You'll know the game's cover better than the game itself. It's a great piece of art, showing a jetpack-wearing adventurer soaring across the skies. A strong, singular proof of concept that didn't translate to the game itself.
The studio showed it can adapt style, tone and genre to suit: 2012's Quantum Conundrum was a fun, colourful puzzler. One that had the developer doing better in matching gameplay to conceptual promise. This year's Murdered: Soul Suspect, a third-person murder mystery adventure, suggests they've taken yet another step forward to unifying a great idea with gameplay to match.
Airtight paints the character of Murdered's central lead, Detective Ronan O'Connor, in a fantastically sublime fashion, montaging his life until now through his tattoos. His body's a tapestry, an autobiography, of where and what he's been. As the camera pans around him, tattoos are inked, then covered, altered. Snippets of tie-in voice-over hint at the symbolism behind each. Before we've even entered his world, we feel we know him.
The hook of the game's dangled straight away. We enter Ronan's world just as he's exiting it. Tossed out of a window by the serial killer he's been trying to track down, O'Connor discovers he's went the way of Patrick Swayze in Ghost. An incorporeal spectre stuck in an afterlife having to solve his own murder, avoid demonic hunters after his soul, and try and find a way to reunite with his murdered wife, who's made it through the pearly gates.
It's murder mystery where clues are the ghosts of objects long removed, interviewing suspects involves possession so to read minds and influence conversation, deduction is tallying the best leads based on discoveries, and most of your clients are just as dead as you are. Soul Suspect haunts its main story arc with multiple, smaller cases that are entirely optional.
Murdered's closest to Quantic Dream's Heavy Rain in its approach to solving cases. Exploring the environment, looking for illuminated objects, chatting with other souls or listening in on the living. And in similar fashion, the locations are compact; easily detailed but you're limited in where you can go. For this opening segment of the game, we can explore multiple floors of an apartment building, and the alleyways outside. A small hub world - a corridor of a beach front - stretches between us and our next goal, which is where the demo ends.
Airtight run down the rules of the world in short order after your disagreement with the pavement. It seems a lot of buildings are sacred, requiring you to wait until one of the living open the doorways. You can pass freely through people, objects, walls, but not floors, ceilings. Conversely you can't walk through ghostly objects - multiple huts, carriages, boats from distant past jab into the modern environment (allusions to witch hunts suggest their era, and a potentially bigger plot point later down the line). Likely there's be some light puzzle work coming, as Ronan learns how to shift this historical debris from his path.
The studio's breaking up the detective work with the introduction of patrolling demons, who haunt the building corridors and whose appearance instigate a different set of gameplay mechanics. Being spotted means death as the ghouls leech what's left of O'Connor's soul, meaning you need to stealth your way behind them and take them out with a short QTE. As it's only the game's start, this first time's far from elaborate, but neither does it suggest these sections will be anything more than a light distraction from police work.
Better are the side cases and the people you encounter. There's something in the voyeuristic nature of your exploration that entices, and the microcosms of life's problems that Airtight have built in each apartment is a nice acknowledgement of the duality between what people say and mean. The jock whose egging on his friend for a proper birthday party, but on possession reveals he'd just be happy with a DVD and a night on the couch. The couple conversing in the corridor, she secretly wanting to get away, he thinking they're a lot closer than they actually are.
And in-between, mysteries. The ghost of the middle-aged man who's haunting a child because she'd spoilt something for him when he was alive. The ghost of a woman crying in the basement, unable to find her body to have some peace - and how something let slip by the elderly couple upstairs may have something to do with it.
Casing a scene involves keeping a sharp eye out. Unlike say, the Batman Arkham games, there's little obvious to sourcing clues in areas, no blinding glowing light to walk over and click. You're still just finding breadcrumbs, but at least Airtight approach it with well-designed environments in which logic dictates what you should be looking for instead of the game pointing it out. As we investigate our own murder, we get flashbacks as each clue's discovered - the imprint of the killer searching a closet, the tenant watching from behind a doorway - and are asked to theorise what their body language and actions suggest, shaping our understanding of events.
For this case, it's a little laboured given our personal involvement of events ("I was thrown out of the window for christsakes"), but it builds in the serial killer angle (bets on its someone we know, given the balaclava) and sets up the supernatural element (the target was a spiritual advisor to the police) and gives a template on how future cases can be investigated.
There's notations of how many of the (for here) fifteen clues you've discovered. You needn't discover all before deciding to solve the case - a tap of Y bringing up a concluding screen to connect the dots - but they give more background. You're tasked with picking the three most pertinent pieces of evidence, but choosing wrong only resets the choices, with those wrongly picked now daubed in red.
It's a somewhat disappointing finisher that gives little weight or pressure to your verdict, and while the characters and world are evocative enough to make us want to see how the main story pans out, we're questioning if there's enough substance on the cases to distract you from the base mechanics of investigating them - certainly solving them isn't completely satisfactory yet.
But Airtight have shown they're willing to develop on a great concept - which Murdered is - and build a well-designed world - which Murdered has. The game's opening showed promise, and we hope that the final result will be something that pulls them above the mid-tier placement they've been consigned to these past few years.