Ronan O'Connor is dead. After spending most of his youth stealing cars and getting in fights, Ronan met the love of his life and decided to settle down as a law abiding citizen. Thanks to his brother-in-law, Ronan’s new career is put on the fast track and, before long, the tattooed ruffian becomes a full fledged detective in the Salem Police Department. But all is not well for long. His wife, Julia, passes away and the rest of the police department is breathing down Ronan’s neck for his unconventional tactics. Ignoring procedure, Ronan arrives at a crime scene and enters without backup, hoping to catch the mysterious Bell Killer.
Instead, Ronan is brutally murdered in the street and reawakens as a ghost, standing above his own body. His once-familiar hometown is filled with the previously unseen elements of centuries past. The spirit of his deceased wife calls out to him, urging Ronan resolve whatever problem is holding him in the physical world. With a ghostly cigarette still clinging to his lips, Detective Ronan embarks on one last case to find his murderer and save the city of Salem from the Bell Killer.
This is the premise for Airtight Games’ Murdered: Soul Suspect, a narrative-focused adventure game that attempts to streamline its point-and-click predecessors with a more modern third-person perspective. Unfortunately, the crux of the gameplay is left to simplistic puzzles and uninspired stealth sequences. But, a solid voice cast, well-written dialogue, and a genuinely intriguing mystery salvage Murdered from its limited gameplay.
As a detective, Ronan will spend the majority of his afterlife traveling from one location to another to investigate potential leads and crime scenes. The investigations themselves are incredibly simple. After a question is issued, Ronan will wander around environments and look at highlighted items until a button prompt is issued. Other times, you’ll possess someone to see what they're reading or compel them to behave a certain way. A counter in the corner of the screen informs the player how many clues they have remaining. Even if you’re only half way done observing your environment, you’ll be informed you’ve already found the relevant clues. This becomes even more obvious because Ronan can see ghostly memories of events that will often cue small cutscenes pertaining to his current investigation. What’s the more important clue? A crack in the wall or the 10 second clip you watched?
After collecting the clues you’ll need to select a small number of them with the question at hand hovering above. The problem is you’re never actually answering that question. In one instance I was asked “Why was the killer here?” Despite a plethora of evidence, one of the correct answers was the very fact that the killer was in the room. After the first couple of investigations I ignored the questions entirely and attempted to piece together a cutscene. This thought process continues throughout Murdered and while it’s not frustrating, it removes any sense of accomplishment. Occasionally you’ll need to pick between three objects while listening to a related sound or decipherer the emotional and physical state of a person’s apparition. At no point did these puzzles challenge me. With just a bit more focus, the already-present investigations could have been far more exciting.
Then there’s the stealth sequences. Despite being dead, Ronan must avoid coming into contact with demons that will suck out his very essence. By carefully hiding in ghostly pockets and exorcising the demons from behind, Ronan can clear the area of any threats. The real problem with these sequences is the undefined enemy sight lines and the unreliable stealth mechanics. Multiple times, I found myself directly behind a demon with ample time to attack and yet the prompt wouldn’t appear on screen. The demons follow a predictable route very slowly, still I would be caught by their gaze despite being well outside of their vision. Once caught, you’ll need to teleport from pocket to pocket for a long period of time. These events feel so outside the core of Murdered that it’s perplexing why they were included in the finished product.
Murdered's rendition of Salem might not be authentic, but its blending of the past and present is grounded enough to make the past environments stand out. Modern buildings can be seen with remnants of 1600’s sheds and ships sticking out of them. While no one room feels lived-in, and most environments come off as empty, the well-rendered themes of each location provides an enjoyable sense of exploration. This is made all the better by Ronan’s ability to walk through most walls (though not ghostly barriers) and bypass any earthly limitation. Occasionally, a hellish pit will open, requiring Ronan to find a new way around. This can involve passing through walls or catching a ride by possessing a passerby. There’s a real joy in walking past an obstacle that grown men are struggling to break down. From cemeteries to museums, it’s always to treat to see where Ronan goes next.
Murdered’s shining light is it’s story. With that in mind, I’d like to refrain from mentioning specific plot points. A number of times I waited for the predictable plot twist or boss fights, but it never came. There’s something admirable in Murdered’s refusal to embrace horror cliches. The characters are well-realized thanks to an excellent voice cast. Ghosts are occasionally evil, but are mostly everyday people searching for purpose after death. Their unique stories of accidents, suicides, and murders introduce a level of empathy not found in many games.
Murdered can’t compete with most modern adventure games in gameplay alone. It’s clumsy, it’s simple, and the stealth sequences are wholly unnecessary. Still, players who can overlook these limitations will find a well-written mystery with a number of interesting subplots. Murdered is an easy recommend for anyone looking to pass eight hours with an engaging story, but gameplay purists will find little to enjoy.