I’m alright, I wasn’t actually murdered.
If I were, I’d raise up from my grave to set the record straight about Airtight Games and Square Enix’s Murdered: Soul Suspect.
If you are a hardcore single player then you might not have jumped on the Destiny bandwagon and need a good SP game before the holidays arrive, MSS might be that game and I’ll tell you why. First I’ll outline why it deserves a Cult Gamer feature.
Checking out the Metacritic score you can see the very best it does (on PS4) is a whopping 59. That’s just pitiful and utterly unfair. While the game does have its flaws it would appear that the majority of the critics missed what Airtight was trying to accomplish. Giving this game less than a 7 range is a crime in and of itself, and other critics like us even gave it a high score. I’ll go through a summary of the game and gameplay while highlighting the awesome stuff and then let you know why it probably got sacked.
Ronan O’Connor is a man with a past, in fact his whole family consists of known criminals and when his brother in law gets him into the police department not everyone on the force is happy about it. When he gets murdered by an unknown suspect in a series of serial killings the police are under great pressure to solve a serial killing case that now includes a cop’s murder. Unfortunately they are getting nowhere. When Ronan raises up from his body to find himself in “dusk,” a kind of limbo, he is warned by his deceased wife that he must finish his business on Earth to move on. I love the premise and we just don’t have enough detective games. MSS is a great entry into the rare genre.
Being a spirit offers benefits and drawbacks. You can possess people to read their minds, eavesdrop on their conversations, influence their behavior, poltergeist machines, and peek at what people are looking at. If getting around is a problem you can even possess cats to get into those hard to reach places. As a ghost you can walk through most new objects and walls but many buildings in Salem have been consecrated and so you may not enter unless a door is open or you ride a person in through possession. The haunted past architecture and debris of Salem also overlays the modern world in a spiritual form that you cannot pass through unless you find weak spots that you can tear down by concentrating on. The areas are not open-world big, but they are quite large for exploration which I found very cool because the city has a great Silent Hill feel and there are a ton of things to collect. Collecting notes from your wife helps tell the whole story of Ronan’s past, historical plaques teach you about Salem, and collecting specialty items that give you a presentation when all are collected. I enjoy collecting things and of course detecting so it’s fun to find all the goodies and read up on the world of the game. You can also drag pieces of your past out of history and enter them as flashbacks.
Aside from the main quest there are side quests in which you can help other newly dead people to get to the other side, for example a distraught man named Brad stands bit his wrecked car blaming himself for the death of his friends while a broken bottle of booze lays nearby. To help it’s up to you to follow the clues surrounding the path of the car and the crash, then putting the evidence together and reading the minds of possible witnesses to get the true story to Brad. During investigations you’ll use clues to answer the big questions, having to select which evidence is most important to the question at hand. This is how things work for the main quest as well.
The main quest is a thoughtful investigation that includes some great cut scenes, a runaway medium to help act for you in the real world (however reluctantly) and a plethora of top notch acting. While moving through locations there are a few obstacles to be aware of. Dark spots boiling with black and red will haul you down to hell and that’ll be the end of you, so it’s up to you to either get around them or through them. A great way to pass these is to find a clever way to get somebody walking and then ride them over the trouble spot via possession. Just remember you have to get back somehow. Other than dead folks who need help there are other characters to interact with and even a few nasty demons to deal with. To combat demons you’ll need to hide out first. Hide in spatial distortions but don’t let them sniff at you too long or they will find you. Jump from distortion to distortion with a button press to stay hidden, and when you have a chance to get up behind the demon you can take them from the back and ruin their day permanently with a special move.
The story won’t shock fans of detective fiction with its originality but it is told very well, the characters are lovingly created and fleshed out, and you always want to know what is going to happen next since there’s just no telling who is on your side, who might want you dead, or what the killer is up to as his modus operandi becomes more apparent and his identity continues to trouble you. Ronan is the first victim to be shot, was it because he got too close to the killer or because the murderer had a personal vendetta against him?
So why did the game get bombed by critics? Folks today are looking for nothing but action, and MSS is a very slow, very methodical detective game. Get me? D-e-t-e-c-t-i-v-e. You don’t have a ghostly gun to blast away the demons or anything like that. All you’ve got is a ghostly last cigarette to keep you company. That kind of pacing probably bores this generation but talk to anyone who enjoyed the game and they will tell you it is actually well paced; you choose when to do side quests, the investigations are engaging, and the cut scenes that tell the addictive story keep things rolling nicely. As a fan of detection I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next, even if it did mean I would find myself wandering Salem collecting things for an hour first.
Then comes the technical stuff, which probably sunk the game the most. It’s clearly outdated on numerous fronts. The character models are a bit old fashioned aside from in the cut scenes and the graphical fidelity isn’t impressive. That didn’t bother me though because the environments are still excellently haunting. The animations are repetitive and the city with its people don’t feel particularly alive, but then again for a story about death that could be a better way to go. The evidence you collect could be interpreted in numerous ways so piecing it together to get better ratings on your investigations can be frustrating, however it’s a lot less potentially confusing than the way your use of evidence worked in L.A. Noire.
Getting around feels dated too, you’ll run into invisible walls (ones that aren’t ghostly but part of shortcuts on the part of the level design) and Ronan doesn’t react much to his environment. If he gets up near a wall he just keeps walking into or along it in slow motion. There isn’t any preparation for getting down from higher areas, he will simply fall off and then be okay. So you can expect those kinds of things which really reflect a lack of polish.
Really though these drawbacks and the relatively simple gameplay without much use of combat is easy to overlook if you are a single player looking for a thoughtful detective story, unique idea, lots to do, and a great atmosphere. In your research of this game don’t listen so much to the critics but to the gamer reviews and word of mouth by people who have played it.
It’s a huge shame that Airtight Games got shut down because I see room for a growing franchise here. It’s a fairly limited game in some respects but it could certainly grow to include a wider audience while keeping the detective gameplay and narrative strength intact. I get the feeling Square Enix bungled this one and didn’t give them the time and money to add the extra polish it needed.
In any case, you should play it, it’s a great single player experience that you can get at a good price right now. Buyer beware: there are shameless plugs for other Square Enix products right in this game that will make your eyes roll. That’s what tells me SE has some nasty publisher fingerprints on this artistic product.