Murdered is a game that’s called Murdered and it’s about being murdered. Already we’ve established that subtlety and tact are as dead as its protagonist, who happens to be very dead. Ronan O’Keating (O’Connor, but whatever), the tattooed cop with a felonious history, makes his debut being thrown out of a window and pumped full of lead by the infamous hooded Bell Killer, leaving it up to his own deceased spirit to solve the murder.
So far so Patrick Swayze, right? But Murdered belies the floaty nature of its spirited hero by crafting itself a wee curious cage that leaves all the promise of its premise impotent. It’s as frustrating as being an actual ghost pointlessly grabbing at a fridge door handle.
This is a game that takes a great idea and then cuts off all its legs, shoving it into a shamefully linear mould, rendering the entire premise a redundant accessory. While solving your own murder with ghostly powers is a fascinating proposal, it mostly relies on painfully dull location investigation and walking around. Like being a living police officer, except you’re see-through.
Still, DCI Ghost Bastard Ronan has a number of creepy powers up his metaphysical sleeve, like the ability to possess the living and manipulate the environment, all played out without fervour within the confines of a game mechanic that refuses to let you enjoy it. Having these extra powers isn’t a bonus – using possession at crime scenes to eavesdrop on conversations and peek at police officers’ files are things you can fucking do as an invisible spirit anyway! The only remotely useful facet of Ronan’s new-found powers is the fact he can now inexplicably read the minds of those he possesses to influence their decisions, including his teenage goth-by-numbers sidekick Joy, who happens to be a medium. Conveniently.
Ronan can also manipulate certain parts of the physical environment to harass the living like every single one of us would do as a ghost. But all these tricks simply serve as mechanics to find clues and further the investigation within fairly capped crime scenes or areas of interest. While Ronan can walk through some parts of the environment, there are others he can’t pass. Allowing ghostly freedoms and keeping you on track with the story is a hard balance to achieve and there should be plaudits here for its single-mindedness in that almost every bit of dialogue, or interactive piece of scenery, serves to further the plot. But, that’s also the reason that Murdered feels even more dead than the name would suggest.
A game that takes a great idea and then cuts off all its legs, shoving it into a shamefully linear mould, rendering the entire premise a redundant accessory.
Murdered has moments that echo L.A. Noire mixed with Ghost Trick and there are even hints of the good bits (and bad bits) of Deadly Premonition. But, sadly, its characterisation is hit and miss, with Ronan O’Deado being a charmless, bland dolt in a trilby, whereas medium sidekick Joy is actually burdened with more than two dimensions.
Outside of the main story itself there’s little scope for exploration but, as you saunter between crime scenes (casually floating through some objects but not others because of a reason that doesn’t really make sense but stops you just bolting through the entire game in one big straight line), you’ll encounter other dead folk, whom you can help solve the mysteries surrounding their own deaths and resolve their dilemmas before moving on like a ghoulish Sam Beckett from Quantum Leap. There are also approx 1 billion collectibles to ignore.
Murdered ultimately suffers from the fact you know it should be better than it is. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with it, it’s just cripplingly disappointing given the promise of the idea. “Hey, you know what would be fun about being a ghost? Right, so let’s not have any of that in the game.” Despite creepier macabre moments like aiding the recently dead accept their fate, possessing animals and visiting your own autopsy, it refuses to stray outside of its unrewarding method of execution. Playing it makes you empathise with the frustration of ghosts, unheard, unseen and screaming into the faces of the living. The strength of its story and the mystery it offers is its saving globule of ectoplasm and it’s a relief that it is a good one. Sadly, it’s not enough to rescue what is, undoubtedly, a game that will only haunt the shelf you keep all your games on.
Murdered: Soul Suspect is available now on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One in North America, with a European release on 6th June.