Wednesday, August 31, 2016

VGR Murdered Soul Suspect

I ain't afraid of no ghost wearing a fedora!

VGR: Murdered: Soul Suspect
From Airtight Games/Square Enix
Played on PS4
Also available on PS3, Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC

Type Survival horror/Stealth/Mystery/Adventure game 
Year June 2014

This is a game I was expecting a lot from when it was announced, then lost any interest I had in it. Completely lost track of it. And was pleasantly surprised when I finally played through it, even though it was kind of laborious to go through.

Yeah, I think this sums up pretty much my experience with it.

Murdered: Soul Suspect was marketed as more of a survival horror experience, but it really is a low budget AAA adventure game. Or a big expensive low-budget title, it's kind of hard to put it.

It was made by independent developer Airtight Games, the studio behind a little 2010 Capcom game probably nobody noticed, but I really liked it since it was inspired a lot from one of my favorite comic books The Rocketeer. I'm talking about Dark Void, which was released in the middle of the likes of Dead Rising and the Bionic Commando remake from the same publisher. This game also seems somewhat inspired by the 1996 Peter Jackson cult classic, The Frighteners, specially regarding how the ghosts effects look like on screen and even the design of the main foes in the game very reminiscent of the "Grim Reaper" creature from that same film.

Airtight Games developed Murdered for Square Enix, and the game was released in June 2014 for PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One. Since this was released on both console generations, you knew the graphics would be suitable to both run on the lower-end systems and be shiny enough to pass for a "next gen" title.

It's a murder mystery in the form of a classic adventure game, more than anything else really.

It's the story of a detective who was shot trying to solve a series of murders... and now is spirit remains behind trying to find his own murderer!

The story takes place in the town of Salem, Massachusetts. It opens with the death of detective Ronan O'Connor, a former convict turned cop. Ronan was investigating the unsolved case of the "Bell Killer" serial killer. He was finally able to locate the killer after years of a killing spree, when he's immediately discovered and killed off at the beginning of our game...

.. Ronan appears unharmed on the ground despite falling off a window and receiving 7 bullets in the chest. But he quickly finds out he's a ghost now when coming face to face with his lifeless dead body!

Ronan O'Connor can't go to the afterlife just yet. Which means Ronan has some unresolved business now. He must solve the "Bell Killer" case if he ever wants to be reunited with his dead wife Julia!

But this might prove just as complicated as in his life. The murders appear as completely unrelated unconnected killings, with the only clue always left as a calling card being this bell sign. Detective Ronan O' Connor was able to track down the Bell Killer once before being shot to death. On his journey he quickly meets other ghosts, including the ghost of a young puritan kid called Abigail.

Ronan starts investigating his own murder scene. He sees all the limitations of his newfound ghost condition. He can't interact with anything and nobody sees him... except this girl Joy who happens to be the only witness of his own death! She goes hiding in a nearby church. Turns out she's been looking for her own mother, Cassandra. A medium that was working with the police on the same case! At first Joy doesn't want to help Ronan. But she ends up at the police station and Ronan helps her break out of her cell.

They go look for other victims at the graveyard. The ghost of a drowned girl allows Ronan to see the murderer in action. A trip to a mental hospital get them to meet the only surviving victim left alive. She's actually possessed by her own dead twin sister. Ronan finally deduces the killer's been killing psychics, people with a similar ability to see roaming spirits! Joy is left at the church while Ronan goes to a museum exhibit on the "Salem witch hunts". The Bell Killer's been using similar methods to kill people! Ronan finds a cop that had been messing with some evidence.

Meanwhile the Bell Killer goes after the surviving twin victim and attacks the church! Ronan is forced to go back there, and...

... since this is a detective story, I won't spoil the resolution of this mystery. But the ending actually surprised me how well written, smart and captivating the narrative was. You really want to see the story come to a resolution. I feared it would end with some awful clichés or forced twist at the end but it was pretty good and well hinted during the course of the story. It's a pretty smart conclusion that ties it all up nicely back to Ronan's own murder!

Gameplay is pretty linear and straightforward for an adventure game. Murdered: Soul Suspect is basically a story-driven adventure game where the goal is to roam around a small open city through story, going form a new location to explore to the next one. There are a lot of dialogues and puzzles to solve.

The game plays from a 3rd person perspective. You can free roam around this small recreation of Salem. But I wouldn't exactly call it "sandbox" since that's just a HUB used to travel to the actual stages. You can listen to local bits of stories and help other ghosts. From there you access the parts of town where the story takes place: the church, apartments, the graveyard and the museum.

