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‘Murdered: Soul Suspect’ preview: Square sends off PS3 and 360 with a stylish mystery

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Check out our Murdered: Soul Suspect review.

Things get weird at the edge of the world. The unusually long lifespan of the first HD console generation is finally coming to an end, and the big budget game development industry is moving on to the next round of machines. Yet there’s still fuel in the old PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and not just to pump out some last minute sequels. Square-Enix and Airtight Games have been working on Murdered: Soul Sacrifice for a long, long time and it’s only now that the publisher’s taken the wraps off its ghostly noir. Digital Trends sat down with the game’s writer, Doug Van Horne, for a demonstration of Murdered: Soul Suspect’s peculiar style.

Story/Concept

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Blood and smoke. Ronan O’Connor, the main character of Murdered, is having a bad day. A shady, super-powered perp not only threw the Salem, Massachusetts police detective out a three story window, he went ahead and shot O’Connor seven times in the chest. (Hence the seven glowing holes decorating the stylish gumshoe’s duds.) Ronan is now a ghost, trapped in the weird spiritual world between life and death, where he has to solve his own killing and unravel what seems to be a larger mystery behind the supernatural nature of Salem.

Gameplay

Possessing all the facts. Airtight Games has made something singularly unique in the landscape of console adventure games. The vast majority of the play in Murdered is about investigation. Once you’re in control, there are multiple avenues of inquiry. After heading over to the cop in charge of the murder scene, Ronan can possess him to check his notes and learn new information. Then over to the eye-witness, who can be possessed so Ronan can direct her thoughts to help her focus and remember more details. Once the facts of a scene can be put together, it opens progress into new areas, including places like the building he was thrown out of.

There’s also a whole system of logic for why Ronan can’t just walk through every wall. Every building in Salem has apparently been “consecrated,” so Ronan can only get through specific openings. There are also spectral blue buildings and other spirits, remnants of past events that block the ghost detective’s way. Once inside, though, he can walk through walls freely.

Raising the dead. Once inside the house, the demo showed two other common activities: The first was one of several sidequests you’ll come across during the game. This one had Ronan helping a lost ghost discover where her body was buried. The investigation was the same, but experience was earned – although Airtight didn’t discuss how that experience was used. The second was Ronan’s confrontations with demons – killer ghosts that can end even your afterlife. Luckily, there’s no fighting to break up the flow of investigating, but you do have to sneak around these demons to possess them and either dispel them or just get them out of your way. 

The demo concludes with Ronan exploring psychic echoes of his killing, when he discovers there was a witness inside the building who saw the whole thing.

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Presentation

Life after. Little touches like floating text and handwriting in the environment to highlight clues and evidence to investigate, help to make Murdered stand out. Thanks to cleaver touches like that as well as genuine technical achievement, Murdered: Soul Sacrifice demonstrates handily just how much juice is left in the old consoles. While the toothy red demons and smoky blue ghosts – not to mention the dreary city and hardboiled cop dialogue – are very familiar for a variety of games, the whole thing comes together in a distinct package.

Airtight co-owner and cinematic director on the game Matt Brunner said that the game went into production before his studio had even finished 2010’s Dark Void, and the developer has been working alongside Square Japan’s Yosuke Shiokawa this whole time. The result is a noir that has the Japanese flare of Square’s best works like Final Fantasy XII, combined with Airtight’s American penchant for a more subdued color palette.

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Takeaway

Don’t throw away your PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 anytime soon. The game isn’t out until 2014, but it’ll be well worth checking out when it does arrive. Even in a tiny demo session, Murdered is a wholly unique game in today’s modern adventure market with the high production values of a triple-A release, but the quiet dignity and smarts of the indie hits that have resurrected point-and-click adventures.