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Murdered: Soul Suspect - L.A. Noire meets Silent Hill in Airtight's latest

First look at Square Enix's quirky paranormal detective sim

There's something rather lovable about Square Enix's handling of financial hardship. The company announced an extraordinary loss earlier this year, cue the resignation of its CEO, and has failed to achieve desired returns on Crystal Dynamics' Tomb Raider despite the latter selling in the region of four million copies worldwide. A publisher like Activision might have taken the opportunity to dig in, cutting riskier projects and doubling-down on sturdy, banal big hitters. Instead, Square Enix is running around pimping the likes of Murdered: Soul Suspect, a spectral detective 'em up that couldn't be less "triple-A" if it shipped in Middle English, wearing a top hat and cane.

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Leading man Ronan O'Connor probably wouldn't be seen dead in a top hat. Instead, he's being seen dead in a sharp, pseudo-film-noir waistcoat and trilby combination, stylishly offset by a line of glowing bullet holes across his torso. As the demo begins, O'Connor is thrown out of a second storey window by a supernaturally beefy man in a hood top, then gunned down with his very own achingly cool silver magnum.

Naturally, he's a little irked by this - so irked, in fact, that it hasn't occurred to him to marvel at the fact that he's now an invisible spectre, able to possess mortals, walk through (certain) walls and make demons explode. Developer Airtight explains that there will be a little more introspective pondering in the final game, a little more musing as to the whys and wherefores. For the moment, I'm going to pretend O'Connor's casualness about the whole "undead" thing stems from his owning a copy of Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective - an under-sung DS game to which Murdered: Soul Suspect is heavily indebted.

Not played Phantom Detective? Here's another analogy: Soul Suspect is like L.A. Noire but devoid of open world exploration and gunfights, plus spectral abilities that call to mind the paranormal antics of Arkane's Dishonored. The first objective during the demo is to investigate the scene of O'Connor's death. Approaching the body, our handler flicks up a simple investigative mini-game where you string together words and phrases ("shot", "fell") to create a chain of events.

He then possesses a nearby cop and scrutinises the man's notepad through his eyes, identifying the killer's weapon in the process - alas, this seemingly represents the upper limit of what you'll be able to do while possessing a mortal. A second feat of possession allows O'Connor to eavesdrop on a conversation that provides background on the crime. Finally, we slip behind the eyes of a hysterical witness and drop pictures from Ronan's memory into her mind, unearthing a little more info in the process.

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All that's left is to complete the scene is to "make a deduction", stitching together all the details via another join-the-dots mini-game. Uncovering clues and making deductions fuels an XP bar, which unlocks new deductive and combat abilities down the road. If it sounds rather dry and abstract, bear in mind that Soul Suspect's story is heavily woven into the puzzle-solving - during the aforesaid eavesdropping sequence we discover that O'Connor isn't a favourite back at Police HQ, as he's "more criminal than cop". I'm choosing to believe they resent his dress sense, too.

In a masterstroke of investigative reasoning, O'Connor's deduction takes him within the apartment building he was thrown out of minutes before. (You can only enter buildings by way of the front door, because apparently all the outer walls in this particular town are enchanted - a more plausible explanation could be that Airtight doesn't have the resources to make the entire world accessible at once). Here, we run into the first of the wandering fellow ghosts who serve as optional secondary mission-givers - a child, doodling mystic symbols on the walls. There's not time to pursue her story to fruition, but we're told that we can find out more about her by listening to her still-living parents, who still inhabit the building.

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