He’s a ghost.
He’s a private detective.
He’s a ghost private detective.
No, he’s not Tom Selleck’s career. He’s a dead private eye forced to solve his own murder in Murdered: Soul Suspect.
You know, it’s an interesting time to be a gamer. We’re moving into an era when people who are young grandparents can remember a time when video games first started and were extremely limited. Graphics were only as good as the number of blocks you could put on a screen. Sounds could only sound as real as the pitch of a beep. You only had a set number of lives and if you died, you stayed dead.
“In my day, we didn’t have these downloadable games,” says a modern grandpa to his young one, whose Adderall-enhanced brain is probably making him think he’s talking to a piranha plant from New Super Mario Bros. Wii U. “We had these big, plastic cartridges that only worked two times after you took them out of the box, so you’d have to blow in the bastards just to get it to work and breathing in all of that soot and dust and dirt and grime made your lungs look like the septic tank of a hog-rendering plant. Games aren’t fun if you ain’t developing the respiratory system of a coal miner who stockpiles Camel Cash in a safe deposit box.”
Games these days don’t have lives, but most of them let you pick up where you left off at a nearby checkpoint. Now we’ve got a game that kills you right at the very beginning and turns you into a ghost. So lives aren’t a problem. Past lives might be, though, and being an 18th century dressmaker isn’t much help in a demon fight unless the spawn of Hell are horrified by apricot bows on the back of a neckless flounce.
Besides, there are plenty of other problems with Murdered: Soul Suspect other than not being able to “Make it work” in the afterlife. The story is interesting enough. You play a guy named Ronan O’Connor who despite his name is not an angry Starbucks barista. He’s a gruff, brooding police detective who dies while trying to catch a serial killer and gets reassigned to another case when he’s charged with solving his own murder in order to move on to the next life. He runs around Salem, Massachusetts looking for clues and escaping from hellish demons that feast on fresh ghost souls in order to solve the case and join his wife, whom he lost, in the afterlife.
Being a ghost detective has its advantages. You can walk through doors and walls, or at least ones that aren’t conveniently roped off ahead of time. You can jump into bodies and influence their thought processes or hear what they are thinking, and unfortunately none of those thoughts are “Man, I can’t believe how easy it was to kill that gruff, brooding police detective who replacing cigarettes with whole meals and worked a 60-hour work week. Now let’s talk about my motive for a second…”
Usually, if the story is good enough, it can carry the rest of the game by making the puzzle elements more interesting but the play scheme is so bad and frustrating that it actually makes you care less what happens to the poor guy. Sure, he lost his wife and threw himself into his work, a job that would lead to the end of his life. Anybody would have sympathy for that guy but if you played a round of poker with him and his defense was to mace you before you could call his bluff, you’d lose a little interest in his exposition as well.
The problem is that the game has to find something else for the player to do besides solving a mystery. Today’s gamer isn’t just satisfied with saving a princess or mowing down zombies with a MacGyver-esque tool. They need mini-games that wrap themselves around the central story the way a fatty piece of bacon wraps itself around a hot dog as you cook one in a Pringles can. Sometimes, you’ll come across demons and you can hide in them by jumping into residual spirit presences. Once they lose interest, you sneak behind and perform a power move that sends them back to Hell. It would have been simpler and more fun to just give Ronan a ghost gun, especially if he can bring cigarettes (and his Urban Outfitters answer to a police uniform) with him into the afterlife. Have we learned nothing from NRA president Wayne LaPierre? The only thing that stops a bad ghost with a gun is a good ghost with a gun.
Even the clue-gathering process is boring. They are laid out at your feet and once you gather them up, you piece key points of the story together by answering questions from the clues you’ve gathered. The gameplay mixed with the frustrating challenge of the world’s lamest hide and seek competition weakens your interest in the story until you give up entirely on the concept of the game.
I guess I was wrong. Something does die and stay dead in this game. It’s just too bad that my interest was the thing that had to jump in the path of the bullet. Now it’s doomed to wander my apartment in search of the thing that killed it.
Danny Gallagher is a freelance writer, reporter, blogger and ghost breaker. He can be found muttering about losing the love of his life to an accident that he blames himself for but wasn’t his fault on Twitter @thisisdannyg.