Not many games actively attempt to avoid putting you in danger, but Murdered: Soul Suspect on the PlayStation 4 attempts to walk this less travelled road by having very little combat and putting you in the shoes of a ghost. This unique perspective means that you have limited influence on the physical world around you, making you feel like a near spectator to the murderous events that are unfolding in the town of Salem, Massachusetts.
Detective Ronan O’Connor has a chequered past. A former criminal, he now finds himself on the right side of the law in the employ of the Salem Police Department. This small town police force have a bit of a problem: a serial murderer nicknamed the ‘The Bell Killer’ – due to the bell shaped symbol left behind at his crime scenes – is knocking off the town's citizens left, right, and centre. The boys in blue don’t have a single lead on the killer, but a call reporting a suspicious person leads the protagonist straight into a violent encounter with their prey, that ends with him taking a plunge from a fourth story window to the street below. Still alive after his fall, the villain puts the gravely injured cop out of his misery by shooting him seven times with his own weapon.
Looking down on his own lifeless corpse, Ronan quickly realises that he’s now a ghost that can’t be seen by the living. Taking his death surprisingly well, even a visit from the spirit of his dead wife, Julia, barely phases the recently deceased cop. His expired spouse informs him that until he takes care of his unfinished business in the mortal realm, he’ll be unable to pass into the afterlife, forever doomed to remain an apparition. It doesn’t take a detective to work out that capturing his killer is the key to eternal happiness, so O’Connor sets off to solve the mystery, little knowing that he’ll have to team up with a young medium – the only person who can see him – to delve into the town's dark past and get the closure that he needs.
The story is probably the best thing about the release, though you do need to suspend your disbelief if you’re going to get the most out of it. Fortunately, it’s quite easy to get caught up in O’Connor's quest for justice, and once he falls in with reluctant medium Joy, it’ll ramp up your interest as the mismatched duo are forced to work together to bring an end to the killings. At the end of the day, the story isn’t a masterpiece, but it moves at a swift enough pace, and has the twists and turns that you’d expect from the gaming equivalent of enjoyable airport fiction.
You’ll spend a lot of your time with supernatural excursion hunting for clues as you piece to together the information that you need to progress your investigation. At each key location, you're posed a question, with the only way to find the answer being to hunt for evidence. Most of these clues are found by wandering around the environment until a button prompt appears allowing you to inspect particular points of interest. To help you gauge your progress in each scene, a counter shows how many clues there are to find as well as how many have been found so far, and unsurprisingly this isn’t the most satisfying gameplay, boiling down to you methodically scouring each environment until you’ve found every last clue.
Since you’re a ghost, you can use some newly acquired ethereal skills to help your search for evidence. Not only can you walk through walls, but you can also possess the bodies of the living. While you can’t directly control those that you possess, you can see through their eyes, read their minds, and even influence their thoughts. Since you can barely interact with the physical world, influencing people can prove to be very useful indeed, allowing you to trigger events in the game which can provide access to the vital evidence that you need to progress.
Once you’re in full possession of the clues, you need to select the evidence that’ll provide the solution to the current conundrum. This is rarely just one piece of information, and you’ll need to select multiple facts in order to provide the right answer, whether you’re reconstructing a chain of events or deducing the meaning of graffiti in a mental hospital. You don’t need to be a super sleuth to work out the right answers, and if you’ve been paying any attention to what’s been going on, then you won’t have too much trouble at all.
That said there are times where the pieces of evidence that you’ve gathered will provide very similar information, and this can cause you to choose incorrectly on the odd occasion. Don’t let that worry you, though, as making mistakes only lowers your performance rating for that particular section. Disappointingly, these ratings – symbolised by either one, two, or three police badges – have absolutely no impact on the game at all, with not a single reward or Trophy to be gained for getting things right first time.
The straightforward nature of the investigative areas means that the only challenge to be found in the game is in the stealth sections that crop up from time to time. Early on, you’re told that there are demons roaming the world looking for ghosts to suck the souls from, and at certain points in the story you’ll cross paths with these mean spirits. When you do happen to find a group of these demons blocking your path, you can either sneak past them, or manoeuvre behind them so that you can perform a stealth attack that turns them into a cloud of ash. Should you be spotted by these roaming spirits, though, you’ll need to run and hide in pockets of ghostly energy scattered around the world, until they give up their search and return to their pre-set patrols so that you can try again.
There are a few tools that you can use when taking these demons on, with the chief among them being the ability to see through walls. This ghostly ‘detective vision’ helps you to monitor their movements so that you can pick the right time to walk through a wall and take them out. This is fun initially, but these sections get boring fast, with only the addition of birds you can use as distractions adding complexity to these encounters. As a result, it doesn’t take long before you begin to dread the demons showing up, as they continually put the brakes on any fun that you’re having as you progress through story.
There’s also a modest hub-world that links all of locations that you visit on your hunt for the killer. While it’s a nice inclusion – helping to give Salem a moody sense of place – it ultimately provides very little to distract you from continuing down the main story path. Outside of a few side quests where you help ghosts tie up their unfinished business, the only other thing to do is hunt down the raft of collectibles that litter both the overworld and story locations. Numbering in the hundreds, these collectibles fall into various categories, providing back story on all sorts of topics, ranging from the history of Salem, to how Ronan met and fell in love with his wife. Some of these are quite interesting, but most feel like filler only there to encourage you to explore more of the game's world.
Graphically, the game isn't anything to shout about. Most of the character models aren’t particularly detailed, and the textures can feel a little basic at times, but the fact that it hits 1080p and 60 frames-per-second on the PS4 at least means that it looks crisp and plays smoothly. On the upside, developer Airtight Games has successfully managed to inject an eerie atmosphere into proceedings, and as you wander through the fog shrouded town, you’ll see creepy figures watching you from the distance that dissipate as you approach, as well as a number of other well done aesthetic touches.
Less game and more interactive story, your enjoyment of Murdered: Soul Suspect will be directly proportional to how much you buy into the tale that it tells. Those looking for a title with engaging gameplay will be sorely disappointed by the lack of challenge, boring stealth, and hunt the clue investigations. But if you can overlook its shortcomings and throw yourself headlong into the fiction, you might just find a detective yarn with a supernatural twist that’ll keep you engaged until justice is done.