In its creators’ words, Murdered: Soul Suspect is all about the “fantasy of being a ghost.” A supernatural detective game that takes its cues from the likes of L.A. Noire and Frogwares’ Sherlock Holmes series, Murdered: Soul Suspect is the latest effort from publisher Square Enix and developer Airtight Games (Quantum Conundrum, Dark Void). TechnologyGuide was recently able to see a hands-off demo of the upcoming mystery, which is currently on track to launch in early 2014.
Ronan O’Connor is no Patrick Swayze, but he is a dead man walking. Literally; he’s the protagonist of Murdered: Soul Suspect and a detective who is tasked with solving his own murder. Airtight has mentioned Die Hard and John McClane as a source of inspiration, and that’s believable—there are occasional moments of humor amongst all the grisliness, and Ronan even sports a New York-ish accent.
He’s also very dead. Our demo opened up with Ronan’s unfortunate demise, wherein an obfuscated killer threw him out of an apartment window and shot him repeatedly in the chest. Yes, there is at least one act of defenestration in this game.
It doesn’t take long before Ronan’s ghost arises out of his body, bullet wounds and all still implanted in his midsection. It’s this hazy, bluish, spiritual version of Ronan that players will lead through the town of Salem, Massachusetts—a setting Airtight deliberately chose due to its history with witchcraft and the supernatural. We saw Ronan stand by, helpless and unable to interact as his brother swears revenge on the killer and his fellow cops mock his lifeless corpse. It seems like Ronan got the job done but wasn’t the most beloved guy on the force.
From here, we watched as Ronan began to search for any clues that may help him crack his own murder case. He still walks and moves like an ordinary guy, but as a ghost trapped in a limbo realm dubbed “the Dusk,” he’s forced to interact with the environment differently. Because he doesn’t physically exist, he can’t touch or be heard by actual people or objects. He can’t talk to the living. He can’t pick up any real clues or objects (i.e., no guns here). And, because the people of this Salem have consecrated their buildings to protect against spirits, he can’t walk through front doors. Okay then.
But for all the ways he is stripped of power, Ronan gains more than a few nifty tricks thanks to his intangible form. He can walk right through walls, people or physical things that aren’t doors, for one. He can manipulate certain parts of the environment, like turning on the stove in an apartment building to distract a tenant he needs to get by.
He can also possess living people and see the world through their eyes. Early on in the demo, for example, Ronan invaded the body of a police officer and glanced at his notepad, which fed him new information about his murder case. He couldn’t take full control of other people, but he could essentially eavesdrop on any conversations and internal thoughts they may be having, and then gently influence them with his own feelings. He can also use these other people to get himself inside of the aforementioned consecrated buildings.
Airtight has admittedly built a complex system of dos and don’ts for Ronan in his ghost form, and there does seem to be the potential for some dissonance in how these rules work. While Ronan’s powers are unique, and while we’re fans of games that aren’t perversely committed to empowering players, Airtight will have to make sure the game’s environments are consistent enough for these rules to not become annoyances. Plus, not being able to walk through doors is a little weird.
All of that explains how Murdered: Soul Suspect’s world works. As for Ronan himself, he spends the majority of time investigating clues, making deductions, and, to some extent, fighting demons. The investigation process itself should feel familiar to anyone who’s played detective games (which still isn’t a very plentiful genre) before.
Players will take Ronan around the environment to look for and analyze objects of interest. Once you have enough noteworthy clues and bits of information to come to a conclusion, you make a deduction and move along to the next area of interest. Those smaller deductions are them eventually brought together into a larger one.
It’s a continuous process of fact-finding and critical thinking, but it’s all done through a few simple-to-understand interfaces. When Ronan tried to determine his cause of death, for instance, the words “shot,” “fall” and others floated on screen, prompting players to determine the correct order of events based on the clues and info they’ve gathered. When it comes time to make a deduction, players head to a dedicated menu where they can rearrange and clarify all of Ronan’s hard-earned intel.
This is all fairly familiar stuff, but it can still lead to more than a few brain teasers. The hook here is Ronan’s aforementioned ghostly abilities. Those not only let him possess and manipulate people and objects, but also allow him to see “memory residue” of particular areas.
In our demo, for example, Ronan was able to use one of these residues to see the struggle that lead to his death, this time from an outsider’s perspective. This in turn revealed that a young girl had witnessed the murder when it happened. Unfortunately, Airtight teased us by ending the demo before we could find out who she was.
Even though Ronan is dead and trapped in the Dusk, he isn’t alone in his limbo state. Murdered: Soul Suspect has a range of side quests and optional happenings alongside the main narrative, and as such the otherworld is populated with other spirits. Many of these are helpful, but others are demons who can “kill” Ronan for good.
Ronan isn’t a superhero, so instead of fighting them straight on, he has to stealthily work his way around them–potentially by possessing living people—and then get behind them for a surprise possession kill. Given the game’s spooky aesthetic and the fact that Ronan is more or less an average guy, these encounters could make for some tense situations.
But the key word there is still “could.” Much of Murdered: Soul Suspect’s success will likely come down to how fresh Airtight can keep these ghostly mechanics, and how intriguing it can keep the whodunit at the core of its narrative. Even the best detective games can start to feel like unintelligible slogs at points (hello, Heavy Rain), but Murdered: Soul Suspect is hoping that its unusual deathly premise will hold players’ attention for the long run. So far, consider TG intrigued, but we’ll reserve full judgment until sometime early next year, when the game launches on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC.