As Murdered: Soul Suspect begins, Salem detective Ronan O'Connor is thrown out of an attic window and shot to death in the street. Trapped in the foggy, arcane world of ghosts, Ronan is unable to move on until he deals with the obviously unfinished business of his own murder.
It's a compelling setup, and even if Murdered can't quite overcome the limitations of being a video game trying to tell a mystery, the game is worth a look.
The first thing the game does is lay out just how it chooses to define and deal with ghosts. Yes, you — as newly intangible Ronan — can walk through walls, but only interior walls. The explanation given is that most building exteriors have been "consecrated" against spectral visitors (this is Salem, after all, a town with a history of supernatural events). You have some minor poltergeist powers, allowing you to futz with telephones and printers. You can possess the living to eavesdrop on their secrets, and you're even allowed to inhabit alley cats whose bodies you can use to explore hidden areas.
As a ghost, portions of Old Salem are now visible to you. Functionally, these psychic remnants are just something else that blocks your path, as ghosts cannot walk through other ghostly things. But in terms of adding to the game's pensive atmosphere, the scraps of old buildings and nautical leftovers give you a sense of the harbor town's history while keeping you tantalizingly separate from it.
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Murdered: Soul Suspect is not a scary game, despite the setting. There are some unsettling spirits that leer at you from a distance and then vanish as you approach, but nothing like the jump scares you'd find in a modern horror film.
The big problem with Murdered: Soul Suspect is that it has to shove you along the mystery's path whether or not you're good at sleuthing. Random guessing will get you to the end of the story easily enough, which saps any urgency or drama from your detective work. Murdered rates you on how well you solve mysteries, but it means nothing to both you and the game. The game fails to make you feel smart for piecing things together, making the overall experience more akin to a linear movie than an interactive one.
This might be fine if Murdered did not keep tossing half-baked video gamey elements at you in a weird attempt to make it more gamelike. Evil ghosts patrol certain areas, requiring you to awkwardly sneak behind them so you can "kill" them. Then there's an unfortunately memorable sequence where you have to distract cops while escorting a young girl out of custody. Let's just say the Salem police force's propensity to stare at photocopiers stretches credulity.
Murdered: Soul Suspect delivers a solid ghost story, with the added benefit of you being able to explore a claustrophobic mashup of historic Salem. The one mystery Ronan O'Connor can't solve is how to make a detective video game where you actually feel like a detective.
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