For the sake of transparency, I should concede right off the bat that when I jumped into Murdered: Soul Suspect, I was more than prepared to give it six out of five stars. Not a five out of five -- that would've been far too low for the potential I imagined it to have in my head -- but a score that broke past the preconceived limits of a five-star scale.
Perhaps that's a tad bit hyperbolic, but when a game has the wonderfully to-the-point title Murdered and lets you play as a recently deceased detective trying to solve his own killing, it's hard not to get excited at the endless possibilities that exist within the concept. There are so many ways it could be approached: a pulpy noir adventure with puzzles and mysteries to solve, a thriller with horrifying supernatural elements to contend with, an arty, existentialist drama with an emphasis on exploration and story.
Murdered is none of those things. The most apt word to articulate what Murdered tries and manages to accomplish is "nothing." From the moment you first take control of deceased sleuth Ronan O'Connor to the abrupt, indifferent ending that comes five hours later, the game constantly toys with the idea of providing you with actual content without ever actually doing so.
It captures the ennui of being a ghost by accurately portraying how ineffective and vacuous an existence a spirit has when trapped in the physical plane. Your interaction with the environment boils down to two things: passing through walls (and leaving cool body-shaped ectoplasm outlines in the wallpaper) and picking up one of the hundreds of pointless collectibles scattered throughout the world. Freedom of exploration exists solely to provide you with an inescapable prison in which you can pick up random things for what feels like eternity.
The world is populated with humans you can possess and influence, but this rarely accomplishes anything of value. Reading the thoughts of those walking the streets elicits the same generic "It's dangerous out here!" remarks every single time. Ghoulish demons occasionally appear to try and drag your soul to hell, but they're incredibly easy to dispatch when each area has been designed specifically for you to sneak up behind them and exorcise them instantly.
There's no sense of challenge or progression. Halfway through the game, after chasing a ghost who has the ability to teleport for a while, Ronan mutters aloud, "I really need to learn how to do that." And then he can. There's no explanation as to why you couldn't teleport before or how you learned to do it; your character just suddenly decides that yeah, he should do that now. How rewarding.
I spent the second half of the game waiting for Ronan to mutter, "Man, I really should do something of value now," but that moment never came. Instead, I picked things up. Again. And again. And again.
Mel Stefaniuk is a freelance writer whose love of both video games and writing have been intertwined since growing up with the text adventures of the '80s. He can be found on Twitter as @DisgracedCop.