Play or Eject is a place where we get to look at some of the games that might not have reached the highs of some other releases in the year and try to help you decide whether these games should be played or avoided like the plague.
Some of these games may sit on preowned shelves enticing you in to give them a go, but this still doesn’t mean you should pick them up and spend your hard earned cash.
Sadly, developer studio Airtight Games recently closed its doors, which has led us to this edition of Play or Eject. Murdered: Soul Suspect was Airtight Games final release.
Murdered: Soul Suspect was released to reviews of varying quality, which could explain the reason for the studios demise. Scores seem to average a meagre 5 out of 10 and many critics appeared to enjoy slating the title, but we have decided to take a look for ourselves and help you choose whether to Play or Eject?
When I heard of the concept behind Murdered, I must admit I was very excited. In a time when truly original ideas for games (and even movies!) seem to be running a little thin, Murdered instantly jumped out at me and gave me something to look forward to, in what feels like a slight gaming drought at the moment.
The story of Murdered revolves around Ronan, a detective with a dirty past who is on the case to find an elusive serial killer in the town of Salem, Massachusetts – which is famed for it’s history of witchcraft and ghosts.
In the opening of the game, Ronan closes in on the killer but it all goes wrong when the killer overpowers Ronan and throws him out of a window. The killer then proceeds to finishes Ronan off by shooting him as he lay helpless on the ground.
Perhaps not the greatest start for our hero but in the case of Murdered, death is the beginning as you take control of Ronan as a ghost.
Ronan has a vision of his dead wife who tells him that he can not be with her until he has finished his business that connects him to the living world. Ronan takes this to mean that he must bring his killer to justice and unravel the mystery of the Bell Killer’s identity and motives. To do this he needs help from a reluctant young girl named Joy, who has the ability to see ghosts. Joy resents her gifts and often attempts to ditch Ronan, but due to circumstances that link her to the murders, she is pulled into helping Ronan uncover the truth.
The premise may sound a little far fetched for some, but the idea of someone solving their own murder was an appealing concept to me, and besides the rather unusual Shadow of Memories (PS2 and Xbox), I have hardly ever seen this integrated into a game.
After seeing several trailers, I did wonder how one could take this concept and turn it in to a game?
The result is a third person, stealth and puzzle solving game as you move from area to area, finding collectables, solving side cases and piecing together evidence from crime scenes, which will give you a lead to your next objective.
Now, although this game is available on the XBOX 360 and PS3, it is also available on the XBOX ONE and PS4, and it is on the latter where I played through this ghostly adventure. You may expect to see some visual disparity between the previous and next gen versions of the game, sadly this is not the case.
That is not to say the game is ugly but I can’t see how the game benefits from the power that the next-gen has to offer. Other than some smoothing and a higher frame rate both previous and next gen versions are identical. Even on the PS4 cut scenes still seem a little choppy and a little rough around the edges. Something that is sadly prevalent throughout the game, but don’t let that deter you as the overall stylistics of the game set the tone and mood of this creepy ghost story.
So what does it mean to play as a ghost? Well, being a ghost comes with all of the “perks” that you would expect: walking through walls, talking to other lingering spirits, possession of people to hear their thoughts and interacting with items in a poltergeist style manner such as turning on TVs and opening electronically locked doors.
With all of this in mind though, you will still feel the need to stick to the usual rules of engagement by walking down corridors and not necessarily passing through the walls when in certain areas. As passing through so many walls occasionally becomes quite disorientating and you often find yourself backtracking just to be sure you are still heading in the right direction. But passing through walls is certainly a neat trick and when you are familiar with an area, walking through entire rooms and cutting out the winding corridors is certainly satisfying.
But not all walls and objects can be passed through as you find out when exploring Salem. The clever designers of Murdered have invoked a rule that buildings can not be entered or exited through doors or windows unless they are already open. This is due to most buildings in Salem being consecrated because of the deep supernatural history that Salem has. This also helps to give further explanation as to why you can not just enter any old building willy-nilly.
The world of Salem is also home to a lot of ghost constructs, which is also due to the deep history of spirits and witchcraft in in the town. The constructs can only be passed through by humans and not ghosts. Many real world buildings will have a ghost wall passing right through it, making navigation and puzzle solving that little bit trickier.
The town of Salem is still a little confusing and it is a little difficult to comprehend that the apartments where you start, a cemetery, a mental asylum, a police station, a museum and a seriously questionable abandoned house are all within walking distance of one another. With ghost wall constructs blocking certain routes travelling wasn’t straight forward. Murdered doesn’t feature an in game map, which often meant I would be running around aimlessly trying to remember where one of the key buildings was situated.
