Sometimes new games can get past up. Why this happens is anybody’s guess. They can get a decent review, or proper attention from press. It could be even lack of support from the publisher, who is too busy promoting their big franchise’s new releases to really get behind the possible new franchise they’ve already paid for. This game could have been, or still has the potential to be an interesting franchise, but poor reviews and lack of promotion seem to have left it behind. Let’s talk about Airtight Games’ Murdered: Soul Suspect published by Square Enix.
May contain small spoilers.
If I asked you about Airtight Games would you know who they were? Probably not, they have only published three games for the PC and consoles. Anything else they’ve done has been for android or iPad. I have to admit I haven’t played the other PC games, but I plan to change that. They are Dark Void, which I have heard of and Quantum Conundrum, which I had not heard about at all. Airtight Games was formed from former members of FASA Studios, and a few other companies in 2004. I can’t say they are the same people, but FASA Studios was one of the developers of the Mech Warrior franchise, and was taken over by Microsoft back when they were purchasing studios for in-house development of Xbox games.
According to some research, Murdered: Soul Suspect came about with Square Enix’s desire to appeal to the Western market more. Apparently a creative director, Yosuke Shiokawa pitched to Airtight Games, who took on the job, the idea of a game where the main character was a ghost. What we got is a murder mystery, your own.
Your role in this third person game is as Ronan O’Connor, who has quite a past. He was once a criminal with quite a long rap sheet. Somehow, thanks to his brother-in-law he manages to become a cop, a detective even. The game takes place in Salem, the same as the old witch trials. While investigating a break-in, Ronan is murdered, pushed from a third story window and then shot several times with his own gun. It’s quite a beginning.
When Ronan dies his life flashes before him, to get us caught up a little bit on his past, and the good and bad of his life. It’s an interesting way to introduce you to a character. The other strange thing is that the world takes on a greenish, blue haze to it. You don’t see it in the bright colors that you did in life. I’m not sure this was necessary. There is color in the game, it’s just washed out.
Before the game truly get started Ronan comes across his wife who passed away three years earlier. She explains he can’t cross over to her until he completes whatever unfinished business he still has. In this case solving his own murder. I wonder if all detectives that were killed have to sell their own murder. If that’s the case, some detectives are set up for a long afterlife. The only other clue we get is that Ronan wasn’t murdered by just anyone. No, he was murdered by a serial killer known as the Bell Killer.
With any normal game, this is where the tutorial starts and Soul Suspect is no different. After you meet a little girl, who’s been a ghost for quite a while, she gives you the rundown on how some things work in the ghost world. This in combination with information givin during your first investigation, you learn the controls. Ronan’s abilities include possession, once you possess somebody you can influence their thoughts, though this is rarely used in the game, read their minds and peak at things such as notes or screens they may be looking at. Why you have to possess them to read their notepad or peak at screens, I’m not quite sure. I think it’s a mechanic that could have been developed better or not needed at all to be honest, because you should just be able to read anything shouldn’t you?
Ronan also has the ability to poltergeist, which means he can affect certain things in the living world. If you use this ability randomly like on a television, nobody seems to notice. You would think they might complain or something. The poltergeist ability comes in handy when you meet a young girl, who has the psychic ability to see you. You use the poltergeist ability on radios, copy machines, and printers to help the girl sneak around the living world so she can help you. I always like watching the paper fly from copy machines and printers, it amuses me.
Eventually you learn the ability to teleport, but not until you are fairly deep into the story. Teleporting helps in a few ways. Using it you can sometimes get yourself up to a higher location, like if there is no stairs around, or getting across broken rooftops perhaps. Ronan never floats, like the way people often imagine ghosts, so if he walks off the edge of something he will just fall to the floor. Ronan mentions being still bothered by heights, even though he knows falling can no longer hurt him. The other thing you can do with teleporting is get through some ghost walls, which I’ll explain what they are in more detail later, to otherwise blocked off rooms. All you have to do is aim through a hole in the wall and teleport. In rooms like this is where you can find collectibles often.
The other thing you do is examine the evidence around you. In the beginning of the game Ronan fell through a window and was shot to death while trying to recover, so everything around his body is now evidence. Just like in any mystery the police are investigating and so as Ronan. You can look at the shattered glass on the street, the bullet shells, Ronan’s backup gun, and a few other items. The nice thing about this first investigation and some later is that there are evidence markers around. Where you see a marker is probably something you can examine as a clue to your death.
