I recently 100% Murdered: Soul Suspect, with the full intention of obtaining a platinum trophy during my free time, and while the game’s overall narrative and mystery is fun at first, collecting every knickknack isn’t. Though I’m not here to review this game, I am going to point out its flaws to what I might consider being a good case of a narrative that can be fixed with just one simple change that really nobody would expect, though that would require me to not only spoil the game, but also talk about how it fails as a game, and how a simple change in media would’ve worked just as well if not better. I will keep it spoiler free at the moment, but I once that’s over I’m going full on spoilers. You have been warned!
Following the release of Sony’s Playstation 4 (PS4) in late 2013, many games from the Playstation 3’s (PS3) library where soon ported to the PS4 to further open the library of games for the system. Among these titles, was a murder mystery game called Murdered: Soul Suspect developed by the late Airtight Games with Square Enix acting as a publisher. The game was a set out to be a new interactive game experience for the next generation of storytelling and player interactivity with major gaming news sites like IGN backing the game up, though in the end, the game would be criticized for poor combat, short length, and a lack of replayability and difficulty. Though while those are valid arguments, what I think is the worst offender that keeps the game from actually getting the praise it deserves lays within the story.
The story involves a serial killer in Salem, Massachusetts that not even the police can catch until one night, a detective by the name of Ronan O’Connor, decides to catch the crook red handed. However, Ronan was quickly overpowered and fatally shot with his own gun. Now trapped in a purgatory state as a ghost, he sets his eyes on identifying this killer, with the help of lost souls and a medium, they uncover the secrets of the town, and stop the killing spree once and for all.
While the synopsis of the game sounds promising at first glance, it raises the question on how it’s going to play. The developers, the now defunct Airtight Games, set their sights on an open world investigation in the town of Salem set during a single night; from the time of your demise, to new murders, and to solving this centuries old case. Even though the thought of it just being a video game justifies the whole plot taking place in the wee hours of the night, it feels as though there was a time where the game itself would’ve taken a much better approach.
Early teasers of the game that appeared during E3 2013 showed a much different version Murdered: Soul Suspect. These changes were of how the game was supposed to work, as well as many of the crucial details that were meant to appear in the final version, and with it we have to start with the biggest offender to the story, the difficulty. While the story is fairly written, many of the writers wanted to count on everyone getting to the end in the same way. This straight forward thinking is prominent in the game’s version of “Match the Clues” to progress the story. Instead of punishing the players that don’t match the clues to what’s happening on screen they resorted to a method of trial by error until you find all the clues you need to go at it again. It reminds me of 2000’s point and click games such as Sam & Max where you just have to try again until it somehow works in your favor, though it’s not as clever or interesting as those other titles.
Though it seems it wasn’t always the case, E3 demo footage shows a badge meter like in L.A. Noire where the better you are at the game the more tries you can make, and filter some of the clues out to get the better ones. Instead that mechanic was scrapped, and replaced with this boring match to progress system until you get it right, meaning the room for fail screens like in L.A. Noire, where by getting the wrong choices led you to catch the wrong perpetrator or even getting yourself fired for screwing the case up, are completely thrown out the window in favor of everyone getting to the same conclusion in the same manner. This means player input doesn’t really matter in the whole story, so it feels pointless to even play the game at that point, and that’s how I believe it fails as a game.
As a narrative however, it has its own share of problems. While the game’s story was promising, unique to the game industry (even though Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective came out before this one), and IGN’s Most Refreshing game of E3 2013, it ended as a straight forward murder mystery game where the world’s rules are thrown out the window in favor of an ending that’s both incredibly dull and predictable in the way it was handled. Before we go into spoiler territory, we have to address how many of the questions most people have on the game’s story are actually answered in the collectibles. Future plot threads and backstories are hidden away in around 250+ goodies that are scattered across Salem, all with some importance to the plot as if it were a novel. In fact, it’s what this whole narrative feels like, a novel that could’ve been a successful hit in the world of literature, though it chose instead a more interactive medium to a story that doesn’t feel as interactive as it should be.
Newspaper clippings, magazine articles, and historical sights compile a long list of text that once read, gives insight to the world around you, though most players won’t be able to collect everything on their first playthrough, let alone be expected to read it all. So they opted instead in repeating the same thing twice though the collectibles tell a bit more to the story, and that ruins a carefully crafted game that ended up looking more generalized than detailed. Though reading through the collectibles one can appreciate the work, and the effort the writers had in building this world, the problem was that it ended up looking more over saturated than the engineering departments in college, and more tedious to collect them all if you’re going for the 100%.
Speaking of the 100%, one thing that was enjoyable was this game’s equivalent of side missions. The Unfinished Business Cases in Murdered: Soul Suspect, which are the game’s narrative smoke breaks, are one of the most interesting aspects of the game because they reflect on what the game could’ve been. The three small cases are really fun to figure out on their own, with better use of the NPCs and their dialogue by showing a testing grounds for the player for later sections of the game. Though for the amount that was actually developed it didn’t actually count many of the possible story threads that where never told. For example, why not have a side case that has Joy interacting with the real world as a medium while you solve cases as a ghost. It is one narrative change that really could’ve worked, by having the game span across multiple days while Joy and Ronan solving minor cases in the town while trying to find the Bell Killer. Makes sense to do it that way, and it sounds more akin to L.A. Noire, which if you think about it more, is actually what the game really wanted to take inspiration from, but they had only 8 hours to not only tell, but also wrap it up in the most rushed way possible.
