demo.
Before you can probe the environment for clues, you’re posed a question which you’ll need to find the answer to in order to move the plot forwards. Unleashed on the crime scene, we were left to scour the environment, finding anything that could provide a solution to the conundrum. Some clues were easy to find, but others required the application of Ronan’s newly acquired ghostly skills. With the ability to enter the bodies of the living, he can read their minds, see through their eyes, eavesdrop on conversations, and also trigger actions by planting an idea in his host’s brain. Once you think that you’ve got the clues required to make the needed deductions, you'll need to select the right combination of evidence that you’ve uncovered in order to progress.
We found the initial investigation in the demo to be rather enjoyable, as it felt similar to parts of L.A. Noire – albeit with a supernatural twist. That said, the final product will have to walk a fine line if these puzzles are to be challenging enough to feel rewarding, while not being so difficult that you’re left floundering for the correct answer. This problem became evident in another sleuthing section, where an indicator showed that we had four more clues to find – despite the fact that we weren’t able to discover them all until we’d made a judgment from the data that we did have. This lack of clarity led to a frustrating five minutes of aimlessly wandering, which left us wondering just what on Earth we were missing.
Bridging these clue hunting puzzles is an interlude that allows you to wander around the apartment building that’s at the centre of your untimely demise. After spotting a few collectible items and interacting with the block’s residents – both alive and deceased – it didn’t take long to find out there are also souls stuck in limbo that are not part of the welcoming party for the recently deceased. These demonic ghosts are keen to feast on other spirits in the afterlife, and are best avoided by the spooky sleuth if he’s to continue on his quest to track down his assailant.
Evading these ghouls requires the use of other supernatural skills, with not only your apparition’s ability to walk through walls helping him to evade the evil spirits, but also a form of ‘detective vision’ – a staple of stealth games these days – allowing the cop to track their movements through walls, while also seeing where their gaze is resting. Manoeuvring behind any of the entities brings up a button prompt for a ‘takedown’, and a short quick-time event later, you’ll have turned the tables on your enemies, burning them up into a cloud of ectoplasmic ash. While the ability to move through walls gives you a number of routes around these spectres, it’s still easy to blunder into their vision, which will force you to run and hide in any one of the ghostly energy pockets that litter the environment. Even if you make it to one of these safe havens, your hunter will begin searching the hiding places close to where they last saw you. Only by flowing invisibly from one pocket to another will you be able to get enough distance between you and your pursuer for them to give up the chase.
From what we saw, the town of Salem seems an appropriate location for this supernatural thriller, and the ghostly sheen to the characters and environment sets the tone perfectly. That said, if you’re looking for a next-gen powerhouse, you may be disappointed, as the graphics – while nice – offer little more than a higher resolution upgrade of what we’ve already seen on the PlayStation 3, with very few visual bells and whistles on display.
Alas, we love a good mystery, and when our time with Murdered: Soul Suspect came to an end, we were intrigued by the flashes of the wider story hinted at. It’s too early to make any firm conclusions, but as long as the investigation puzzles provide a challenge without requiring large leaps of logic, then we could be in store for an interesting detective yarn with a unique supernatural twist.
Have you got the skills to solve this otherworldly case, or does the premise of this title leave you cold like a corpse? Spook us in the comments section below.