One of the things the little girl explains to you is that you cannot just enter any building. You must pass through an open door or window. It’s an interesting enough concept, but it’s only used a few times. The first time is to keep you in the tutorial area until you have found all the evidence. Through the rest of the game you almost always find doors left open or cracked open, except in one other area or two. It seems like it was designed as part of the games puzzles, but scrapped later on. Not being able to enter any building, does work to explain why as a ghost you can’t go running through every building in Salem. The other strange element here is ghost walls. There are walls and buildings that only ghosts like Ronan can see, and they can’t pass through them either. Some of them are on fire, which I assume is how the building came to an end and replaced with something else. It’s not a big deal but it does force you to take certain routes, like when a ghost building blocks a modern street. It’s kind of annoying and pointless.
To complete a particular investigation, you must perform some deductions. In this mode you are shown several icons or stills with captions from all the evidence you collected. You must choose which ones are the most relevant, usually you have to choose between three and five items. Most times you should have a good idea of what you’re looking for, but I wasn’t always sure. For example in this early investigation, you deduce that you walked in on the killer searching for a hiding girl, and that is when you were attacked and pushed through the window. Having figured this out Ronan decides he needs to find the girl and the game moves on.
There does not seem to be much punishment for getting your deductions wrong. If you choose an incorrect icon, it turns red and you are kicked out of the deduction. All you have to do though is start over, the icon you chose earlier is now red indicating that it is an incorrect choice. Correct choices turn green. There does seem to be some kind of three badge system. If you pick all the correct icons you earn three badges. If you pick an incorrect icon, you lose a badge. I couldn’t really see any overall effect in the game to not getting it right. It feels like there should be more here, but I can’t imagine what.
Demons are the only real danger of the ghost realm. If one sees you it will seize upon you immediately and consume the remainder of your soul. You can run from them though, and hide in the residue of ghost’s souls. I’m not sure if the residue of a ghost’s soul means it’s a ghost that was caught by a demon or not, but that would be my guess. There are often times the game doesn’t fully explain these things. While hiding in ghost residue, the demons will search for you. If they look in the residue that you’re hiding in they will find you, so as they search around you must jump from residue to residue. It seems to work the same way as possession.
You can attempt to attack a demon, and destroy it. To do so, you must walk up behind it. When you’re close enough you press a button to begin the attack. Once you start the attack, the game generates a random combo of buttons to press in order to defeat the demon. It is normally a direction and a button, for example down and X. You have an extremely limited time to execute the combo, and if you don’t or get it wrong the demon will begin to chase you. I found this element of the game very frustrating. The combo is flashed so quickly that if you don’t have good reaction time, chances are you’ll be running for what’s left of your ghostly life, and many times I was. Most times in the game, you can simply sneak past them, but other times there are just too many and you feel forced to eliminate at least one to increase your odds.
I believe that if I had written a first impressions article when this game was released, I definitely would have complained about the demons. They feel very out of place in this game, especially early on. After all we’re talking about a murder mystery and it feels odd to find yourself running from demons at times, or trying to destroy them. Especially when there’s no real battle. If you don’t get that combo right you have to run, there is no other choice. I will admit though that the conclusion of the game does seem to manage to explain their presence in a reasonable way.
Let’s talk about possession just a little more. Now I’ve mentioned that while possessing someone, you can rarely influence their thoughts, and read their mind. You can read the mind of almost anyone in the game, but doing so will reveal a development flaw that not enough random dialogue was created to cover this ability. The people of Salem seem to have a lot of the same thoughts. Possessing people, also allows you to pass certain dangers unharmed, like demon pits. Demon pits are just like they sound, places in the floor that you cannot walk. If you walk into one demons will try to pull you in. You do have a few seconds to escape by pressing a random set of buttons the game picks. Now here is a small spoiler, so be warned. One other thing you can do apparently, is possess animals, or more precisely cats. You do this of course to pass demon pits, but it also allows you to access other areas that for some reason you might be blocked otherwise. While possessing a cat, I found myself walking through air vents a couple of times. While possessing the cat, you are in full control of it and can walk around and even meow. There are one or two rare times where you can possess people, so that they can get you across a demon pit, but you can’t control them like the cat. Imagine if you could. It’s not a bad addition, but I think I would’ve liked to see more. Somehow they could’ve taken this concept further.
