Murdered: Soul Suspect pulls the best bait-and-switch ever by showcasing a lightly-bearded, trilby-wearing bro and a self-important pun on its cover and then delivering a combat-free, narrative-driven game that feels more Gone Home than L.A. Noire. If your main beef with Gone Home was that it had all the haunted trappings of a ghost story but not enough literal ghosts, then Murdered might be your new favorite game. (Although, really, they could have just called it Murdered. That would have been fine. Please.)
Murdered begins with a montage that hits all the familiar videogame beats. Our hero Ronan O’Connor is a tattooed criminal who decides to go straight and become a cop. He has a power struggle with one of his fellow officers, the crotchety Baxter, who doesn’t believe Ronan’s got the chops to serve on the “right” side of the law. Ronan even has a beautiful love interest, Julia, who gets murdered in cold blood within minutes. This entire opening montage summarizes the plot of a more boring videogame, one we’ve seen before: criminal man turns cop and attempts to solve wife’s murder. Except instead of ending in Ronan solving his wife’s murder and avenging her death, this montage ends in Ronan’s own murder.
Instead of playing as bad-ass five o’clock shadow Ronan, I found myself stripped entirely of typical videogame superhero skills. As Ronan leaves his dead body behind, he tries to pick up his gun—but alas, his fingers slip right through it. Ronan also can’t destroy anything in-game, what with his newfound lack of corporeality. Instead of knocking over trashcans and stealing the spoils within, Ronan walks through all of these in silence, not leaving so much as a scratch behind.
Sometimes walls and objects are “consecrated ground” and thus unable to be traversed through; other areas are blocked by demons, Ronan’s sole enemy in-game. Fighting demons requires a little patience and a quickly timed button-press, but overall, these “fights” hardly qualify as combat by typical game standards. It’s very, very difficult to “lose” anything in Murdered, which makes a strange kind of sense, given that you’re already dead. You have no worldly possessions. The only thing you collect are clues, memories and psychically collected trappings of the people and ghosts that Ronan encounters in his journey.
Ronan got murdered by a serial killer, and now he must find that murderer’s identity before he can move on to his future afterlife with Julia. Although at first it seems that Julia is the one in the refrigerator in this game, it turns out that Ronan is the one who’s trapped and almost completely at a loss when it comes to helping himself. He eventually gets some aid from the corporeal world in the form of a young medium named Joy, a sarcastic teenage girl who can see dead people but doesn’t care for how Ronan keeps asking her to do his grunt work for him.
The game unfolds with Ronan going to various crime scenes and collecting clues either by inspecting the area or by listening in on cops and bystanders’ conversations. He can listen to people’s thoughts as well, and inhabit cats and crows and—rarely—humans for occasional small movements (Ronan’s ghost powers are definitely less invasive and less powerful than those of fellow videogame ghost Aiden in Beyond: Two Souls, for example). Once Ronan collects a few clues, he can try to start piecing them together. The user interface for doing so shows a picture of each clue; select the “most important” clues for each crime—often, whichever two or three clues seem like they fit together to tell a more complete story—which will allow Ronan to draw more conclusions. Each mystery only ever has one right answer, which makes sense, but there’s also only ever one path towards solving each mystery. It’s not a perfect system—sometimes the “right” answer just isn’t intuitive—but it feels a lot closer to crime-solving and detective work than, say, L.A. Noire or BioShock: Infinite’s “Burial At Sea” DLC. The game truly depends and revolves around clue collection and eavesdropping rather than simply shoe-horning a few of those elements in to a combat-heavy first-person shooter.
Because mystery-solving is still relatively tricky in Murdered, at least in the sense that there’s a lot of guesswork involved (sometimes the clue that I figured would be “most important” to a crime scene didn’t turn out to be relevant at all), there’s basically no way to lose any one mystery. This means the game’s biggest problem is its low stakes. Fighting demons is probably the hardest part of the game, but it’s not that hard. Getting the mysteries “wrong” results in infinite tries until you get the “right” answer. Overall, Murdered is a surprisingly relaxing game.
Still, I fell in unabashed love with the world it presented. I loved walking through dumpsters, doorways and even people. I even loved the unexpected powerlessness of having no gun and no functioning muscles. Above all, as a person who often can’t play horror games due to being a total softie, I took particular joy in finally getting to play as a ghost. Just as Ronan got to see “the other side” of law enforcement, I felt like I was switching teams too by playing as that which I most fear in games. I hate when ghosts jump out unexpectedly in at me in other games, but in this game, every time a ghost appeared I would feel excited because it meant I’d get to talk to them and, soon, get to solve the mystery of their backstory and send them on to a better place. Instead of getting spooked, I got to be a savior—and not necessarily in the typical power fantasy way.
Murdered isn’t a long game; it takes anywhere from five to seven hours to complete, depending on how many side quests you decide to undertake, and once you’ve seen the story once you probably won’t feel a need to go back. However, aside from the occasional unnecessary demon “fights,” this game lacks unnecessary padding and offers an interesting take on both narrative and mystery-solving in videogame form. And all this from a game with the silliest title ever. What a twist.
Maddy Myers is Paste’s assistant games editor. Her work has also appeared in the Boston Phoenix, Kill Screen and at the Border House. She also blogs at her personal website Metroidpolitan and tweets @samusclone.