Now since I’m heading closer and closer to spoiler territory, it’s best to cut off the people who haven’t played the game. So if you haven’t played Murdered: Soul Suspect, and don’t want to get spoiled, stop reading the article now, and play the game or watch a playthrough of it. You do you, and if you have already completed the game or don’t care about the game’s story, good on you! You may or may not follow with caution.
Final Warning! Spoilers ahead from here on out!
So as you may or may not know, the main antagonist of the whole story, the Bell Killer is revealed to be Egon’s ghost coming back from the dead to seek vengeance on the writers of the new Ghostbuster’s reboot due to Bill Murray speaking ill of the movie’s script while reading it in his house. Egon found out, and possessed not only Bill Murray, but Dan Akyroyd, and Rick Moranis (yes the guy from Spaceballs, yes Lord Helmet himself) as well. While possessing the trio one at a time, he began killing each one of the writers and making it look like an accident. Meanwhile, the cops are confused with the each of the victims deaths, and decide on ruling each one as a suicide to prevent any involvement of mystery solving gangs in town to come into the fray to take the investigation on their own hands, and possibly their whole jobs. (Are they gone yet? Okay good…)
The Bell Killer is actually revealed to be the ghost girl, named Abigail Williams that was introduced in the beginning of the game. Now with a sudden thirst of justice by killing off every single medium in Salem because the Pilgrims, that killed her for being a witch, told her that all witches are evil because they have contracts with demons thus misleading them. While that’s an interesting topic to talk about, the game fails to mention the fact that there’s a tiny problem with that. We’re expected to believe that between the moment she was executed for being a witch to the moment the game starts she still thinks that all mediums are evil, even though she sees how mediums help the authorities to solves dead end cases with Joy’s mother helping the cops with the Bell Killer case. So having an eternal grudge against all mediums would be extremely unrealistic when you can piece together that Abigail herself was one as well, and would’ve opted to help restore the reputation of the mediums rather than exterminating them all.
Though that’s not the curious thing, they talk of the Bell Killer like it was a recent thing, not a centuries old murderer, which doesn’t match up with Abigail’s MO. If she was a centuries old murderer on the loose, wouldn’t the major authorities notice it by now, and extreme investigations would’ve happened in the town of Salem? Wouldn’t there be tourist attractions or conspiracy theorists, in the town, that support the idea of an old mysterious murderer lurking about? Historians that would’ve noticed the patterns with old murders that link the Bell Killer and would’ve solved the mystery by then. You should’ve seen those details in game, but they are nowhere to be seen. So was there something missing that would’ve made the story something more recent? I like to think there is.
So who would actually be the killer then? If you dissipate Abigail’s motivation, then what story would you do? I believe the story can flow as normal, just simply make someone else the mastermind. Find someone that not only can see Abigail, but hates dealing with ghosts to the point where she would be more selfish to leave the town of Salem than finding her mother. Someone like Joy. She’s the a young medium that Ronan saved just before his demise by the hands of the Bell Killer, and part of a family of mediums that are affiliated with the police to help solve cases with their gift. Even though she was reluctant to help him out at first, she returns the favor by helping Ronan solve the case, in exchange for helping her track her mother down. During the events of the game, we can see how selfish she is, and how little she worries about herself getting killed, even though we see her hiding in her bedroom when he comes to her apartment. It feels particularly suspicious when you take into consideration the many times she finds a way to distance herself from Ronan.
You see, in the events leading up to the game’s finale, something interesting happens. In multiple occasions, you’re separated from Joy to investigate, and have her meet up somewhere else. Not only that, one of the many gruesome deaths in Murdered: Soul Suspect was rather interesting. After rescuing a medium from an asylum, they suggest that she would be better off staying in the church. Soon after the woman is killed by none other than the Bell Killer, but how did Abigail track her down that easily? It doesn’t make sense, none of the rules mention that ghosts can mark people or that Abigail can talk to the demons, she can only summon them as evidence in the final scene where she has Ronan pinned down and have him consumed by the Lost Souls through a pit she summons on the floor.
It continues even further when you consider the time gap between the aftermath of the church murder, and the final confrontation with the Bell Killer in the museum. During that time, Joy is being taken into custody by Rex, Ronan’s brother-in-law and lieutenant of the Salem Police Department, and after an unspecified amount of time Rex gets possessed by Abigail, changes clothes, and manages to capture Joy in the process. You’d think by then it couldn’t be a set up to further kill off Ronan, into stopping them, but instead Abigail would secretly betray Joy and kill her off as well because of the justification that Joy would’ve provided to Abigail into killing off the mediums in the town. It would’ve made Joy’s character more interesting than what we ended up with, and it would’ve made a more believable and human like character in the end. It actually make a good replayable story if we think about Joy as the catalyst for the events rather than have Abigail become a really half-ass antagonist as stale as a cardboard cutout of any of these characters.
Hello there! Thanks for reading through my analysis on Murdered: Soul Suspect. I really hope you enjoyed reading my new series of monthly (yes, monthly) analysis and editorial articles called Critical Box. It was really great to have the opportunity to finally find an input to all of my constructive criticism and thoughts on videogames as a whole. Though this wasn’t just a one man job, and thus I want to take this opportunity to thank The Brah (@PlaystationBrah) for green lighting this project, Capt. Ponyholder (@Claus Grimhildyr) for editing and peer reviewing, and last but not least the artist who created the logo, Claire Pouette (@Picoffee). Artists are in screens all day finding inspiration, and drawing stuff that we share across the internet, why not consider buy them some coffee? My friend here, like many other artists, are using Ko-Fi to get refueled and continuing to do what they do best, which is drawing cool stuff like this logo! Buy her some coffee over at her Ko-Fi page, she needs it more than I do…