More Entertaining Than: Condemned: Criminal Origins
Less Entertaining Than: Beyond: Two Souls
Duration: 6-7 Hours (not including completion of all
If you are interested in a violent shoot ‘em up, filled with outrageous explosions, I recommend you avoid this title. If however, you are interested in a character and story oriented drama (the game is quite similar to the 2013 PS3 title Beyond: Two Souls, and if you enjoyed that, it is more than likely you will enjoy this too), I would recommend you look no further than Murdered: Soul Suspect.
At its core, Murdered is a love story, about Ronan, a detective with a criminal past, who, in order to be reunited with his wife, Julia, on the other side after he is violently killed, must solve his murder, in order to move on. On top of this, Murdered is a dramatic paranormal thriller, which has features reminiscent of adventure games.
The game begins with Ronan’s murder; an over the top death at the hands of the notoriously antagonistic murderer; the Bell Killer (aptly named for the bell symbol left at the site of all his murders); a man Ronan had been investigating prior to his death. The Bell Killer is responsible for putting a number of Salem’s residents into the ground, the roots of these murders dating back into the region’s history. There are still more victims on the Bell Killer’s list, and Ronan must bring this ritualistic killer to justice.
Stuck in a purgatorial realm, Ronan must travel from one scene to the next in order to uncover the truth. As a character, Ronan comes off as a rather tough as nails detective, his criminal past often being revealed in flashbacks as the player discovers memories located across the city. This potential darkness is counteracted with Julia’s thoughts of him, which are additionally found scattered across the environment. Although these thoughts are written down, and thus need to be read by the gamer, the actress who voices her, and the words themselves, are both as equally powerful at revealing a beautiful romance. This is not told in contemporary order, and as Ronan travels from one location to the next, he discovers memories of his past, and that of Julia’s, which shape his character into a man with a hard exterior, but an incredibly warm heart.
This is strengthened also with the opinions of his brother in law, Rex, a fellow detective investigating the Bell Killer, who is grieving the loss of his best friend, his opinion of Ronan being rather contradictive; although he loved Ronan like a brother, he is worried about his criminal past, something that officer Baxter is not. To say he loathes Ronan would be an understatement, believing that he represents everything a police officer should not.
Not long into the game, Ronan meets Joy, the daughter of a medium who has additionally acquired the gift, however, unlike her mother who assists the police during investigations (including the Bell Killer), Joy is apprehensive about communing with the deceased, wishing instead to have a normal life. With her mother missing, and she been the only living person who can actually see Ronan, the two form an awkward partnership, as the two become better acquainted with one another over the course of the game.
Set in the town of Salem, which has a long history of war, pestilence, and a wealth of other colourful occurrences (which can be found by visiting locations and exploring the environment), the game is a very open world, where the player is able to either freely explore, or head straight towards the next objective, which is always marked with a waypoint. On the subject of the town, I found it strange that 95% of the residents were Caucasian, and although the town comes attached with its own history and culture, the lack of other cultural backgrounds and ethnicities seemed mightily peculiar. Though this does not affect the game, it does fail to contribute a further sense of realism to the environment the gamer temporarily inhabits.
The purgatorial realm of Salem is a mixture of real world environments, and ghostly effigies. These residual spectral visages are strangely corporeal, and cannot be passed through. A benefit of the game is that Ronan is able to pass through almost any structure; how many times in other games have you become stuck on an object? This annoyance is almost non-existent in Murdered. Ronan is unable to pass through buildings that are locked, however, once inside, either through a partially opened door or window, movement is fairly unrestricted, with the exception of aforementioned objects linked to the deaths of others. These however can often be navigated around, and if not by walking, then by using ghostly portals. These residual shadows are tied directly to the existences of ghosts, and can be jumped to and from. Later, when Ronan discovers the ability to teleport, this additionally serves in getting around solid objects or other like obstructions.
Moving on, when travelling towards a destination, Ronan bumps into literally dozens of other ghosts, who can either be conversed with, or ignored. Furthermore, near every major mission location is a ghost in need of assistance regarding a side quest. These often involve a poor soul who is trapped in this purgatory through either regret, or from not knowing about their death, which can include all manner of people; from a young woman who believes her ex-paramour cheated on her, to a man who believes himself responsible for the car crash that killed his friends. Around these ghosts are fragments that can help provide answers, from pieces of the past that can be reformed to tell a portion of their story, to living people, who can be possessed.
