laszlokovacs's Murdered: Soul Suspect (Xbox One) review

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Ghosted

Murdered is a game with an identity crisis. Presumably about stealth and solving crimes, it is essentially a strictly linear adventure game with a thin veneer of both of those other elements.

The player takes control of Ronan, a hard-luck multiple felon covered in tattoos which serve as mementos of his crimes and misfortunes, who has somehow managed to land a job as a police detective with the help of his cop brother-in-law. Implausibility aside, this is a serviceable foundation for the game's grim detective story. There are a few twists and turns as Ronan unravels the mystery of his own killing, but for the most part I found the beats to be pretty predictable.

Ronan's primary means of interacting with the world seems to be amassing collectibles. In fact, the majority of the game's objectives are sets of various objects hidden in the world to be collected, some more obvious than others. There is occasional light combat that I found to be fairly trivial and straightforward, which would have become bothersome if it wasn't so infrequent. There are "hiding spots" strewn about the areas where these encounters happen, so they're telegraphed pretty clearly in advance as well - I was never surprised or felt any tension during these segments, which did make me wonder why they were there at all.

All of the game's detective work, when it isn't collecting objects, boils down to selecting the clue from a list which best answers the question at hand. Some of these were so glaringly obvious that I actually chose the wrong answer, thinking that the puzzle couldn't possibly be that simple. One puzzle literally presented me with a fork, a spoon, and a mysterious key, and then asked which one was important. There isn't much of a penalty for making mistakes, either - you're rated on a three-star scale for how quickly you arrive at the correct solution, but there is no fail state, and no final ranking. I found myself wondering why the rating system had been left in place at all. In fact, it is impossible to reach a game over at all outside of combat, even during the stealth sections, unless you deliberately step on clearly-marked danger zones on the ground, which are easily avoided and can be escaped anyway with a quick button press.

Ultimately, Murdered comes down to wandering through the game's detailed but mostly interaction-free environments, scouring every nook and cranny for collectibles. There is something to be said for this low-pressure, methodical gameplay as a sort of Zen activity, but even over Murdered's short (~8-10 hour) runtime, the tedium began to wear on me. I encountered problems with the level design as well - in order to maximize the number of collectibles squirreled away in the small environments, they are absolutely packed with small rooms and nooks, and the total lack of a map made it hard to keep straight which areas I had already searched. The levels are also arranged in a strictly linear fashion, so going back for missing collectibles before leaving a stage really felt like a slog. Also puzzling was the decision to make some collectibles glow and clearly stand out, while some (even some necessary to complete a story puzzle) are blended into the background and easily missed. There was definitely some pixel-hunt frustration in a few areas.

Many of the collectibles are also not worth looking for. Journal entries from Ronan's wife, for example, mostly retread bits of backstory that were covered in the intro, and never lead to any greater revelation about his character. The exception here is a collection of ghost stories that may be unlocked by finding all the relevant collectibles in a stage. These are fun, spooky, and well-acted little monologues told against a unique image, and are the highlight of the game's writing. Unfortunately, the pieces are frustrating to find, and there are far too many of them to make the payoff worth the search.

Murdered's slow, linear adventure game journey is often enjoyable and can serve as a nice break from more action-heavy releases, but many of its elements feel either half-baked or just plain ill-considered. Even by the end of its short run, the experience dissolves into a trudge, and the best moments are too few and far-between. The addition of a fail state, or even branching paths accessible through different puzzle solutions would have made a world of difference. Unfortunately, this ghost story is unremarkable as it is.

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