Murdered: Soul Suspect has a compelling enough story that it overshadows the game's other significant shortcomings.
The opening moments of MSS show your character, Ronan O'Connor, getting tossed out of a four story apartment building window, landing on the street, then getting shot in the chest a half dozen times by the same man. Ronan is a bad seed turned good, doing a 180 on his previous criminal-past and turning detective for the Salem PD. But on this fateful night, he jumped on a tip regarding the whereabouts of a serial killer. Clearly, it appears not waiting for backup was a huge mistake. After dying, an immediate peace is denied as his spirit, or soul, or ghost, or whatever you want to call it, is not able to depart this world completely. This is because there is some intangible force that is keeping your soul in limbo, in a spirit world that most living people cannot see. Before you can join your wife, Julia in the afterlife, you have to solve your own murder, and in doing so, stop a brutal serial killer known as the Bell Killer, who has been targeting citizens of a modern day Salem, Massachusetts.
It's nigh impossible to associate the city of Salem with anything but the Witch Trials from the seventeenth century. These awful Trials are a significant part of MSS' captivating story. And it's the story -- and the mysteries therein -- that kept me playing MSS and enjoying myself despite the lack of polish and creativity in much of the game. So the concept of MSS is obviously pretty unique and definitely cool; solving your own murder in a ghostly form is a neat experience. You can possess NPCs and use abilities like Mind Read, Eavesdrop, Peek, and Influence to learn more about the ongoing Bell Killer investigation or just useless facts and thoughts from the citizens of Salem. Admittedly, like most aspects of the game, this ability to possess characters (and cats, too -- you use them to get to certain other areas through ventilation systems for example) isn't very deep or creative. The Mind Read ability is by far the most common thing you can use, but each NPC only has two thoughts before they start repeating themselves, and you can't break the thought once you've started it. This means that if you accidentally press Mind Read (Square) a third time, you will have to listen to the voiceover again before being able to press another button -- granted, that's a minor nuisance, and certainly patchable, but it's one of several examples of a lack of polish in MSS.
Interestingly, the other Possess abilities are actually rarely used, especially Eavesdrop, which allows you to listen in on conversations between two NPCs (although you can do this anyway without Possessing). Influence is cool, but sparingly used; with Influence, the idea is that you can Possess an NPC and then, by selecting from one or more available cues, help them remember some important detail about the investigation of the Bell Killer. With Peek, also only used a few times throughout the game, you can literally peer through the host's eyes to see what is on their notepad or computer screen, thus giving you some pertinent information in the case. Other ghostly abilities include Reveal and Remove, both activated with a simply press of Square when the onscreen prompt appears. Remove literally removes a 'ghost-world' object that is blocking your path, while Reveal is used to restore a broken object or hidden memory in the ghost world back to its original form. Reveal is primarily used in discovering hidden collectible objects that don't have a real impact on the game's main story, but it's also used in Investigations some as well, which I'll get to shortly. The ability to "Poltergeist" comes in handy to distract humans as you can use it to turn on TVs or activate radios and things that cause a human to move or otherwise look away from an area. I won't spoil where and why that comes in handy. Finally, somewhere not long after the halfway point of the game, you get the ability to teleport short distances, used to get across gaps or to the other sides of consecrated walls.
Speaking of walls, as a ghost, you would think that walls are a non-issue for Ronan, but that's only partly right. Turns out, there are quite a few walls and objects in the spirit world that keep you from passing through them, and in the real world, most buildings in Salem are consecrated, meaning that you have to rely on a human to open the physical door to get in. This concept is a little bit goofy, and there is a one-off interaction with a NPC in the spirit world at the very start of the game that explains this to you. So in short, while you do have the freedom to pass through a lot of walls, people, and objects, there are just as many areas where you are restricted from doing so, due to these 'special' walls or objects. These have a bluish-gray look to them when you get near.
MSS has a wheel-and-spoke setup when it comes to its open world design: you have the main area, and then several separate areas that all connect to the main area, each of which requires loading up level data and also requiring you to come back to the main area before going to another 'spoke.' Anyway, you're in a modern day Salem, although it's nighttime and the time never shifts, and the few dozen NPCs in the city never, you know, move. A couple of characters are literally pumping up at the gas station for the entire game, another hangs out at the park, and others sit at tables or on the steps to buidings... for the entire game. The reuse of appearance of NPCs, and their Thoughts for that matter, gets stale quickly and only worsens the sense of immersion. Possessing one character on this side of Salem, listening to their thoughts, and then just minutes later possessing another character that has the exact same thoughts is one of many signs to me that the developers either lacked creativity or just ran out of time and had to get this game to market. Combined with a very flat and repetitive looking town, the open-worldness of MSS feels very boxed in and limited in its creativity. Plus, being literally turned away from other areas (the church, museum, mental ward, etc) that you haven't "unlocked" or "accounted for" in the story yet is another sign of iffy design. You can revisit areas you have unlocked to search for additional collectibles, though.
