- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 7, 2014

A homicide detective attempts to solve his own murder in the supernatural thriller Murdered: Soul Suspect (Square Enix and Airtight Games, Rated Mature, reviewed on PlayStation 4, $59.99).

A player controls the ghostly remains of Salem, Massachusetts, cop Ronan O’Connor and, with help from a gothy gal medium named Joy, explores the bewitched town for clues to stop the serial slaughtering exploits of the Bell Killer.

Oozing with noirish pulp and creepiness, this interactive B-movie will be familiar to fans of the films “The Crow” and “Ghost” or the game “Heavy Rain.” The third-person action mainly relies on methodical collection, sequential puzzle-solving, interacting with or through characters and using spirited powers.

Right at the start of the game, we quickly relive the life of a gumshoe with a checkered past as he falls to his death (with a helpful volley of bullets to the chest) through a dramatic scene where he meets his deceased wife asking him to handle unfinished business before they can reunite.

Now a full-fledged translucent spirit, complete with glowing bullets holes in his torso, he partakes on missions using a limited set of tools for investigating the earthly and spirit realms.

Tricks that might be familiar to lovers of the occult include walking through walls, take possession of humans or objects, reading minds, revealing objects stuck between realms and uncovering plenty of apparitions.

My favorite of Ronan’s new powers is clearly possession. He not only can pop into cops and citizens and see through their eyes or collect their thoughts, but he can access the occasional creature.

The slickest example involves possessing a cat (black no less) used to find a way into an attic. It’s a mini-adventure totally unexpected and helps break up the constant collecting and solving aspects of the game.

Each location visited — such as an apartment building, church, cemetery and mental hospital — requires searching for a set number of clues and determining the most relevant answer to questions by picking from the clues.

Essentially, a constant and massive treasure hunt for Ronan, he collects (or simply documents) notes, engravings, books, memorial plaques, fragments of heirlooms, visual memories of other victims, memories of his life, ghost graffiti and echoes of tragic events.

Types of questions include “what would make the receptionist help Joy?” or “how did the lady on the beach die?”

Success leads to a controller-button prompt appearing on screen to let him know if he can move on to another location with the Bell Killer crime-solving or help a Salem spirit find peace in the afterlife (tied to side missions peppering the game).

The problem is that the wrong guesses are meaningless and trying to assemble a scene’s clues is as haphazard than Sherlock Holmes on a heroin bender. Frankly a chimp with minimal understanding of a game controller could eventually correctly select the clues with random clicks.

Worse, yet, Ronan is stuck in a fairly linear world with limited roaming and not as much freedom as one would expect from being a ghost.

Thankfully, the depth of characters and wonderfully atmospheric visuals help overcome the limitations.

Be it Ronan leaving a ectoplasmic outline once he walks through a door, the complex, glowing graffiti that explodes on walls triggered by the detective, mist with a mind of its own, the ominous nighttime skies of Salem moving above and the ornate architecture and tombstones, the game delivered a ghastly gorgeous experience

Toss in the occasional cries of the insane, the interrogation of feisty spirits, the unlocking of extra supernatural tales and some bizarre ramblings of frightened citizens to complement the eerie settings.

Also, I appreciated the appearance of some nasty soul suckers, clearly distant relatives of Harry Potter’s Dementors, to break up the clue-hunting.

These voracious creatures stalk Ronan looking to drag him to their realms. When they are in the vicinity, he must either move from pockets of spirit residue hanging about to hide from the menaces or sneak up behind one and exorcise it until the creep bursts into fiery embers.

Additionally, I enjoyed reading some history of Salem such as the witch trials, privateering during the American Revolution and Ashland Cemetery when I was able to find historical markers stationed around terrain.

Murdered: Soul Suspect never fully materializes as a must-have adventure for the PlayStation 4. It’s more of a creepy, 8-hour, cinematic exercise in handholding rather than a intellectual challenge.

Furthermore, The price tag will actual frighten more than the game play. A better approach for Square Enix might have been releasing the title as episodes on the latest (retina-display-powered) version of an iPad with a much more reasonable, segmented cost.