Whether it’s a Grand Theft Auto shootout or the thousandth punished misstep in Dark Souls, death is a defining characteristic of videogame design. Few games, however, take the concept of human demise into the realms of the afterlife. Murdered: Soul Suspect does just this, imagining death as life’s final mystery by shrouding its secrets in the tropes of the detective genre.
After a being thrown out of a window and shot seven times in the pursuit of the notorious Bell Killer, ex-convict turned detective Ronan O’Connor finds himself in a state of ghostly limbo destined to drift between plains of existence until he uncovers the true identity of his murderer.
With his newfound spectral abilities of possession and clairvoyance, Ronan finds aid in the living world through a young medium named Joy, the daughter of a paranormal police consultant, who hopes to find her mother after her sudden disappearance in the pursuit of the Bell Killer.
Murdered's preoccupation with the supernatural does little to hide its reverence for hardboiled noir and gothic horror. Whether it’s the unexplained cigarette permanently attached to Ronan’s mouth or the creaking, eerie insane asylum, the game is upfront about its influences and the ethereal hues of the city of Salem perfectly complement the haunting stories within.
Aside from the thrilling central enigma many of the city’s inhabitants, both dead and alive, each have their own tale to tell although there are far too many NPCs that spout pointless, vague thoughts about their future lives or timely demise. The monologue ghost stories are the main highlight in this regard, and highlight how the otherwise banal collectables and side-stores should have been handled.
Despite the city’s impeccable art design with the otherworldly illusion maintained through subtle noise filters and ephemeral apparitions, technically the game underperforms with graphical textures appearing muddled and poor lip-syncing uncanny - in the wrong way. It’s credit to the solid voice acting and gripping narrative that the game’s otherworldly premise survives illusion breaking oddities like inexplicably placed notes from Ronan’s wife and a police station filled with a senseless amount of incongruous references to other Square Enix games.
Resolving the issue of detective investigation and player interaction has long been an issue in videogaming, with the underappreciated LA Noire being the last high budget attempt at handling interactive crime scenes and logical deduction. Murdered largely succeeds here with a delicate system of clue finding and piecing together the connecting threads of each riddle. While knowing the answer before the game allows you to present the answer is still frustrating, the lack of real punishment for error is a welcoming change to its genre counterparts.
The stealth sections and quick time events on the other hand feel like a forced attempt to introduce traditional gameplay into a story driven experience that already musters enough tension in each new scenario. Dark, bold and somehow poignant in spite of its technical and design issues, Murdered is a flawed, yet captivating tale of loss and mystery that will linger in the memory long after its passing.