Let me tell you about a ghost story. In fact, it’s the story of how you became a ghost, and what you did afterwards.
Murdered: Soul Suspect is a 2014 game from Square Enix in which you play as Ronan. A man who has moved on from his troubled criminal past and become a policeman. You have been chasing a suspected serial killer, nicknamed ‘The Bell Killer’ because of a drawing of a bell found at each murder.
As the game begins, you are thrown out of a window to the street below – and your spirit leaves your body. You watch as your killer stands over your body and empties the clip of your own gun into your chest.
You see the traditional white light, and moving towards it, you see your dead wife waiting for you – but she tells you that you cannot pass on to the afterlife until you have resolved the unfinished business you have on Earth.
The rest of the game is, obviously, your search to find out who killed you and why.
How do you play?
The game consists of various investigation scenes, often the locations of the various crimes that the Bell Killer commits, or has previously committed. In each scene, you look around the area to find various clues – the murder weapon, a footprint, all the usual things. But sometimes you find vestigial spirit energy that the people have left behind, which can trigger brief flashbacks into what happened, revealing missing witnesses or the location of otherwise hidden evidence.
As a ghost, you have various powers. Most obviously, you can walk through the walls inside buildings, allowing you to wander in and out of people’s apartments. Getting in and out of each building requires finding an open door or window or someone to open one for you, though this is rarely an issue as once you’ve completed a section, someone will be there to do it for you.
Also, you can possess people and read their surface thoughts or occasionally use clues that you’ve found to influence them into remembering the vital information that you need. Sometimes you get to play minor tricks like a poltergeist, turning on a fan or making a printer spew out paper.
Once you’ve found enough of the clues in an area, you put them together and get the information to move you on to the next scene.
Your journey to the next location usually means getting through some kind of obstacle. Sometimes you need to possess a cat that can fit through small spaces and climb up trees, other times there are walls that you can’t walk through or spectral artefacts blocking your route that you have to get around.
More often there are demons infesting the building. If you sneak up on these, you can ambush them – hit the combination of buttons that comes up on screen quickly enough and they die. Otherwise, it’s run off and hide in various pockets of spectral energy, if you can. The demons will chase you for a while, but if you can keep shifting from one pocket to another they’ll get bored and return to their patrol pattern.
During your investigation, you’ll encounter Joy, a young medium. She’s trying to find her mother, who was helping the police with the search for the killer. Joy can help with some of the things that Ronan can’t do any more, like opening doors and talking to people. Some of the travel stages are shepherd quests where you have to use poltergeist powers on mechanical objects to distract various guards so that she can sneak past.
You’ll also find memories of your past life with your wife as you wander the streets, which help to flesh out (as it were) your character. And obviously, you’ll encounter some of your former police colleagues on the way.
In between finding your own killer, there are a few – very few – side quests. These are very short, sometimes one scene mysteries where you find a ghost who needs help to move on from this world. In addition, there are various items in each of the prominent locations which, if you collect them all, will unlock someone’s memories of spooky events from the past.
Since this is a murder mystery, I won’t go into too much detail about the story itself. I will say that the game is set in modern day Salem, Massachusetts and that will probably be enough for you to guess what you’re going to discover is at the heart of the story.
How does the game rate?
Murdered: Soul Suspect looks good. The design of the main characters is good, and because the central cast is fairly small, you don’t end up seeing the same character models over and over again. The town is also nicely rendered.
The investigation scenes are OK, and I admit that I’m not sure how I would do them better. But they are basically just a case of looking around one or two rooms until you’ve found as many things to click on as the onscreen counter says there are, then picking the obviously significant one. This then gives Ronan a sudden revelation about what happened, but you will usually be several steps ahead of him.
The demons are the worst part of the game, in my opinion. They’re quite frustrating to begin with – I found trying to co-ordinate my approach with the ambush button and then finding the combo difficult at the start. By the end, though, I had got much better at it – and this meant that they were practically irrelevant. You’re left wondering why all the other ghosts around town haven’t wiped them out already, since it’s so easy to kill them.
The sections where you have to escort Joy into or out of a building were more fun, but again very straightforward. Find the obstacle, click on something nearby and she’ll sneak past while they go to investigate it.
There are also the bits where you get to possess a cat and clamber up trees and through air vents, which add a little variety
The side quests add to the sense of the world, with small stories of personal accomplishment or tragedy, but they are so short as to just be a few minutes diversion from the main case. The collection quests where you have to find all the items in an area are less interesting. All you get as a reward is a few minutes of a voice telling you a short snippet of a ghost story. Because Ronan isn’t involved in it, it feels rather irrelevant.
I had a few technical problems running the game – notably, about halfway through, the volume cut out from the cut scenes, but the game play sounds remained on. It seems that for some reason the game decided that the cut scene soundtrack was going to play through an old speaker system that hasn’t been connected to my PC for years. Removing that from my devices list in Windows fixed the issue. This seems to be a fairly common bug in the game.
The other problem I had with the gameplay is a common one is this kind of game – you’ve found 7 out of 8 clues in an area, and you’re sure that item is the last one but if you aren’t standing in just the right place and just the right angle it won’t let you click on it. So you wander around the room for another five minutes looking at everything that you’ve already eliminated, only to go back to where you were and suddenly it lights up for you.
Would I recommend this?
Overall is M:SS a good game?
The central idea – playing a ghost trying to solve his own murder and save an innocent girl – is really good. Ronan is a good enough hero – your typical hard-boiled cop, though he seems about sixty years out of place in a modern setting – and Joy is great, a teenage psychic trying to cope with her mother’s disappearance, as well as all the annoying things that these ghosts keep wanting her to do so that they can get their happy ending.
She could have been so annoying, but the execution and performance make her the best thing in the game – I could easily imagine a series of follow-up adventures starring her.
The biggest problem is the plot. The story is fine, but it’s extremely linear, with very few chances for sidetracking, none of which make any overall difference to the game. It’s also very short. I finished it in about ten hours, and a fair chunk of that was getting killed repeatedly on a couple of early sections.
It’s also fairly predictable – a murder mystery with only a couple of suspects. If you haven’t figured out what’s happening considerably before Ronan does, I’ll be surprised.
There’s no difficulty setting and no levelling of your character. Replay value, as a mystery, is extremely limited anyway. If there were more mysteries to solve, and you had to gain experience from them before you got the ghost power that you’d need for the next mission, it would help to build the game up. You might play once for the plot, and a second time to try to find all the collectibles that you missed. Beyond that, I doubt whether you’d go back again.
The demon killing bits, as noted above, seemed to have been stuck in at random just to provide some combat. But the fights are all exactly the same – get to the right place and press the right button – and they don’t seem to fit with the rest of the game. Since the main character is a cop, shot with his own gun, why not let him have a ghostly gun, loaded with the seven bullets that killed him, which he has to conserve as much as possible to kill only the demons that he can’t get past any other way?
If I’d paid full price for it, I would have felt very let down. As it was, I found it for about £6 online and it entertained me for a weekend. At that price, I’d say it was worth a look, if you like the idea. I wouldn’t pay more, though.
Overall, it just feels as though they could have done so much more with the concept. What they ended up with was a game that would have made a much better movie.
Steve works full-time for the NHS and tries not to spend too much of his day plotting out his series of vampire novels. Away from the office, he divides his time between playing games where he is a vampire, playing games where he hunts vampires, and playing with Lego (he has numerous Lego vampires).