Murdered: Soul Suspect Preview: Ghost + L.A. Noire = Awesome?

We’re in a weird moment in gaming. It appears the console makers want to catch up to PC services when it comes to locking gamers down into a kind of indenture, while at the same time the perks you get for spending your money – in other words, the games you buy – are increasingly absent. Sequels, horror games turned into actioners, RPGs with multiplayer combat shoehorned in regardless of sense, everything is beginning to feel exceptionally mono-thematic.

That’s probably why we keep drooling over the promise of something, anything different. The Last of Us – almost what we want! Hell, we even thought a Call of Duty game might end up bringing the original. Oops. So you’ll understand if I can’t help but look at Murdered: Soul Suspect with a severely jaundiced eye.

That said, despite my best efforts, I came out of a developer demo at Square Enix’s pre E3 presentation feeling something almost like optimism about Murdered.

The premise is straight up pulp, and I mean that as a compliment. Detective Ronan O’Connor, dedicated peace officer for the good city of Salem (location unknown, but definitely a New England-ish locale), finds himself up against powerful forces during the investigation of a burglary. After a brief, incredibly one-sided melee with the suspect – really more of a curb stomp battle – Ronan is beaten to within an inch of his life, tossed out a window and shot several times. Congratulations, you’re dead. And that’s the beginning of the game.

Not that Ronan knows this, at first. He spends a few minutes impotently chasing after the… thing that killed him, only to chance upon his own corpse, at which point he realizes he’s dead, that he hasn’t moved on to whatever lies beyond this mortal coil, and it’s up to him to figure out who killed him, why they did it, and assist the living in bringing his killers to justice. Like the headline says, Murdered: Soul Suspect is essentially Ghost (Patrick Swayze R.I.P.) meets L.A. Noire with a dash of DOA thrown in for good measure. And at least as much as one can determine from an unplayable dev demo, that’s just alright with me.

The game takes place in what the team at Airtight Games calls “the dusk”, the neutral zone between the world of the living in which the souls of the recently deceased dwell until whatever unfinished business remains is resolved. This presents players with an interest mix of game play, As Ronan, you’ll want to focus on solving your murder. Unfortunately, no one among the living can see you. This forces you to rely on the things ghosts are known for. In the demo, we saw how Ronan is able to possess certain NPCs, in some cases simply to observe the world through their eyes, in others to employ brief moments of control over them. He was also able to use them as a means of passing through barriers.

Yeah, barriers. It wouldn’t be a video game if there weren’t a few broken bridges, and in the case of Murdered, it’s the fact that the game’s setting is the city of Salem, a vaguely-located city clearly modeled on Salem, Massachusetts, and the local citizenry have apparently had to deal with the supernatural before. Houses, so we were told, are frequently protected by charms which prevent supernatural elements from entering without permission. Your only option is either to find a place where these enchantments have degraded (it was implied but not stated that they exist sparingly), or hitchhiking in the bodies of the living who are allowed to pass through these blockades without issue.

Once past the enchantments, you’re free to wander around, looking for clues, listening in on mortal conversations, and doing your ghost thing. But you’ll also have to deal with some decidedly supernatural problems. Ronan isn’t the only resident of The Dusk after all: there are also quite a few spooks and ghouls with their own reasons for remaining. Some of them are like you, basically decent souls in need of a solution to a problem. We were told that part of the game will involve Ronan resolving their issues (though we didn’t see any during the demo.) We were also told that this is one way in which the game will emphasize exploration: you’ll need to wander around, exploring every available space, and during the course of your explorations you’ll run into these etherial wretches and, presumably, fix their stuff right up.

There are also enemies in The Dusk. Demons, which appear to lurk in strategically valuable corners and require you to sneak around or use whatever skills you’ve mustered to defeat them. From the demo, these enemies looks indistinguishable from standard mini bosses – I was specifically reminded of the drug locations in Square Enix’s underrated open world crime game Sleeping Dogs, which is to say it’ll probably be a decent way to pass the time but every instance will be functionally identical. But, we were told, these enemies will come in different forms and, presumably, require different strategies in order to beat. Whether they function as anything other than means of slowing your progress and making it feel like accomplishment, however, remains to be seen. It should be noted that it was implied, but not stated outright, that they’ll relate to the main plot, but until I see more I can’t say anything more.

There is also, at least from what few cutscenes we saw, going to be a subplot involving unresolved personal problems from Ronan’s mortal life. If so, it’s an interesting addition to the necessity of solving his murder and promises, and could make for a potentially diverse game. Could, I should stress. Again, this was a non-playable, highsly scripted demo. Visually, it’s a pretty game, though nothing we saw in the demo matched the beauty of the screen shots attached to this article. In fairness, this is because the game is in production; a little muddiness in-game is to be expected. From what I saw it looks graphically on-par with The Last Of Us. Definitely current gen, but very excellently so.

And that was it. From the dev demo, we know it’s going to be moody, full of noir conventions and occult horror tropes, and plenty of supernatural violence. Whether it works is going to come down to how good game play is, and the voice acting, neither of which were shown to the assembled journalists.

Of course, it’s tough to know what to think when you only have a non-playable demo to consider. Watching someone play a snippet from a game might as well be the same as watching an extended trailer. But if what we saw is an accurate preview, Murdered: Soul Suspect should be on your radar. Yes, if recent history is any guide, it’s probably going to end up being a by the numbers action game with a few cool mechanics. And yes, that means it’s likely the story is going to hit the same notes we’ve come to expect from games that blend genres together. But for now, I’m willing to hope for the best.

At least until we learn of the inevitable tacked-on multiplayer.

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