This game has a few side cases, maybe only three or four, and it’s too bad because they are kind of interesting and a neat addition to the game. As you play you come across ghosts that are unable to rest because of some unfinished business just like Ronan. Being a detective, you attempt to help these people solve their problems so they can rest. None of them are too difficult, it involves the same method you use to investigate your own case. Examine clues, read minds, and examine residue of the living. At least that’s what I think it was. This is where by examining images of people you could see what they were doing at the time, basically getting a cut scene. Once you find all the clues, it’s a simple matter of deduction. Once you know what happened, you reveal it to the person so they can rest.
It’s too bad there were not more of these unfinished business side cases, because they were interesting. It almost seems that perhaps there were more planned but left out, or perhaps future DLCs were planned. I really can’t say, but sometimes you come across ghosts that seem to need your help. Unfortunately, you can’t do anything for them, because the story is just not there. While investigating a museum which apparently was once a train station, you come across a ghostly rail worker who says he wonders why they crashed. I thought for sure this was another investigation, but it wasn’t. Ronan doesn’t offer to help and there’s nothing to examine. It was a little disappointing.
This game has a ton of collectibles, the first being ghost stories. If you find all the items in a specific area, you unlock an audio ghost story. The first one is called The Watery Grave. In the apartment building that Ronan dies at, you must search out and find all seven ghostly water heaters to unlock and listen to it. Another audio ghost story, The Bell Tower Banshee can be found in the church by finding eleven ghostly saws. There are eight audio ghost stories to find in total, and the number of items to search for changes with each, so give it a shot. Some of them are fun to hear.
Most of the other collectibles are called artifacts be there a lot of different things throughout the game that help fill out the story or tell the history of Salem. They are Julia’s thoughts, which reminds me of diary entries in which you read about Ronan’s wife Julia’s life with him. My life, in which looking at certain items causes Ronan to comment on his past. You also find a psychic profiler’s memories, in which you see flashbacks, and which trial history, among a few other things that I won’t bother mentioning. You get the idea though, there is a lot to find in this game’s world so keep your eyes peeled.
The one other thing of note is that the game’s ending is permanent. If you are completionist Â and like to find all the little things hidden throughout a game, then you must do it before the final segment. Thankfully, the game warns you of this before you start that final segment. It really is too bad that there is no free roaming available once you complete the game. Granted it’s not a very open world, but it would be nice to be able to go back and unlock some of those audio ghost stories that you may have skipped. Perhaps the logic was just too definite here, Ronan’s business is complete so he can finally rest.
The story itself is pretty good. I thought for sure I knew exactly where the story was going, but it did manage to pull off a pretty good twist on me. The action elements with the demons seem out of place but the story does manage to shoehorn them in pretty well. Another small spoiler here, one of the other characters eventually dies. That’s fine of course, but he seems less concerned about it or confused than Ronan ever was, and he seems ready to help out practically right away. It was the only real part that struck me as odd. My best guess is this is due to story pacing. As the player we already know the ropes, so we certainly don’t want to sit through watching Ronan explaining it all again to someone else. However, I think this could have been fixed by having some other ghost in the area where this character dies, and offering to help explain things while the player moved on.
Murdered: Soul Suspect definitely has some flaws. That’s undeniable, but in some way it’s still a fascinating game. It has a bit of an noire feel, especially with Ronan’s narration and his voice work is well done. The concept is a cool one, because it’s really something we haven’t seen in games. At least not too many that I can think of. It’s definitely been done a few times in books and movies, but this felt new for a game. It feels like if this game had maybe a slightly larger budget and a bit more development time it really could have been something stellar. Apparently some development time, close to a year and a half, was lost trying to understand and mix Eastern and Western ideas of ghosts together and that may have hurt the development. The game is average but intriguing. Once I got into the story, I was hooked and I would definitely recommend it for other players. Unfortunately, Airtight Games closed their doors shortly after the games release. I have no idea how well it sold, but sadly I don’t think we should expect any type of sequel. Time will tell. It’s worth a rent for sure, or pick it up when it’s on sale.