Ronan can move around freely... to a point. The game will teach you a few rules you need to learn. While the physical world doesn't really stop you there's two things you can't pass through. Other ghostly objects, remnants of the spirit world. And you can only enter places when a door or a window is left open. The game gives you both free movements and yet it's pretty linear at the same time.

Speaking of adventure game-mechanics, there's enough environmental puzzles. You can possess people to listen to their thoughts and influence some memories, but you can't directly control them. Well, aside from cats apparently (And there's enough black cats around, hey, it's Salem, ok!).

Also some times when Joy will tag along, the game will bring some stealth elements to the gameplay. The idea is play around the environment and distract people with "poltergeists" so she can move unseen.

There's finally two big parts of the game. At its best, the game does a great job retranslating detective work and investigation into the actual gameplay. And the adventure genre was the best way to do so. You can look around, find some clues. As you progress with your clues you can try solving the situation or aim for all of the available clues. It's kind of like pixel-hunting in 3D environments, it can be tricky!

The other element is whenever demons pop up, that's right I said demons! Don't let some reviews out there foul you, there's actually no "proper" combat in this game, really. You can't fight the demons. You can try avoiding them. Or you can sneak around, ambush them from behind and destroy them. It's kinda awkward and clunky to be honest.

As you move through the story Ronan will discover new abilities like teleportation, etc.

The idea for this game actually came direct from Square-Enix. They had been looking to design more games directly designed to appeal for a Western audience. So the idea was to put Japanese directors at the head of a small American team of developers.

Murdered is the product of director Yosuke Shiokawa and producer Naoto Sugiyama, creative directors at Square-Enix. Shiokawa had this idea for a ghost protagonist. The team at Airtight Games was chosen by Square-Enix, they looked into various ideas around this concept, they almost went for a more superhero style at first. The team tried their best combining both Western and Eastern philosophies regarding ghosts. This was a pretty original back and forth between the American and Japanese of the team.

The blend of this real world and the ghost world can be really pleasing to the eye. Graphics are actually pretty good.. to a point. I found the environments and effects looking pretty great. But the 3D models of the character left a bit to be desired.

The visuals are not always quite impressive, it's a mixed bag really. On one hand you have really nice design ideas. The spirit world looks eerie and interesting. And some of the places you visit can look gorgeous. But the characters were pretty lackluster, from the animation to their details. You know this had to run on the last gen as well.

When it's honestly said and done, Murdered: Soul Suspect is not a very difficult, challenging nor long game. It's more like an interactive story.

Some people complained about the combat, but I'll say it - there's actually no combat in this game! There are some clunky stealth scenes, sure. Disposing or avoiding demons doesn't really count (I mean, or you must also count the insult sword-fighting from Monkey Island as "combat mechanics"!)

The game has its fair share of issues, believe me. But I found the story captivating and it does its job making you want to play through this game, even if it's just a short simple adventure.

It's a good detective story, with ghosts. And great mood and a noir atmosphere.

The game has a lot of style. I really enjoyed the detective part of the game. And the whole Salem witch trials makes for a fairly compelling narrative to play around in a game.

And for completists there are a lot of side missions to help other ghosts around the town or the levels, as well as about 242 optional collectibles! Those can be found hidden in the scenery or by looking into ghosts stories.

Finally a word on composer Jason Graves' soundtrack for the game - it also feels kind of rushed like parts of the game, but just the same it creates a great atmosphere and tone for the story. It's kinda cliché, been there, heard that before, but it does the job. The main theme is fantastic, though.

Overall, Murdered: Soul Suspect is a pretty fun mystery/detective adventure game, Well Worth looking into if you like this sort of story.

A lot of elements of the gameplay are kinda dull. Walking through walls never feels as good as you'd wish. And the "more gameplay parts" of the game avoiding demons or finding a way to destroy them is pretty repetitive. Playing around with the environments is pretty limited. But discovering the ghosts' stories and solving the mystery was really good!

Despite some harsh criticism the game received from some reviews, I didn't find it that bad and it was more enjoyable than some big title I played through recently.

I still found the game had plenty of good qualities and it was easy overlooking its low-budget aspect at times. Despite its flaws it was an enjoyable experience!

Sadly Airtight Games was forced to close shortly after the release of the game, in July 2014 one month after releasing Murdered: Soul Suspect...

I give it:
2 / 3 Necronomicons!

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