"Murdered: Soul Suspect" has all the building blocks of a Hollywood thriller, but the surprise is that you'll find it on video game consoles rather than in movie theaters.
The game has dramatic tension, memorable characters and an intriguing mystery -- storytelling elements that elude most developers, who crash and burn with convoluted plots or paper-thin heroes.
Airtight Games manages to nail these narrative marks with "Murdered: Soul Suspect." The studio crafts a tightly knit plot focused on Ronan O'Connor, a police officer with a murky past who is killed while chasing after a serial killer in Salem, Massachusetts. That's where the game begins, as the protagonist spends the rest of the time as a spirit. Over the course of the short campaign, Ronan and a teenage medium named Joy will have to figure out the identity of the murderer and stop the killings.
Being a ghost, as a player discovers, one can't consistently interact with the real world. But there are perks. Ronan is trapped in a spiritual plane in which he can go through walls, possess the bodies of people and animals and teleport short distances. As a police detective, he also has keen observational skills and can make hidden objects or the residue of memories appear. He needs all of these abilities to investigate crime scenes and find leads to the killer.
Although it sounds like a novel idea, ripe with potential, Airtight Games flubs the execution.
Scouring for clues can be an exercise in frustration, since they are placed with no rhyme or reason. What's worse is that after gathering leads, players have to work with haphazard logic puzzles in which they answer key questions using clues they discovered.
To spice up each section, Airtight Games added adversaries called demons that hunt ghosts like Ronan and devour them. Ronan has to sneak around and attack the demons from behind to eliminate them. It adds a stealth element to the gameplay, but like most of the campaign, it's not polished enough to stand out.
The "Murdered: Soul Suspect" developers tried to bolster the game's replay value with collectibles that are scattered throughout each level, but they feel tacked on and don't offer that much. They just amount to a lot of busy work that distracts from the real star -- the compelling story.
The only other part of the game that was done decently was the level design. It has its moments, especially when players have to figure out how to sneak Joy past guards or how to get around demon pits that block your path. Some of those puzzles are clever, but they can't make up for the sloppy gameplay.
That is the Achilles' heel for "Murdered: Soul Suspect." The basic gameplay is so badly done that it makes it difficult for players to get into the good plot. It can be discouraging, but if players stick with it, they'll be rewarded with a surprisingly good finale.
Platform: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC