Ever since I had my first taste of a story first game all those years ago I’ve been hooked on finding that same experience again in modern titles. Whilst Quantic Dream has always managed to deliver a solid experience in this regard newcomers to this field are very hit or miss, often not achieving what they set out to do. The struggle between just how much game makes it into the final product is what usually trips up most first time developers with the story suffering because of it (or vice versa). Murdered: Soul Suspect treads carefully enough to avoid some of these potential pitfalls whilst unfortunately falling prey to many others.
In the sleepy town of Salem, Massachusetts a murderer walks in the shadows. The killings seemingly have no relation to one another except for the victims always being young girls. The case has become something of an obsession for one of the local officers, Ronan O’Connor, a reformed criminal looking to make up for his questionable past. When he gets word of the Bell killer’s location he disregards all calls to wait for backup and pursues the criminal himself. However things don’t go as planned and in an instant things take a dark turn with Ronan thrown out a window and his life unceremoniously ended by his own weapon. Now, as he lies trapped between this world and the next, Ronan is compelled to find out who his killer is.
Visually Murdered: Soul Suspect is a dark and dreary place with the whole game taking place during the course of a single night. The graphics are about average when you compare it to similar titles of its time, a lot of the style still rooted in the previous generation’s console limitations. This might also be partly due to the use of the Unreal 3 engine which always seems to have a similar visual feel no matter the art styling. The styling of the UI elements seems to be of much poorer quality than the rest of the game, to the point of being quite distracting. I understand that at least some of this was done to enhance the “supernatural” feel of the game but since it’s not consistent throughout the various elements it just ends up sticking out more than anything.
Murdered: Soul Suspect is a puzzle game, one that requires you to gather up all the clues you can find and then use them in order to piece together what happened at a particular scene. Typically the clues are just things lying around the room, waiting for you to interact with them, although some will require a little more detective work in order to unlock them. Whilst the world isn’t particularly big you are free to explore pretty much all of it at your leisure although some places will be unavailable to you until you’ve unlocked some of your ghost abilities further down the line. There’s also numerous side quests and collectible missions which unlock various other stories that aren’t related to the main campaign, something which bolsters Murdered: Soul Suspects otherwise drastically short play time.
The puzzles that you’ll solve really aren’t that difficult at all considering that you’re told what area you need to look in to find them (moving out of an area where a clue might be removes the clue counter, indicating you’ve wandered too far) and that relevant clues typically come with a “memory flash” of what happened. These flashes sometimes come with another word puzzle element which has you choosing a few words to describe the picture you’re seeing. The hardest part then comes from selecting the right clues to complete the investigation or figuring out how to influence someone in order to get the clue you need. Indeed the only time I struggled to finish investigations was when the game decided not to spawn the required objects for me to interact with, something I’ll touch on later.
There are open world aspects to Murdered: Soul Suspect as well, allowing you to run around Salem looking for collectibles and helping out other ghosts that find themselves trapped in this realm. You can also posses people and read their minds, which sounds fun to begin with, however after a while you start to find that many NPCs are reused throughout the game and, despite their different circumstances in which you find them, they always have the same few lines to say. I feel like there’s something of a missed opportunity here as it would’ve added a little something more to the world to be able to influence the random people on the street or if there was another story you could unlock by reading enough minds. Sadly there isn’t and so after the first hour or so you’ll likely find yourself skipping all non-essential ghost power use.
Murdered: Soul Suspect is also rather glitchy as the screenshot above will attest to. There are numerous times when NPCs just won’t spawn or will spawn but won’t be visible or in the location where the game wants them to be. You can often resolve this issue by restart from a checkpoint but other times, like during an investigation, you’ll be left wandering around in circles wondering where the last clue is or clicking on clues you’ve already discovered hoping they’ll trigger something else. For a game that struggles with pacing at the best of times this isn’t a great glitch to have and it definitely had a negative impact on my experience.
