Murdered: Soul Suspect shouldn't exist. It's a AAA adventure game, one where the primary gameplay mechanic isn't shooting bullets--but rather, extensive note-taking. It's a new IP on current-gen consoles, set to launch in 2014--well after a new generation of hardware has debuted. As publishers grow increasingly comfortable with me-too sequels and remakes, Murdered is quite the oddity.
And thank goodness the industry can still support these odd creative endeavors. This is developer Airtight Games' second collaboration with Square Enix, having worked with them on the equally brainy Quantum Conundrum. In collaboration with designer Kim Swift, that title invited comparisons to Portal. Murdered, however, can be best described as a combination of Ghost Trick and Geist--and even then, it doesn't quite capture what Airtight has created.
"The most difficult murder to solve is your own" may be a cheesy tagline, but it's an effective setup for a supernatural murder mystery. A gorgeous CG intro (thanks Square Enix!) sets the scene: detective Ronan O'Connor is thrown out of a window, plummeting to his doom. His assailant isn't satisfied, though, coming downstairs to finish the job--by shooting multiple rounds into the downed officer's back. Thus starts your journey into the afterlife, and your quest to find out why exactly you were killed.
Being dead has its advantages, Ronan discovers. In the limbo work of "Dusk," he's privy to knowledge that mere mortals can't have. Undetected by the living, he can overhear conversations of the other investigators at the scene. That's how you discover how disliked Ronan was--a good cop that may have gotten himself mixed up with the wrong crowd.
Ronan can also possess people, and while he can't directly control them, he can look through their eyes and hear through their ears. He can also put thoughts into their heads--minor suggestions that may clarify a muddled thought, for example. He'll also be able to discover "memory residues" in the environment that replay dramatic moments trapped in the environment. He'll gain even more insight by studying these video replays of memories. In this case, he discovers that there was a witness to his murder--something the cops haven't discovered.
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Before his death, Ronan was a great detective, and his innate analytical skills are represented by "the mind's eye." The game augments the scene with text strewn about the environment, giving the player important clues as to what to focus on in the investigation. The first scene centers around your freshly dead corpse, and you'll have to deduce "what do the cops know" and "what do I know that the cops don't?"
You'll literally have to answer these questions to progress. When you're ready to make your deduction, questions appear and your answers can be chosen from key words that are derived from the clues that you've acquired. It's somewhat reminiscent of the interrogations of LA Noire or the cross-examinations of Phoenix Wright. (It's also why we pointed out "extensive note-taking" as the primary gameplay mechanic.)
While we'd be quite content simply playing ghostly CSI, Murdered still has an element of danger to it. Limbo isn't exactly the safest place to be, as there are demons that roam the environment, trying to eat freshly-dead souls. Thankfully, Murdered doesn't devolve into some kind of ghost-busting brawler. Instead, "combat" against the demons feels like a puzzle game.
Ghosts can't cross interior and exterior walls without an opening, like an open door. However, you can pass through any interior walls. In order to destroy the demons, you'll somehow have to sneak behind them. Sure, you can clip through walls to your heart's intent, but the best way to hide is to possess a human. When inside a body, you'll be hidden from the demons--essentially using the living as tanks to hide from the demons that seek you.
With such a unique premise, it's unclear how it'll all come together. How will investigations become more challenging? Will running away from demons get tiresome? While there may still be these questions, Murdered: Soul Suspect is nonetheless an exciting, refreshing game to experience. It shouldn't exist--but we're glad it does.