This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Murdered: Soul Suspect.
There's nothing new under the sun, is there? Especially not in AAA gaming, where unproven, innovative ideas are treated the way medieval Europe treated leprosy, but it’s funny how ideas that in culture generally are pretty old hat suddenly seem new and refreshing in AAA gaming just for not being more of the usual bollocks.
Murdered: Soul Suspect, for example, is about a murder victim coming back as a ghost and having to solve their own killing. Would be very original indeed, if it weren't for Ghost and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) and that one Dresden files book. But it’s original for video games, if it weren't for Scapeghost and The World Ends with You. But it is original for video games with incredibly shitty titles, if it weren't for Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective. Actually, this is all quite unfair of me, I suppose it’s a pretty strong contender in the incredibly shitty title event. "Murdered Soul Suspect", well, that’s that investigation nobbled, isn’t it? Oops, sorry, missed the colon, as I once said to a prostitute one embarrassing drunken night. Still sounds like something a contract killer would write on an invoice:
- Murdered: Soul Suspect
- Purchased on the way home: Corned Beef Sandwich
The protagonist of Sundered Mall Prefect is former Boyzone member Ronan Keating, who gave up pop music to become a career criminal, then gave up that to become a police detective, a job that’s notoriously unstringent about past history that you can basically just breeze into if you know a guy. All of this is crammed into a thirty-second flashback Ronan experiences while he’s getting splattered across a pavement by a serial killer. Now, trapped in the limbo between the living world and the next, Ronan must use his Irish boy band charm to enlist a teenage medium, identical in every way to the teenage girl from inFamous: Second Son. And then the pair of them must work to bring to justice the serial killer plaguing Salem, Massachusetts. Oh blimey, what are the odds the killings are going to have something to do with the history of this particular city. Yes, predictably enough, the killings are all themed around the introduction of a communal bicycle system by the city council in 2011 and Ronan has to sort it all out before he can go join his dead sexy wife in heaven, and they can knob each other senseless on a fluffy cloud beneath the approving gaze of God.
Where have I heard the name Airtight Games before? Oh yes, they're the guys who made Dark Void, which was a really good jetpack game buried somewhere in the claggy scraps of a considerably shittier one. I think I see how this company works now. There's one or more guys with good ideas having to share an office with a giant monster clown they don’t know how to say “no” to. So they come up with an inoffensive little idea for a paranormal detective game based around adventure game-style investigative mechanics, but then the giant monster clown starts bashing his desk with a squeaky truncheon going, “Combat mechanics! Combat mechanics!” Because even an idea that's mostly unoriginal most compromise itself further to be accepted by triple-A games like it’s marrying into a Jewish family.
So as well as hunting for clues and piecing together the evidence, Ronan also has to stop all that every now and again to fight some monster ghosts. Well, I say fight; all you can do is sneak up behind and do a quick-time-event ghost wedgie. So it’s hardly worth considering, except that you have no other offensive ability. So if you fuck it up, you have to run off and hide for thirty seconds before you can try another ghost wedgie. And it’s about as much fun as looking for a novelty fake turd in a septic tank. See, this is why you shouldn’t just ditch consoles every few years for new ones with no backward compatibility: because the end result is an industry with absolutely no long-term memory. We figured out around Full Throttle that action arcade sequences fit into adventure games as comfortably as an erection at a Boy Scout jamboree. But it seems we're just gonna have to keep relearning that.
On the standard scale of obnoxiousness, the monster ghosts are right up there at "trapped in a Chinese water torture machine with itchy bollocks," but on a milder level of "unsupervised two-year-old child trying to engage with you in a doctor’s waiting room where the only TV is tuned to Fox news" are the sequences where you have to help your human partner with stealth by distracting guards with malfunctioning electronics. Which might have added something if it wasn't a rigidly structured sequence of “Guess which photocopier you have to bewitch next. Just kidding, you don’t have to guess, there's only one.” More than once, a guard very obviously saw my escortee on his way back from the distraction. But the game didn't care, ‘cause I was technically following the script.
Yes, I’d say Rogered Hole Deflect is at heart an adventure game: the traditional pottering about looking for key A to fit lock B, interrupted by the occasional spanking of a disobedient Nazgûl. But the keys are in this case facts, and the locks are whatever question hangs over the little sectioned-off area we are asked to comb. And I found that the greatest danger was overthinking things.
“What is the most relevant fact?” the game might ask, listing everything we have established from blundering around the given scene. “Hmm,” thinks I, “Well, perhaps the fact that the victim was killed with their own gun, indicating that the perpetrator probably hadn’t premeditated the crime, that seems like the biggest lead at present. Was that what I was supposed to click on?” "BZZT! No, lose a point." Turns out what I was supposed to finger as the most relevant fact in the murder case was the fact that somebody got murdered, which I thought had only been put on the list for completeness’ sake. The game does shit like this quite a few times. Have you any ambition to challenge us with actual deductive puzzles, or are you just content to poke us every twenty minutes so we don’t fall asleep?
The gameplay is just too thin and lacking in meat, like a British Rail ham sandwich. It needed shiny enough balls to pick one of the many things it was trying to do and stick to it, with its shiny balls. Either have actually interesting deductive puzzles like in Condemned 2, where you have to look at a stain on the carpet and realize without prompting that the family dog came along here with an itchy bum. Or have decent melee combat like, um, Condemned 2. Basically I’m still holding out hope for someone to make Condemned 2 again in a way that doesn't piss up its own nose from the halfway point.
But I digress. The most challenging moment of Laundered Socks Perfect was when they hid a vital clue behind a book case and I didn't spot it until I’d wandered around for twenty minutes like a late night kebab in an unprepared digestive system. But the story is competent as murder mystery goes. You're wrong-footed by obvious suspects, events recontextualize as the facts unfold, and some people get murdered in it, which I always think is crucial to the genre. And the supernatural elements throw a few curve balls, but at least remain internally consistent, unlike the fact that a man who wears a fedora and vest somehow managed to convince someone to marry him without choking on their own vomit during the vows.
Well, I never said I wasn’t a hypocrite!
- Friend of the spirits: Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw
- Honestly has anyone ever used the phrase ‘ghost of a chance’ other than as a pun
- See also ‘Whale of a time’