Mur­dered: Soul Sus­pect

360, PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox One

EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher Square Enix De­vel­oper In-house, Air­tight Games For­mat 360, PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox One (ver­sion tested) Re­lease Out now

We’re an al­ley cat, and we’re stuck in an al­ley. More specif­i­cally, we’re the ghost of a po­lice de­tec­tive pos­sess­ing the body of a cat, but that doesn’t make the head-height fences bar­ring our progress any less baf­fling. Our fe­line ride is only in this area to let us climb two scaf­fold­ing tow­ers for col­lectibles, auto-jump­ing from beam to beam. Back on ground level, though, this fence is ap­par­ently im­pas­si­ble. Frus­trated, we hit Y to meow in protest, then re­vert to the in­cor­po­real form of Ro­nan O’Con­nor and stroll through the fence and back onto the ugly streets of Salem, Mas­sachusetts.

Videogame logic is of­ten crit­i­cised, but it’s a per­fect en­cap­su­la­tion of the prob­lem with Air­tight’s 3D de­tec­tive thriller: it’s so re­stric­tive. You’ll butt up against its lim­i­ta­tions in the co­pi­ous im­pas­si­ble ‘con­se­crated’ and spec­tral ob­sta­cles of Salem, which hem you onto the crit­i­cal path; in a who­dun­nit story that’s more in­ter­ested in telling you what hap­pens than free­ing you to de­duce any­thing; and when you’re granted a tele­por­ta­tion power that’s used al­most solely to al­low a ghost – a ghost – to pass through gaps in walls or make short jumps.

Still, de­tec­tive games of­ten rely on tight plot­ting to make up for re­duced agency, and Mur­dered’s mashup of cop and ghost sto­ries has the po­ten­tial to in­trigue. A se­rial killer is on the loose in Salem and the po­lice are baf­fled, la­belling him the Bell Killer af­ter his dis­tinc­tive mark. We learn this early on through the eyes of O’Con­nor, a chain-smok­ing cop with a murky past. The story be­gins with a lone ar­rest at­tempt that cul­mi­nates in O’Con­nor be­ing hurled from a four-storey build­ing and then pumped with bul­lets. If he wants to es­cape the limbo he’s thrust into and join his wife, Ju­lia, in the af­ter­life, he’ll have to solve one last case: his own mur­der.

It’s an ugly state of af­fairs, and we’re not just talk­ing about the killings. Mur­dered’s bland, grey­blue Salem is a town of patchy tex­ture work and in­ter­change­able cit­i­zens that share a mea­gre hand­ful of car­toony faces. More shock­ing are the tech­ni­cal is­sues: the game drops frames on Xbox One like a clumsy glazier, the cam­era can’t han­dle tight spa­ces and lets you stum­ble blindly into rooms and into dan­ger, cutscenes trig­ger out of se­quence, and ghostly sid­e­quest NPCs respawn af­ter you’ve helped them pass into the great be­yond. Most ir­ri­tat­ing, how­ever, are the times when the all-per­vad­ing but­ton prompts fail to ar­rive; it irks when you’re caught dur­ing a stealth sec­tion due to an ab­sent QTE cue. Such shon­k­i­ness might have been redeemed had

Mur­dered known what to make of its in­ter­ac­tive for­mat, but it doesn’t. Your hunt for the killer’s iden­tity will take you to a va­ri­ety of hor­ror cliché set­tings, as well as a hub of Salem streets, but each

It’s a who­dun­nit story that’s more in­ter­ested in telling you what hap­pens than free­ing you to de­duce any­thing

is full of the same dreary ac­tiv­i­ties. In­ves­ti­ga­tions make up the bulk of your case­work: 3D hid­den-ob­ject zones where the de­vel­op­ers are afraid to hide the ob­jects, la­belling them not only with prompts when you stand nearby but of­ten with crime scene para­pher­na­lia too. Psy­chic residues, de­scrip­tive chal­lenges and O’Con­nor’s abil­ity to pos­sess spe­cific people and in­flu­ence their thoughts are sprin­kled lightly on top, but the fore­most adds noth­ing more than but­ton presses, while the lat­ter two are by turns in­sult­ingly triv­ial and con­fus­ingly il­log­i­cal.

In­ves­ti­ga­tions wrap up with a test. All the ev­i­dence you’ve found is laid out and you must an­swer the ques­tion of the mo­ment – Where’s the girl’s body? What was my killer do­ing? – by pick­ing out up to three of the most rel­e­vant bits. Usu­ally, you’ll have been ex­plic­itly told the an­swer, and so the only mod­icum of chal­lenge is in de­ci­pher­ing the oc­ca­sion­ally ob­tuse logic of what to place in the slots.

Be­tween in­ves­ti­ga­tions, there’s a numb­ing bar­rage of col­lectibles to har­vest, and you’ll have to avoid the poorly ex­plained de­monic forces that haunt this twi­light limbo. Yet stealth has lit­tle mean­ing in a world where you have X-ray vi­sion and the power to walk though in­te­rior walls, while demons sashay along tightly scripted paths and are un­aware of any­thing not in their di­rect line of sight. Get be­hind a de­mon and you can even ter­mi­nate it with a quick QTE, turn­ing a po­ten­tially ter­ri­fy­ing in­ter­sti­tial be­tween case­work into a faintly amus­ing hunt as you stalk your un­wit­ting prey from the next room across.

It all goes to hell if you do get spotted, how­ever. You’ll die quickly in the open, so Air­tight has filled Salem with aura ‘hid­ing spots’. Oddly, many are re­dun­dant and it only ever puts a few where you need them, while the dim-wit­ted demons be­come hide­and-seek ex­perts once ag­groed from their scripted routes. In the end, we’d mash RT to leap be­tween a clus­ter of two or three spots to avoid be­ing found un­til the demons blinked back to their rou­tines.

With so lit­tle sys­temic sup­port, Mur­dered puts all its em­pha­sis on its story, which just can’t bear the weight. The writ­ing aims for hard­boiled hor­ror – Dick Tracy by way of Para­nor­mal Ac­tiv­ity – but feels un­der­cooked. O’Con­nor spouts trite ob­ser­va­tions full of false im­port. The ghost writ­ing that ac­com­pa­nies clues rarely has any­thing to say (“Trou­bled” floats by a scrib­ble on a men­tal-asy­lum wall), and the end­ing is an an­ti­cli­max, spit­ting on any con­nec­tions you’ve both­ered to make and me­chan­i­cally re­ly­ing on a base­less leap of logic un­der time pres­sure. On ev­ery level, then, Mur­dered throt­tles its premise. Given the prom­ise of­fered by a 3D spin on Ghost Trick, Air­tight’s game feels dead on ar­rival.

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