When possessing a living character, Ronan can influence them to think about a certain topic or theme, which provides him with valuable information; he can additionally read their mind, or listen in on conversations. Unlike in last year’s Remember Me, in which the character Nilin’s abilities are rarely used, in Murdered, Ronan is frequently using his powers, either pro bono for the benefit of others, or to assist in finding his killer. Although no justice can be bestowed upon the dead who were murdered, the fact their deaths have been resolved and they discover that any guilt they feel is unnecessary, their movement from this world and into the next, provides the player with a certain satisfaction.
Major quests offer a similarity, with the exception that they are on a much larger scale. These locations range from a church to a graveyard; a police station (which strangely enough has a lot of Just Cause posters) to an asylum, each coming attached with its own historical significance to the region. After exploring the area, gamers are able to locate their objective, and scour around for clues, piecing things together from the environment, before enlisting the assistance of living people, who, once possessed, can help provide a consensus on the topic at hand with their own thoughts, memories, or even their eyes, which you sometimes have the option of looking through. On that note though, some clues are unable to be found unless Ronan interacts with the environment. Turning on equipment (or as the game calls it, being a poltergeist), like a fan to blow pieces of paper around, may reveal photos and other documents that were initially invisible beneath layers of other pages.
On occasion, Ronan is forced to visit the same region twice, and even when this does occur, the environment loses none of its atmosphere, the sheer gruesomeness of the murders, and the conversations which take place during these ‘missions’, offering a source of unstoppable intrigue. The issue however when exploring these major areas, is that almost each of these locations are often infested with demons.
These demonic creatures come in two flavours; the kind that hover about like ghouls in a particular territory, which they have carved out as their own, or as large, bright red puddles on the floor, and drag you in when you step into proximity (similar to the floor creatures in F.E.A.R: Perseus Mandate). Although these demons can temporarily be avoided, more often than not, confrontations inevitably ensue, however, unlike Condemned: Criminal Origins, where you beat up your enemies with whatever piece of equipment you come upon, these demons require more nous and tactical proficiency. By possessing people (and on occasion a gorgeous kitty), gamers can make their way around areas, and this is additionally possible by using those ghostly portals mentioned earlier. When in close proximity to a demon, Ronan can execute them (only ever from behind) with a combination of keys that are frequently different. After successfully dispatching one (there is unfortunately often more in any area), the gamer can hide again, and then move on to attacking the next. On a side note, the occasional existence of deceased crow can offer the player a distraction, with demons charging at them the moment Ronan requests that they provide a raucous ‘kaw!’
The graphics of Murdered are powered by the Unreal engine. In the past I have occasionally being sceptical of this particular engine, with some games (I’m looking at you Singularity) occasionally not cutting the mustard when it comes to how it looks. The game is set over the course of the night, the streets becoming darker and slightly emptier as you progress. This darkness often follows the player into the levels, and can provide a rather drab colour swatch, with a vast quantity of darkness merging together. With this said, there is just as much light as there is dark, with the locations you visit all looking and feeling very realistic, with a combination of old and new fighting visually for dominance.
This being said, the graphics are perhaps not outstandingly brilliant (considering that I was playing this on the XBOX ONE), however, at the same time they are really nice to watch. Never is there a part of the environment that looks as though it needs further rendering. With the exception of images, and some portions of text, the game felt and looked like an actual town, and although many ghosts had particularly smooth features, the living cast members, Joy in particular, looked very lively. Her face, with a number of freckles and a couple of moles, along with the jewellery that she decorated herself with, gave to her a unique sense of character.
On a further side note, the controls during the game are incredibly easy to learn, and after roughly 10, maybe 15 minutes, the gamer will have efficaciously adapted, and they will simply become reflex actions.
The conclusion, which seems to come racing towards the gamer faster than I may have initially imagined when beginning Murdered, is about as predictable as it is surprising. When I was almost 90 minutes away from the conclusion, I had already begun to postulate theories on who the killer might be, and although some of my assertions were accurate, there was much I did not count on, and was at the same time thoroughly surprised with the final revelations. Although the conclusion does successfully offer closure to all of the storylines that are written into Murdered, at the same time the gamer (or maybe this is just in my case?) is left with a slight remaining thirst. On this note, despite a slight degree of disappointment at the length of the primary storyline, I have not being so captivated by a title since Beyond: Two Souls, and will happily play Murdered again in the future.
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