In fact, I think there are 173 collectibles to find, which are spread across about a dozen different groups. Some groups have more collectibles than others, like Julia's Thoughts, which are notes you find randomly throughout all areas of the game that contain a lot of character and backstory building info, primarily about Ronan. There are thirty-eight of these Thoughts, about as many bits of info (newspaper stories, etc) of the Bell Killer, I think twenty-five historical plaques, six related to specific moments in Ronan's life (i.e., finding the spot where Julia was killed, or going to the altar in the church reveals a flashback of the wedding, etc), and so on. Other collectibles come in bunches, and are in the ghostly realm. Find a dozen or so handsaws and a ghost story related to the saws will be played. Some of the ghost stories, which are read aloud, are a few minutes long, but they're all pretty good. I tend to be a keen, curious explorer in digital worlds so finding these collectibles was worthwhile and it only encouraged me to scour things closely. It helps that objects that don't have to be Revealed have a yellow glow to them, but moreover, I was just happy that these collectibles were worth finding in the first place, because they had creative value, rather than just being a number and a mechanism for Trophies (although you get Trophies for every 25 or so collectibles).
Being thorough and exploring an area is what a detective does, and one of MSS' primary gameplay elements is the Investigation. These are key turning points in the game whereby you have to solve a part of the overall mystery. These are generally setup to where you have an area that is part of the Investigation -- you can leave it, and a pointer with distance marker appears on screen to show you that you've left the Investigation area. In the lower left corner of the HUD, you can see a X/Y ratio of how many clues you have discovered versus how many you need. For every clue you find, you have to -- or should really -- press the touchpad to pause the game and open up a brief info window about this clue that or gives you a very short bit of text to read. I thought the constant need to press the touchpad, pause the game, and bring up the details of each clue didn't work in the game's favor as far as creating an immersive experience. That said, it's not important to find all clues every time, but once you have enough, you can press Triangle to attempt to solve this mini-mystery to figure out what happened (as you're generally at a crime scene of some kind). A three-badge rating is given for selecting the clues (up to three) correctly, which generally is easy enough to do. A few times I only scored one badge because my first two guesses were wrong, but it's setup such that you cannot actually fail. Furthermore, in some instances, I thought that the number of right answers, i.e., selecting three items from the ten or twelve to choose from, could have been larger, but in most cases, the solution to the Investigations matched up with the conclusion I had reached in the process of gathering clues, which is good and satisfying. Rarely did it seem like Ronan was lagging behind in the progress of the Investigation too; in other words, there was a couple of times where a slight disconnect existed between the obvious answer and Ronan's presented state of understanding, but these are rare enough to forgive.
Besides the main story Investigations, you can also take on optional side missions by talking with NPCs in the ghost world and learning about what is keeping them in this state of limbo. It might be that there is a girl who knows she was killed, but not how or why, and she needs to know before she can move on. Or a man who was involved in a drunk driving accident and he's blamed himself for killing his friends, when it turns out that maybe he wasn't the driver afterall. As is a common theme with this game, there are some great ideas here, but the execution of these ideas just isn't fleshed out enough to make for an awesome experience.
Finding clues by exploring areas and interacting with the object with Square, and then solving Investigations, makes up the bulk of the gameplay in MSS. In that way, it's more of a story than a typical game, in that you can't die and the pacing is up to you, and it's a lot of just search, click, and read. There are however some action sequences in which Ronan can die, and must deal with up to three demons floating around. There are also large areas of say a hall or doorway that are covered with a demon pit to prevent you from traversing there without possessing a NPC and using them to cross this treacherous plain (that they're completely unaware nor effected by). The pits aren't a big problem, but the demons can be. Fortunately, by pressing and holding R1, you can see where the demons are and what direction they're looking in. They moving rapidly whenever they spot you, but there are literal hiding spots that you can zip into with R2 when prompted. These hiding spots are often right out in front, but they're important to bounce between to throw off a demon that might have spotted you. You have to sneak up on a demon and execute them by holding R2 and then doing a simple QTE (press left + Triangle or up + X, etc), to finish them off. Combined with the Teleport power later in the game, not to mention the ability to distract demon's by poltergeisting a raven so it caws loudly, the combat tends to get 'comfortable,' but it still does break up the game flow in a good way, and actually the sound, appearance, and fury of the demons remained effective in spooking me throughout the game.
So while playing MSS I had a few very patchable bugs I'd like to mention as well. First, one of the early objectives is to "Exit the Attic," however, even well after completing this objective, every time I loaded up my savegame, my current objective was always "Escape the Attic," even though that objective was taken care of hours before. Second, there were a couple of NPCs walking a route in Salem and they could literally walk through the very walls that I, in my ghost form mind you, could not. From the technical standpoint, I think those are literally the only two bugs I had. The bigger issue lies in the design shortcomings such as the re-use of the NPCs' appearance and Thoughts and just the very quiet, static nature of the Salem town and the fact that time seems to have completely stopped there.
MSS comes up short and lacks polish in some areas, but the story and characters hold it all together. At times I felt like I was playing a blend of Condemned: Criminal Origins and Heavy Rain, and that's a good thing. I also thought the presentation was well done, thanks to solid voice-acting and I really liked the blending of the real and spirit worlds, especially the numerous, albeit static, ghosts you see that fizzle into invisibility as you walk close to them. There are ghost images of humans as they were in the 17th century, which is neat to see. Objects, including a wrecked boat, part of the city on fire, and other neat, atmosphere-building imagery, is visible in the spirit realm and it's overlayed nicely with the real world, although I thought this could have been really expanded upon to make some more interesting interactions. The moving train at the museum was neat for example, but nearly all other objects in the ghost world are static.
With that, let's get to the summary...