Imagine if John McClane died at the beginning of Die Hard and had to solve his own murder.
By Patrick Stafford on June 21, 2013 at 9:44 am
Criminal investigations without any shooting-based combat, the ability to possess innocent bystanders and the power to walk through walls – these are the unlikely ingredients that help make up Murdered: Soul Suspect.
The new game from Airtight Studios (the team behind last year’s Quantum Conundrum) and Square Enix is based on a simple thought exercise from creative director Yosuke Shiokawa: imagine Die Hard — if protagonist John McClane died at the beginning of the film.
In a hands-off demo shown to us by Square Enix last week, and a subsequent interview with Shiokawa, games.on.net saw an extended gameplay sequence in which the protagonist, detective Ronan O’Connor, attempts to solve his own murder.
The game starts when O’Connor wakens on a lonely street as a ghost. He can’t use any weapons, naturally, and he can’t pick up any items. Instead, he has to use different ways to gather crime scene clues.
In the demo we saw, O’Connor is able to possess NPCs in order to see through their eyes (perhaps to look at a notebook), or eavesdrop on their conversations. He’s also able to access imprints of certain events in his own limbo-like world, and use them to determine what happened nearby.
In one example, he even possessed a character who was giving evidence to a policeman, and influenced her answers.
It’s all very LA Noire-like, and actually, quite impressive. It’s refreshing to see a game shun traditional combat and find new ways of moving around the game world.
Given O’Connor is a ghost, he can also move through walls. Shiokawa said this was a big move on the developers’ part, as it forces players to think differently from their traditional gaming habits, (playtesters apparently struggled at first). It’s certainly weird to see a player moving through walls as part of a game’s design, but it does portray a sense of power very well.
The biggest and most refreshing move is the lack of gun-based combat. In a truly smart-arse moment, O’Connor attempts to pick up his gun, but naturally, cannot.
Shiokawa told us through a translator that it was important for him to create a game without any of this traditional combat.
“It’s a pretty challenging situation…we are seeing action-packed shooting in the mainstream, which I totally understand. But I wanted to make a unique, innovative experience.”
“I know people love guns, but people love detective and mystery-solving games as well.”
That isn’t to see there isn’t combat altogether. There are demons in O’Connor’s undead-state, which represent people like himself who have descended into some type of terrible being. These will attack and kill you if you take them head-on, so sneaking up behind them is a must.
They’re fairly easy to get rid of — it’s the mystery-solving that is the main picture here. And it certainly looks compelling.
O’Connor isn’t much of a personality — he’s a grizzled cop wearing a fedora and a wallet chain. But he’s likeable enough, and he’s certainly someone who could sustain a game for several hours with his rough voice and weathered temperament.
The entire game is set over one night, but Square Enix showed off some side quest possibilities, so this isn’t necessarily going to be a straightforward, linear game. One quest had O’Connor help a dead girl who couldn’t find her body, by eavesdropping on her killers to find out where they buried her.
When you actually type that out, it sounds horrifying. But it works in context, and is compelling enough to keep you moving to other quests.
We’ll be keen to see more of Murdered: Soul Suspect as it heads towards a PC release in early 2014. At the very least, this is a fascinating twist on the mystery genre that is worth checking out so far, and the conviction on behalf of its creator to stay away from traditional combat is admirable indeed.