“Murdered: Soul Suspect” takes gaming visual pathos to a new level

The new game from Square Enix takes excellent advantage of both technology and the human element in game development.

By Robert Dow

Console hardware was the talk going into this year’s E3 Conference, but at the conference it was non-stop software from beginning to end. Microsoft and Sony barely mentioned the hardware under the hood of their forthcoming consoles and instead focused on games, especially Sony, who relentlessly emphasized playability.

Ronan O’Conner in The Dusk, from the forthcoming game “Murdered: Soul Suspect.” (Source: Square Enix)
Ronan O’Conner in The Dusk, from the forthcoming game “Murdered: Soul Suspect.” (Source: Square Enix)

A game showcased at the Sony press conference and the one that won the most awards at this year’s show was The Last of Us, winning Best of Show, Best Console, and Best Original Game. I, however, found myself gravitating to the Square Enix booth, where they were showing off the Final Fantasy series, Thief, and my favorite game of the show, Murdered: Soul Suspect.

Murdered takes place in Salem, Massachusetts, and is centered on Ronan O’Conner, a gritty detective on the local force. O’Conner is murdered early in the game and finds himself in limbo, as a ghost in a spirit world—“The dusk,” as lead writer Doug Van Horn calls it. Being a detective, O’Conner’s instincts take over and he sets out to solve his own murder. Having ghostly powers, O’Conner is able to possess people around him to get them to gather clues and to read their thoughts, walk through walls, and he can possess machines to make them malfunction.

Given Salem’s colorful and bloody history, the town provides a perfect setting. O’Conner continually runs into other spirits trapped in the dusk, which provides the player with side stories and adventures.

Although the game itself is original, and a needed break from the endless post-apocalyptic-themed titles, it was the lead character, Ronan O’Conner, who really caught my eye. He emotes so much feeling in the opening sequence—bravado, fear, shock, and, when he was killed, even the eyes seemed to go lifeless.

The company really did a tremendous job in giving O’Conner life—and sadly, they wouldn’t say whose game engine was used, although we suspect it is Square Enix’s Luminous Engine. Usually it is the voice and music that are tasked with giving the emotion and mood in a console game, but with Murdered, Ronan is able to bring it with his eyes and mannerisms.

First you are murdered: Ronan O'Connor is forced to transfer his detective skills from life to The Dusk. (Source: Square Enix)
First you are murdered: Ronan O’Connor is forced to transfer his detective skills from life to The Dusk. (Source: Square Enix)

I was able to sit-down with Eric Studer, Senior Design Producer at AirTight, and ask him about the development of O’Conner. Studer was quick to give credit to Jason Brook, the lead actor. “Jason is a tireless worker, and it’s his attention to detail and nuances that really helped bring Ronan to life,” he said. AirTight worked with Giant Studios on Murdered. Giant Studios worked on Avatar and the Halo trailers and helped bring emotion to Master Chief, which was tough to do considering that John 117 is always hidden by his golden eye and facial shield.

Murdered: Soul Suspect is due for release early in 2014 on the Xbox 360, PS3, and the PC.