Salem and the various locations where your investigations will take you are riddled with collectables, which shed some light on some of the ghost stories that the world has to offer. You will also find a history of Salem as well as collectables, which explain Ronan’s past and some of his memories with his wife Julia. All of the collectables are not particularly hard to find and are highlighted by a yellow light beacon, which makes them relatively easy to discover as long as you are prepared to take the time to explore your surroundings. I did enjoy taking the time to find these, but did feel that they weren’t particularly challenging to locate. This being said, this tends to fit the general feel of the game from start to finish.
The game is never truly challenging but it does have its nuances. The game’s challenges come in the form of demons, who linger in between the world of the living and of the dead. These spectral demons try and claim the souls of ghosts who remain attached to the living world.
These demons can be tackled and defeated by sneaking behind them and exorcising them. All you have to do is hold down one your shoulder triggers and then when prompted you must hold a direction along with a selected button. Sounds simple enough right? Well the answer is : yes and no.
I am a lover of stealth games and nothing beats sneaking and stalking upon your enemy but this game just doesn’t seem to get it right, which is a real shame.
The demons search a particular area until they find you, but negotiating your way around until you find a way to sneak upon them and handle them is very much a case of trial and error. Using a demon sense, which is a little like the detective mode in the Batman: Arkham franchise, demons are highlighted in orange and allow you to see them through walls. This detection mode will give you a slight edge to sneak up on your enemies, but you will still come across a few issues here.
One major problem is the enemy placement. It is almost as if the developers threw the enemies in to an area and put them in to a patrol pattern and then forgot about it! Being detected by the demons will cause them to charge and focus their gaze upon you. This of course means game over unless you are able to find some place to hide, which in Murdered: Soul Suspect is hard to come across.
Hiding spaces are areas which are just as randomly placed as the demons. These spaces are single voids where a spirit once lingered and they allow you to occupy this space while the demons look for you. A demon can still find you in these spaces if he looks for you hard enough so you must teleport from space to space until the demon gives up his search.
Sounds simple enough, but these spaces are tough to manoeuvre around when in tight areas. Demons can even block your view to the other hiding spaces that you wish to transport to and you’ll often be detected as a result. As a whole, the entire concept of combat and stealth feels like something that has been added in to the game and the focus on this feature has just been forgotten about.
These moments would ordinarily help to add some contrasting changes of pace, such as combat and Predator modes do for the Batman: Arkham franchise. If this mode was perfected, Murdered would have a great balance of puzzle solving and combat but this unfortunately is not the case and something of a missed opportunity. What is even more unfortunate, is that this features throughout the whole of Murdered: Soul Suspect. Sadly the game doesn’t have any other enemies and disabling these spectres is very much a ‘one trick pony’. The game certainly would have benefited from having different classes of demons that required a different approach or technique. Something that can be a frequent curse from low budget titles such as Murdered.
The concept of this game is outstanding but it’s the execution that makes Murdered fall short.
But despite its flaws I enjoyed my time with Murdered. The crime scenes I stumbled upon and pieced together, the ghosts that I helped move on to their afterlife by solving their unfinished business and the overall story arc that unraveled before me was intriguing.
The story, as mentioned at the start of this article, may seem a little too much for some to take in or get their heads around but I feel that this unusual and relatively original plot just goes to prove that there is still hope out there for those that love a good story. Murdered is definitely an alternative gaming experience for those who are tired of just pumping endless amounts of bullets into enemies, on behalf of which ever army of injustice that any old games developer has concocted.
Games such as Heavy Rain and The Last of Us proved to us that a strong narrative can be carried by strong gameplay. If the guys over at Airtight Games had a bigger budget, the time and some more great minds like those in Quantic Dream and Naughty Dog, Murdered: Soul Suspect could have been something truly special.
The main issue is that this game just falls short of everything it could be. It would have been outstanding if just a little more work had gone in to it and this will become abundantly clear as you breeze through the game relatively unchallenged. You will have fun along the way but you will only see that this is a hugely missed opportunity and sad that the guys at Airtight Games will not get another chance to make a follow up to Murdered or show you what else they can do.
So the result? Murdered: Soul Suspect is great fun and has a great twist in store for those that play. Murdered: Soul Suspect may not set the world on fire or be in your top 5 games of all time, but it is fun and should be given a punt for you to try something unique.
Go on, see what else the world of gaming can offer and what other studios are prepared to risk and try. Give Murdered: Soul Suspect a Play.