Over the weekend, I was browsing Sony’s flash sale on the PS4 and found Murdered: Soul Suspect on sale for eight bucks. It was one of those games that sounded cool, but the reviews were middling and I had no time. But, now, I had time… and come on, eight bucks is dirt cheap.
It’s not a perfect game. The mechanics could be more refined and more could be done with them in terms of puzzles and the like. But it is, very much, an adventure game; you walk around, you talk to people, you put together an inventory, and piece together how it all works. And the writing is great, and there’s one sequence in particular that the game forces you to reconsider after the finale.
There are a lot of games, lately, I could describe this way. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, and critical darling Gone Home come to mind as recent examples, but there are others as well, like the surprise episodic hit Life Is Strange, and they tend to share a few features:
Strong Writing: As much as I abused Rapture for being full of itself, it was an excellently written game. In fact, all of the games I’ve mentioned have unusually strong writing for video games, often because the plot and story are crucial to having the game work at all.
Environmental Storytelling: This is pretty much the entirety of Rapture, of course, but every one of these games uses clues and ideas in the environment, or even just as trappings to tell a story without spelling it out for you. Part of the joy of Murdered: Soul Suspect was stumbling over a weird piece of old Salem, like a train wreck or a ghostly burning building.
Offbeat Mechanics: Murdered: Soul Suspect is a weird game, mechanically, because, as a ghost… you can walk through anything that is not also ghostly. It’s essentially a ten-hour-long goof on clipping, although the game gets a little creative using physical objects to let you sneak around its enemies. You can also possess cats to solve platforming puzzles, for some reason. Life Is Strange lets you rewind time at certain points, letting you test out certain decisions. Ethan Carter has you solve murders by essentially chasing tag clouds to find clues and then reassemble the timeline of a murder.
And we keep getting games like this. Sony just released Until Dawn, a game that’s been through quite a few ups and downs in its path to release but is undeniably something different when it comes to survival horror. Dawn, so far, is arguably the most successful, partially because it doesn’t take itself too seriously and partially because the mechanics don’t get in the way of the story.
It makes you wonder if the adventure game is about to experience a revolution and possibly, a comeback. Somebody’s buying these games; we know this because developers keep making them. It will just be curious to see how far this shift in the genre goes.