Murdered: Soul Suspect

Sunday 7 May 2017

"We all got a dark side. Sometimes obvious, sometimes not. If we're lucky, we keep our dark side hidden."

These ominous lines, spoken by the lead character of Murdered: Soul Suspect at the finale of the game, pretty much sum up the general idea and the basic clues of its story. For Murdered, an exquisite installment by Square Enix, may look simple and straightforward but there are so many things lying underneath the surface of events; and such interesting characters that constitute its cast.

The plotline follows Ronan, a young man who grew up in the streets of Salem and was a rogue for pretty much all his teenage life. In his early youth, he met Julia, a gentle and good-hearted girl and fell in love with her. Julia managed to bring forward all the good elements of Ronan's character and the two eventually married, with Ronan leaving his wild days behind. Julia's brother, Rex, a distinguished chief at the local police department, having developed a brotherly love for Ronan, took him under his protection and guided him to become a detective. The happy days however were soon over, when Julia was fataly stabbed in a street clash, leaving both Ronan and Rex in deep sadness.

Ronan focuses on his job so as to be able to make it through, taking on even missions that were too risky. Meanwhile, a serial killer is running loose in Salem, killing teenage girls with no obvious motive and for no clear reason. One evening Ronan, following a lead related to this case, arrives at an apartment building where the killer is. After a brief but violent fight between them, the killer pushes Ronan out of the window of the third floor apartment, and Ronan ends up unconscious in the middle of the street. He comes to soon, wondering how he managed to survive such a fall but it is not long before he realizes that he can see his own body lying in the street. Seeing that he still has some life in him, he manages to come to his senses, but just then the murderer arrives and shoots him enough times to kill him for good.

Ronan witnesses his own murder

With his body still dead in the street, Ronan's ghost starts walking towards the Afterlife. Midway, he finds Julia, who informs him that he has unresolved business and for that reason, he cannot be united with her yet. She tells him that he has to take care of those issues first so as to be released. Following her advice as there is nothing else he can do, Ronan returns to the world as a ghost. Just then he sees a shadowy figure of a girl dressed in the fashion of a few centuries back and follows her. It is revealed that she is a ghost like himself, and gives him info and guidance about his condition. Ronan then starts investigating his own murder scene.
The clues lead him to the apartment where he first met his killer, and there he finds out about a girl, Joy, whom the murderer was after. When Ronan locates Joy in the local church, he discovers that she is actually a medium and she can see and communicate with ghosts. Joy, who has lost trace of her mother, Cassandra - also a medium and in some way connected to the case of the murders - is reluctant to help him at first, but soon Ronan persuades her and the two start working together to solve the mystery.

Based on events that took place during the Witch Trials in 17th century Salem and people that existed for real at that time, Murdered: Soul Suspect combines the fascinating exploration aspect of a good adventure game and the fast-paced sequence of events of the action genre. Its strongest point however is the atmosphere that it creates which progressively builds up, what with the grey-blue color tones that accentuate the feeling of mystery and suspense, and the chilling positioning of ghosts among the living people: there are white shadows of men, women and children hovering in the corridors, at the beach, in the parks and playgrounds, in the streets, the cemetery, even in the church, the police station and the museum; ghosts of the past that form a separate spirit world, of which Ronan is also part.

The ghost girl appears out of nowhere to guide Ronan

Although there are certain cute and slightly humorous moments, like a few dialogues between Ronan and Joy, the parts where the protagonist has to possess a cat so as to get to otherwise unreachable areas or when he can possess random people and eavesdrop their inner thoughts, the overall climate and vibe of the game are imposingly dramatic and compelling, elements that dominate throughout but become even more stressed in places like the Asylum or the Cemetery. The latter in particular is the stage of a major revelation, and for this reason everything in this area is riveting and blood-chilling.

The game has rather simple gameplay; Ronan can walk through walls, teleport, possess people and animals and he will almost never have to combat. The only enemies are few, but rather scary - floating red demons that are able to devour Ronan's soul and eliminate him. You have the chance to fight them, but this is via simple quick-time events that can be executed fairly easily. You can also organize your moves and just run past them making sure they won't see you, so that Ronan won't have to deal with them at all. The map of the game is vast, and there are lots of items that you can look for and collect as you go.

The characters are decently developed, and there is plenty of insight in the files that can be found scattered around the town. By reading them, which is highly recommended, you get to know more personal facts about Ronan, Rex and Julia; some of them are quite revealing. Very interesting also are Cassandra's notes about the murders, the psychology of the serial killer and her own thoughts and views on the case. Interestingly enough, Cassandra, who is never seen in person, is very similar to her ancient namesake from the Iliad, who was also a medium; and like her, the game's Cassandra can see things but it is difficult for her to convince the others - namely, the police - about her credibility.