However Murdered: Soul Suspect’s greatest failing is that the story just fails to captivate you in any way. On the surface the concept sounds pretty amazing, you’re a ghost detective solving your own murder, however I simply failed to empathize with the majority of the characters. There was massive potential here to give the characters incredible depth using the mind reading mechanic which unfortunately seems to be used to pad the game time out. Worst still the characters that were seemingly given the most attention, in terms of backstory development, are the ones with the least amount of presence in the actual game, being constrained to journal entries. Honestly my hopes weren’t that high for an emotional rollercoaster but I have to say that the overall story felt very lacklustre which is only amplified by the sub-par mechanics.
It’s a real shame because the side stories, typically the ones you unlock from collecting a bunch of artifacts in a particular area, are actually quite good. This was probably the only reason I pursued most of them down as they are the shining moments in Murdered: Soul Suspect, both in terms of their stories as well as the voice acting behind them. Again it feels like another one of the game’s missed opportunities as these stories are a part of the history of this game’s world and yet they’re limited to 5 minute reading sessions that are only unlocked through a tedious collecting mechanic. I don’t have a good idea as to how they could be worked in but suffice to say that Airtight Games would do well to replicate what they did in those stories in the main campaign.
Murdered: Soul Suspect unfortunately fails to achieve the goals it set out to do, delivering a mediocre story behind trivial puzzle mechanics whilst hiding its best aspects in a tedious treasure quest. I won’t deny that I had my hand in this as when I heard about the concept I immediately started drawing comparisons to Heavy Rain in my head and there are few games, in my mind, that come close. Still even taking that into consideration Murdered: Soul Suspect feels like a decidedly average game, failing to evoke the kind of emotional investment required by a game of this nature.
Murdered: Soul Suspect is available on PC, PlayStation3, PlayStation4, Xbox360 and XboxOne right now for $49.99, $79.95, $99.95, $79.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC with 7 hours of total play time and 83% of the achievements unlocked.
The advent of modern physics engines really opened up a whole new world of games that simply weren’t possible before. Whilst there has always been puzzle platformer games rarely did they have the level of complexity and ability to give rise to emergent behaviour like games with more realistic environments are today. Games like Portal are the perfect embodiment of this idea and Kim Swift, the game designer behind that title, has brought out another curious puzzle platformer: Quantum Conundrum. With such a pedigree behind it Quantum Conundrum deserves a look in and I gave it a play through over the last weekend.
Quantum Conundrum takes place inside Quadwrangle Manor, the home of a brilliant scientist who’s designed all sorts of wonderful inventions. You play as his 12 year old mute nephew who was dropped off at the manor to stay with your brilliant scientist uncle because your mother believes he needs the company. Upon arrival however he fails to meet you in the front hallway with one of his latest inventions like he always does and the manor suffers a power outage, seemingly trapping your scientist uncle in an alternate dimension. He is however still able to communicate with you through the security system and he guides you through his manor as you work to restore power and hopefully restore him back to the real world.
Right from the start Quantum Conundrum invokes that same feeling I had when playing the first portal game. Certainly Quantum Conundrum shares some of the same aesthetics that the Portal series did with some of the assets looking very similar to their Portal cousins. The level layout and disembodied voice following you constantly are also very similar which further adds to that bizzaro Portal world feeling. Graphically though it’s nothing particularly complex although the vibrant colour palette, heavy stylization, dynamic lighting and use of motion blur makes the whole package visually pleasing even if the graphics aren’t exactly cutting edge.
Quantum Conundrum’s main game mechanic revolves around the use of 4 dimensions that have different properties to that of the normal world. The first one you’re introduced to is the fluffy dimension, essentially a world where everything looks quilted and is as light as a feather. This allows you to move objects that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise, usually to trigger switches or use said objects as a stepping stone. The second dimension is the heavy dimension which is in essence the opposite of the fluffy dimension. However the heavy dimension also makes all objects more dense, preventing them from being destroyed by the lasers that are usually present everywhere. The heavy dimension can also be used to trigger switches with objects that wouldn’t usually trigger them opening up a fair few more possibilities for solving puzzles.
