Murdered: Soul Suspect
360, PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox One
Square Enix’s Yosuke Shiokawa, director of Dissidia Final Fantasy, approached Airtight Games with his latest idea after a period of great consideration. It began when he was watching Die Hard and an unbidden muse struck. What if John McClane had died right at the start of the movie? What if he became a ghost? What if a character with such strong convictions had his problem-solving skills, or at least the ones involving bullets, ripped away? Shiokawa thought it was unlikely he would simply give up. McClane would somehow carry on, doing everything in his power to win the day. A story began forming itself in his mind, a Hollywood-style detective thriller driven not by violence but by making connections, a cerebral game with a driving narrative impetus. Shiokawa wanted a western developer to work on this with him. And so the idea was put to Airtight. “We’re very much his clients,” Eric
Struder, Murdered’s senior game design producer, tells us. “We’re very much trying to make the game that he wants to make. He has an idea of the systems that he wants to see and the story that he wants to tell. He sends that to us and we iterate on that.”
Why Airtight, a studio that missed the mark with Dark Void and its Nathan Drake-wanna be protagonist Will Grey? Well, with Quantum Conundrum (helmed by Portal co-designer Kim Swift) the studio proved itself eminently capable of constructing largescale physics puzzles that were grounded firmly in logic and tantalisingly playful in their execution. This was exactly what Shiokawa needed to fill out his macabre story.
“Obviously, the story came first,” Struder says. “Shiokawa had a direction he wanted to take with it. The story informed the type of gameplay encounters we wanted. In turn, those mechanics reinforced and supported the story, and it allowed us to go in twists and turns as we learned about the world and how Ronan interacts with it.”
With his 40-a-day drawl, Ronan O’Connor embodies the noirish detective stereotype, but Shiokawa has given his protagonist hints of hidden layers. Here’s a man who has grown up on the streets; who has fought, robbed and possibly killed; and who has almost certainly done time. In life, O’Connor was the kind of cop liable to rough up perps and sweep coffee cups off interrogation tables. When we first lay eyes on him, however, he’s already plummeting to his death, having been pushed out of a fourth-storey apartment window onto the asphalt of a Salem, Massachusetts side street.
O’Connor doesn’t pass over fully, instead entering an ethereal, parallel version of Salem called Dusk. Here, he must somehow piece
together one last mystery: his own murder. If he’s successful, he’ll be reunited with his long-lost love in the afterlife.
As a ghost, O’Connor can pass through most walls freely, although the consecrated constructions of the buildings of Salem require that you initially enter through open doors or windows. We head up and into an apartment building to reach our next objective: the room from which we were thrown. On the way, we pass through an apartment in which three people playing poker. But while the ability to possess the living, see through their eyes and implant thoughts will help you reach the solutions to Murdered’s scripted cases, disappointingly we find we’re cast here merely as an observer, and unable to engage in spectral mind games. Struder knows that watching alone won’t cut it for puzzles.
“There are a lot of different ways that we go about it,” he says. “We start with, ‘All right, we’re at this point of the story and Ronan needs to learn this piece of information. What would be an interesting way to learn it?’ You have an end goal and you work back from that. We don’t want [the player] to see the answer right away. We want them to walk along to that conclusion and then discover the piece of the story that we want them to know.”
When we do resume our investigations, however, we encounter other frustrations. In the second crime scene, we need to establish the series of events that led up to O’Connor’s demise. We search the apartment, revealing evidence and occasionally assigning floating words to it from a pool of options to activate explanatory cutscenes. “What is the girl doing?” we’re asked at one point, after spotting the shade of a scared-looking character by a door frame. Is she watching, frightened, ignoring, hiding, calm, fighting or interfering? This puzzle isn’t quite intuitive enough, however, and we find the solution not purely through lateral thought, but also trial and error. In a story built on detective work, resorting to guesswork is jarring.
Here, O’Connor must somehow piece together one last mystery: his own murder
A later scene injects hope that this may not be indicative of Murdered as a whole. As we explore Salem, we come to a beach. On the sand stands a young spirit. She’s crying, unsure of why she’s here or how she died, so we put our detective skills to work. There are no words to pick from, leaving us free to move around the scene, absorbing the facts before us. When the puzzle is solved, she floats upwards, her spirit dissipating into the ether. It’s a resonant moment, with mechanics and story working to the same end, and a welcome contrast to the preceding scene. If the rest of the game follows this path, there is scope for an affecting tale in spite of its faults. On current form, though, Murdered needs to do a little soul searching of its own.
BELOW At one point, we discover a child cowering from a spirit haunting her bedroom. We find the guy, a gangster with a grudge, hiding in the wardrobe. You’ll encounter several spirits throughout the game, many of which are in need of information and your help
FROM TOP Square Enix’s Yosuke Shiokawa, creative director; Airtight Games’ Eric Struder, senior game design producer
ABOVE LEFT O’Connor is guided through his early forays in the Dusk by a confident girl who has been trapped in this murky limbo for a while.
ABOVE A limited stealth section sees a barely explained batch of demons suddenly show up. You can attack them from behind with instakill moves, but they’re here to introduce moments of patient tension and planning among your ongoing search for evidence