Detective games, which is what we're Christening this genre, are not the same as puzzle games. In the latter - something like Machinarium, for instance - there's no inherent flaw in having to scour high and low and click in all manner of places in order to find the crank handle that operates the forklift to move the caged rhino to free the herd of talking goats.
However here, and in similar propositions such as LA Noire, what you want is to have to use deduction: reaching a logical conclusion from a set of premises. You want to be using your reasoning, to be made to feel like Sherlock Holmes rather than a man with ADD and a hyperactive clicking finger.
As a game that is entirely centred on solving cases - Murdered has no free-roaming or driving or gunplay or the like to balance things out - this is doubly crucial. It's sad then, that Soul Suspect is an inarguable failure in this regard. Pretty much every crime scene plays out the same: you're in a room, and are told that there are x number of clues to collect.
You wander around the environment, picking up various bits of evidence or observing peculiarities about the way things have been left, until you decide that you know enough to conclude what happened. the game then asks you a question, to which you have to select between one and three pieces of your found evidence as the answer.
The trouble is, this almost never requires any meaningful brainpower whatsoever. Cases boil down to things like 'What would make the woman recall the killer?" To which you can pick 'the killer' as an answer. Or 'Why was the girl trying to find the book?' Um... 'Because she was told to find the book', perhaps?
And when things do get challenging, it's never because you've failed to do the groundwork or because your detective skills aren't up to snuff, it's simply because the game suddenly decides to change the rules on you or forget the basic tenets of logic. You're left either patronised or exasperated, and almost never feeling a sense of achievement.
It's a shame because initially at least the game shows promise. You, Ronan O'Connor, have just been thrown out of a window and shot to death by the Bell Killer, who's wanted for a string of murders around Salem. But instead of going up to smoke cigars with Morse in the great incident room in the sky, you're stuck on Earth in ghost form until you solve the case.
"Pretty much every crime scene plays out the same way"
It's one of those 'unfinished business' scenarios, you see. and while the first case is elementary, you feel like perhaps you're just being eased in to the game's systems and internal reasoning - plus the atmosphere is strong and there's a genuine sense of curiosity as to who's behind your fairly grizzly end.
Unfortunately two of these things don't follow through as you'd like. the cases never get any more taxing - in fact, as you work out what the game wants of you they start to feel more and more basic - and the story also eventually begins to relax its grip on your interest.
It sadly never goes far beyond 'there's a serial killer, find out who it is', and while your introduction to a couple of support characters does engender a small amount of emotional investment, the case itself never twists or turns in a manner that one could properly describe as engaging.
What irks more is the inconsistency of the game's systems, which have had to be seriously bastardised in order to toe the line between playability and making narrative sense. You see, you're a ghost, so obviously you're immaterial. This, theoretically at least, means the ability to move through walls.
But that would break the game completely, so you can only move through some walls - specifically, the internal walls of buildings that you've already gone in to via an open door or window. the reason you can't enter the structures themselves in this manner?
Because, this being witch-paranoid Salem, the buildings have been consecrated to keep evil spirits at bay. Duh. You can also possess pretty much everyone you see. Sounds cool, right? Well yes, until you realise that your only ability within 95% of the population is to hear a throwaway snippet of their internal dialogue. Some you can 'peek' through their eyes to gain info, and others respond to the 'influence' command.
Why only a small handful, though? Just because, and that's enough of your questions. Add to this irritating and unnecessary 'action' sections where you have to escape from demons prowling certain areas, and you have a combination of elements that successfully tear you away from the world around you and the case you're trying to solve.
Things get so 'gamey' so often that there's no chance for meaningful immersion, and as such it's hard to care as much as soul suspect wants you to.
And although the game's semi-open Salem is fairly limited in scope, one thing Murdered does manage to do is convey a sense of place. Mostly this is simply done via myriad collectibles, but these do present the town's history and imbue it with a creepy atmosphere. Some of the incidental details and ghost stories that you can uncover are also deeply unpleasant, but in a way that chimes with the game's ethos and enhances your enjoyment of the events playing out.
Even going after all of the trinkets and doing all the side-missions, Murdered won't last you more than around eight hours - but that's not remotely its main problem. The issue is that its core mechanic doesn't work nearly well enough (or, to be frank, at all), and the narrative isn't able to pick up the slack.
This is a detective game in which the detecting lacks any meaningful sense of engagement or reward (or punishment for failure, which is equally important), and the gaming is let down by too many inconsistent and frustrating systems.
There's space in this genre to be sure - only LA Noire has come close to presenting an engaging, police-based, modern point-and-click adventure - but any new contenders need to pay far more attention to the actual police work underpinning them. Without doing so the conclusion we'll keep deducing is that crime may not pay, but it sure is tedious to bring to justice.
Frustrating and unrewarding crime solving surrounded by inconsistent gameplay systems.
- Salem's witchy history is interesting and well explored.
- The police work is either overly simple or frustratingly illogical.
- A story which promises a decent amount, but falls away badly.