Taking place in Salem, Massachusetts, Murdered follows Detective Ronan O’Connor, a crook who was “born again”, more or less, and eventually decided to right his wrongs and become a member of the police force. In pursuit of a relentless serial killer, known by the townspeople as “The Bell Killer”, Ronan meets his grisly death by being thrown out of a window and shot several times. Revived as a ghost, Ronan must track down those involved with the murder and use his new found spectral powers to not only solve his own murder, but to discover the true identity of the Bell Killer too.
Unfortunately, Murdered never really takes full advantage of its locale or characters to provide an interesting story. Ronan himself is as uninteresting and generic as ever, and his support cast members are consist of poorly written, shallow caricatures of exactly what you’d expect to come out of a game set in Salem. With such a colourful history, it’s a shame to see such an interesting locale be wasted. It’s honestly as if the setting was chosen just to explain a way why Ronan can’t do certain things as a ghost that he should be able to do too. To make matters worse, the conclusion to the story is not fulfilling, nonsensical and quite frankly, unreasonably misleading.
Murdered is a pretty drab game to look at, unfortunately, and features a rather generic artistic direction too. The environments are large and empty, the characters are locked into generic and canned animations and there’s little that could really be considered impressive for game released so late in the consoles life cycle. What does save it, however, is some pretty nifty lighting effects that really five a great mood and vibe to the streets of Salem and its surrounding areas that Ronan explores as part of his investigation. On the PC version, light even shines through the bullet holes on Ronan’s body, which is a great and nice little touch. The visual effects used to depict all the ghostly objects, on the other hand, doesn’t quite look right and cheapens the whole look of the game.
In terms of both original scoring and voice work, the game does quite a good job at providing character and emotion to the people Ronan encounters throughout his journey. Most of them, like their designs, obviously fit into a predetermined trope and as such are rather generic, but they are serviceable. Sound design and music is possibly the game’s only saving grace, on a presentation level, and gives Salem and its surrounding areas a dark and brooding feel.
At its core, Murdered could really be considered to be a glorified point and click adventure game, harkening back to the days of Grim Fandango and Monkey Island. Players can control Ronan completely, but generally speaking the gameplay can be distilled down to finding objects, piecing them together using a “logic” system and then moving on to the next area, only to repeat everything again in different environments. The game throws a few “encounters” with devils along the way as well to mix things up.
Essentially, Ronan will enter many crime scenes in the game and be told how many clues there are to find. Upon finding some clues, he’ll be able to examine them in a case file and then put them together to answer a question, usually posed to the player on-screen. It’s an interesting system that has worked in games like Ace Attorney in the past, but Murdered’s system is so simple that it’s downright offensive with how stupid it presumes the player is. As an example, the player is asked “what will remind this person of the murder” and is required to present a clue. Of the eight clues, roughly four or five of them were reasonable responses to the question. But the correct answer was “The murder”. It’s just too simple, most players will overlook it because it’s too simple and it provides little to no challenge for the player.
From time to time, Ronan will come across demons who are remaining in this world, not moving on. They have the ability to steal Ronan’s soul and thus end his journey – think like a Dementor in the Harry Potter series because they more or less look and behave exactly the same. When seen, Ronan must hide in “spirit pockets” and jump between them to avoid detection by the demons to the point where they return to their normal patrol route. To make matters a bit fairer on the player, approaching a demon slowly from behind allows Ronan to eliminate them with a brief QTE sequence. While this idea of stealth-based combat and encounter design sounds like a great one to ramp up the tension, the cumbersome nature of hiding and the lack of visual feedback to the player makes it hard to pull off correctly. As such, most encounters will lead to frustration rather than tension.
Being a ghost, Ronan has a few abilities up his spectral sleeve that he can utilise to make his life a little bit easier. First off, he can pass through almost any object – which makes for some easy traversal – but doesn’t include certain items that have been “marked” by people in Salem’s past. It’s a dumb and easy way to limit the game’s boundaries but it still feels a bit restrictive. Ronan can also reveal items that used to be place somewhere, possess people to hear their thoughts or even just to look at what they’re looking at. They’re simple but useful abilities that take this beyond your average adventure game.
Besides the main story itself, Ronan can also engage in several side quests and collectible quests to uncover more stories about the history of Salem. Most of them are tied to collecting a set of collectibles (there’s roughly 200+ of them) and in most cases are actually more interesting than the main narrative itself. While delivered over a static image with scrolling text, these are told well. Other quests involve helping ghosts discover what happened to them so they can “move on” as well. While these are nice ideas, they only really boil down to tedious fetch quests and feel like a lazy justification for making the streets of Salem the “open-world hub” of the game. If you do decide to find and do everything in Murdered: Soul Suspect, you’ll be looking at roughly nine hours of play time, although players could easily breeze through just the main story in six.