The third dimension you’re given access to is one where time flows at a very slow rate compared to the normal world. In this dimension you can watch switches activate, laser beams slowly power down and even use it to throw an item and then jump on top of it enabling you to catapult yourself across vast distances. The final dimension is one where gravity is switched around making all objects float to the ceiling. This is usually used in order to get objects into a position where you can hop onto them, making the platformer aspect of Quantum Conundrum quite mind bending at times.
Individually all these mechanics are interesting but hardly original as nearly all of those ideas have appeared in other games in one form or another (I can certainly remember things like that in the Half Life series of games). However any of them in combination turns what would appear to be a simple puzzle into an intriguing web of complexity especially when you consider the emergent behaviour that’s present in many of the puzzles. If I’m honest I got the most enjoyment out of the puzzles that utilized all 4 of the dimensions together as they were some of the most satisfying to solve.
One of the puzzles I can remember was late in the game and required you to ride a cube up to the exit door. However in order to do so you’d have to throw it through a grid of lasers which meant that you first had to switch to the fluffy dimension (in order to throw it) and then quickly switch to the heavy dimension (so it didn’t get zapped by the lasers) and then slow down time (so you could jump on top of it) and then finally alternate the gravity in order to ride the cube up to the door. It took me more than a couple tries to get it right but it was one of the most satisfying puzzles I’ve done in quite a long time.
Like any of these physics based games there’s always a few quirks to go along with the intended game play. More than once I had robots bug out on me (one I’m thinking of in particular was there to destroy safes I had dropped on the ground) meaning that the puzzle didn’t function as intended. Restarting from a check point solved this problem but after spending 5 to 10 minutes trying to solve the puzzle to find it is bugged can be quite frustrating. There were also a couple puzzles that seemed to punish you for missing things at the start, forcing you to retry the puzzle from the very start. Thankfully both these problems aren’t common but they were enough to see me put the game down a couple times during my 6.5 hours with it.
There also seems to be something weird with the collision detection on the player character and all the other surfaces in the game. There were many times when I fell to my death when I hit the jump key but my character didn’t jump even though, from what I could tell at least, I was still on the platform I was trying to jump from. This isn’t an uncommon issue with puzzle platformers so its usually just a meta-game of figuring out when to hit the jump key in order to make the jump. It’s rather frustrating at first but towards the end you don’t really notice it until you miss a critical jump by mistiming your jump.
Whilst Portal had a some semblance of a story behind it the plot of Quantum Conundrum is really only there to serve as a motivator to dive deeper and deeper into the Quadwrangle Manor. It’s kind of campy with everything about the entire ordeal seemingly ludicrous and the disembodied voice of your uncle holding quite a bit of contempt for you the entire time doesn’t really endear him as a character to you. It’s in stark contrast to Portal where I felt for the main character and enjoyed the ridiculous contempt that the main protagonist showed for my character, as did everyone else who played the game.
However the story doesn’t really matter so much as Quantum Conundrum excels on its game play alone showing Kim Swift’s trademark of making puzzlers with mechanics that start off simple but become incredibly complex as the game progresses on. I can’t say that Quantum Conundrum had me pegged to my seat like the original Portal did as I finished it over the course of 3 separate sittings but I did find the puzzles enjoyable, especially the later ones. There is of course a whole other game outside that of the main story of Quantum Conundrum in collecting all the collectables and getting all the achievements and if you’re the kind of insane completionist that loves this sort of thing then Quantum Conundrum is definitely for you.
Quantum Conundrum is available right now on PC, Xbox360 and PS3 right now for $14.99 or equivalent on all platforms. Game was played entirely on the PC with 5 hours of total play time with 36% of the achievements unlocked.