I finished Murdered - Soul Suspect earlier this week. After I finished I kinda had an axe to grind with mainstream game reviews (the impression I got from the review outlets I read was "there is just so little gameplay it in *cry*"; it's not all the reviews but that sentence in essence stuck out across the board) and I walked away from it; no good would have come of the discussion back then.
So now, few nights of sleep and so thinking later, I want to talk about this game. Mainly because I liked it but also because there are some isssues with it.
First off the good points:
It is a decent murder mystery story, not much more and not much less. It has all the elements and the trimings: Someone died, someone (in this scenario the murder victim) has to collect clues from a variety of locations and connect the dots to find the killer; It is well paced, has a good share of red herrings (some thanks to the inclusion of the supernatural elements) and you get always a good enought amount of information to theorize about who the killer is and what is going on (a murderer mystery is never about the resolution of the mystery but about theorizing along the way IMO). It is of course not the most interlectually taxing exercise, the clues are there and a lot of connections are obvious from the get go but it never holds you in false suspense.
The investigation mechanics are decent too. It's not L.A. Noir or Condemed (which I have to get to play in full sometime) which had some better ideas who to handle such matters (e.g. manipulating evidence to find further clues) but it does handle there things well. There is however a big problem with investigations which I will tackle later.
It's light on exposition. For one there is no huge overexplaination of the supernatural bits of that come into play. The supernatural elements are only "explained" with basically 3 sentences which do nothing but set up mechanics at the basic level and no one over felt the need to explain the commonly known ghost story tropes. The developers were confident enought that e.g. we would know the common trope of "cats seeing ghosts", so they didn't overload it with much of explaining, leaving enought space for the murderer mystery. On the other hand, much of character exposition is placed in optional content, e.g. you will find notes on characters or scences from their lives around the envoirment but they are strictly optional to engage with; if you really want to delve into the protagonists backstory you can but mostly you aren't forced to do.
Now for the bad:
Combat. This really feels heavily tacked onto the rest of the game. "Demons" only exist to make traversal through an area much more difficult, there is basically no reward for eliminating them other than removing a gate from you progression. That said, the mechanics dealing with them are some of the worst I've seen for a while: to eliminate a Demon, you have to get behind it without being seen by any other and then perform a small QTE to remove it from play. That wouldn't be so bad if you only method of stealth wouldn't be alternating between hiding spots via teleportation, later agumented with the ability to distract enemies with telekenetic interaction with a few objects in the evoirments which have no other reason for being there then to be convinient (spectral ravens mostly). It's even worse once an enemy has spotted you, since there is really no idication was to what "alert status" enemies have once alerted to you - they will attack you if they see you and check hiding spots once you hide but there is no clear indication for how long a search will go on. And that is not the worst part about the enemy-player-feedback; while you usally have enough time to observe enemies from a safe spot (augmented by the ability to see them through walls at the expense of seeing physical objects) their animations are weirdly animated (not badly animated) - their movements are sudden and jerky (which is intentional) which makes it hard to get a good feel for what is tell for them e.g. change the direction they are facing.
Conclusions. This is where many reviewers had something to say and they are mostly right. Investigation is mechanically fine and usually well executed, however when it comes down to connecting the dots as game mechanic things tend to take it with infuriatingly small steps. An example of an early and optional mission:
In the first building you enter you can encounter a ghost which is in search of her body after being murdered. With no recollection of the event other that "older tenants" are involved she is looking for answers which you agree to find. The "older tenants" are actually an old cuple living on the floor you find the ghost on. You can search their apartment or jump right into their heads and "influence" them for clues. Since it is the reasonable course I opted to search the apartment first.
You will find a gardening impliments (a red herring), a letter from another tenant which has moved out the building (kinda important) and a newspaper article about a break-in (very important). Alone they make little sense so I decided to hop into the peoples heads and try to pry information from them; Influencing people promps a menu with all the clues to the investigation you have collected so far and it make you pick the "most relevant". Already thinking ahead I opted to question both about the break-in first since the site of crime was a prefect fit for a place to dump a body. This resulted in a "wrong, try again"-feedback from the game. Only on the last attempt at this I chose to select the "a woman has been murdered in this building"-option, which aside from being the starting point of the investigation had no additional relevence assigned to it during me snooping around in the apartment. Using this option yieled not only a heavy faceplam but also the right answers and me being able gain the last piece of information on the murder (a motive).
Checking off haunted house cliches. At one point the story feels like a checklist of cliché haunted house locations.
Areas you visit (which are outside the main town hub) in order of appearance: Aparment Building, Church, Police Station, Graveyard, Psychatic Hospital (aka Insane Asylum), Museum, Church, Ruined Colonial Era House, Museum.
Gender roles. This might need someone else to explain it more extensively but there are some issues with the gender portrail in this game. "Emotional roles" of the story characters (who gets to show what emotion) fall almost all straight along the heteronormative devide. The issues who have to investigate for NPC ghosts as side quests are eerily gender-coded. Most of the NPC ghosts themselves are eerily gender-coded too, male-appearing ghost are most likely to be obsessive or sadistic while female-appearing ghosts are most likely to be confused or sad; there are some outliers here and there but the trend is noticable. Not to mention is how the response to being a victim is gender-coded too: Ronan (the protagonist) gets up after being shot and killed and is resolved to find his killer almost right of the bat; While the first other victim of the killer you meet in the story is so traumatized by dying that she is mute - this carries on further into the story.
This isn't as glaringly offensive as some other
protrails of gender roles in video games but it stuck out regardless.