Joy and Ronan consult Cassandra's notes for clues

Ronan, an anti-hero from all aspects, a drifter and outsider, is trapped between the world of the living and the world of the dead and cannot find peace unless he resolves his issues. His first thought is that this has to do with finding who his killer is, so he starts with investigating the scene of his murder. Joy, his valuable helper, accompanies him to most of his quests, although the most hair-raising one he experiences it on his own, albeit while at it, he is unable to sense or see how tragic it is for him, and it is not until he is close to the finalization that he will realize that the unfinished business Julia was talking about did not have to do solely with his murder. With his laid-back style, Ronan is easily likable; and his tragic fate makes you feel both compassion for him and rage for those who harmed him. Seemingly tough and cheeky, in fact he is deeply sentimental and fights injustice without knowing at first that he has a very personal share in this case.

Joy is not a character that you will instantly like; she is distant, solitary, anti-social and keeps to herself. However, as the game progresses, things change: she becomes more willing to help and opens up, showing a more sensitive and caring side that eventually makes her strongly likeable. Joy is a girl in her teens; obviously a rebel and an idomitable spirit. She is a medium, like her mother; but she seems to feel rather uncomfortable with this 'gift'. Although it is not analyzed further, yet it is somehow hinted that she would gladly trade her power for a normal life. Joy and Ronan are karmically connected because Ronan's murder literally saved Joy's life: the serial killer arrived at Joy's apartment looking for her, but just then Ronan burst in and unwillingly distracted the villain, who killed him instead before running away. This is something that Joy appreciates, even though she does not let it show.

Sophia is trying to say something to Ronan

The other characters that play an important part in the story are mainly the victims of the serial killer - some are ghosts, others are still alive - whose testimonies and accounts offer valuable clues to Ronan during his investigation. The appearances of Rose, Iris and Sophia are brief but unforgettable, and one of them is, for Ronan, literally haunting. Abigail, the ghost girl who appears to give Ronan guidance at the start, is a character of critical importance, although this becomes clear a long way down in the game. Baxter, Ronan's antagonistic colleague, is an ambiguous character for most of the story, until the moment when his real intentions are revealed.

Rex, the strong and intimidating police chief who also happens to be Ronan's brother-in-law, seems to have been strongly attached to Ronan - this becomes more than clear from Julia's notes - and is devastated and desolate with his loss. Having also lost his beloved sister not a long time ago, he is now in deep lament and distress. Rex appears only a few times but nonetheless his role is essential and pivotal for the plot. I have to say that the game developers did a great job in maintaining the mystery around certain characters, to the degree where the final revelation comes as a shock, in a series of consecutive twists that are guaranteed to blow your mind.

Rex is shocked with Ronan's death

Basically a mystery / crime story, Murdered digs a bit deeper and explores the human psyche in a way that may not be too elaborate or impressive on first look, but still notes things that are linked to the essence of being. How much do we know ourselves, and how prone are we to allow our dark side prevail? Like Ronan says in the end, we all have a dark side. Some manage to keep it hidden; but still, this does not make it disappear nor it means that it will not lurk somewhere, waiting for the right moment to burst out. The game's main antagonist is, in plain terms and vaguely putting it to avoid spoilers, an evil spirit that manages to sneak into people and make them act in apalling ways. Noone is able to resist it because when it possesses people, it does it slyly and they do not take notice. For as long as it possesses them, they have no control over their actions, and later they are themselves killed before being able to realize what was going on.

Murdered: Soul Suspect is a captivating game which stays faithful to its universe and unfolds its story methodically, in a smart and swift way. The action is flowing, while you are free to explore the world at your ease and even trigger a few side-quests that are not directly related to the plot but are adding to the atmosphere of mystery: there are several hidden objects that, once revealed and collected, unlock ghost stories of the past which you can then listen to as they are narrated by witnesses. Additionally, some of the ghosts that are wandering around the town will ask for Ronan's help so as to resolve issues that won't let their souls rest. Apart from the files, you can also collect plaques related to the town's history, and reveal ghost graffiti on the walls that are creepy and cryptic, and can be added to Ronan's long list of clues.

The ghost graffiti look as if they were drawn by a child's hand

With the lead character being a detective, the exploration takes the form of investigation as you examine each related scene and take note of the clues. The plot is woven masterfully, dropping in sublte hints that may or may not catch your attention. That said, the tragic irony is that you get a clue about the identity of Ronan's killer almost at the start, and that clue is so obvious and revealing that it's hard to believe it was actually there all the time in plain sight.

The clue about Ronan's killer is surprisingly obvious if you know where to look

You can click here to read what it is, but preferably only after having played the game, as the description is a very huge spoiler itself.

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