This review was written using a review code provided to me via the game’s publisher. This does not affect my judgement of the game and this message is included for the purpose of transparency.
FMV games are something that I found myself coming to enjoy recently. It started with my interest in The Bunker. I then reviewed The Late Shift for this site, and enjoyed my time with that game. Both of these are by a publisher named Wales Interactive, so when I found out they were publishing a new FMV I was intrigued. With a title like The Shapeshifting Detective, I was very intrigued. A FMV where I controlled a detective tasked with solving a crime, using his unique power to complete the task? Sounds excellent, but unfortunately the game does feel short in a number of areas.
Lets start with the games plot. The game begins with you in a room, and an agent asking you questions. He explains that you are to go to a town called August, and are to find Chief Dupont. He hands you a document and explains that the chief will think you are this person. You are not to get caught, and no-one is to suspect you are different. When you get to Chief Dupont he believes you are here to investigate a recent murder in the town. A woman by the name of Dorota Shaw was strangled, and it is your job to find the killer. Chief Dupont explains that the murder was predicted by 3 tarot readers, and that they are currently the main suspects due to their sketchy alibis. You travel to the guest-house where the tarot readers, and you yourself, are staying. Upon talking to them new clues come to light, and the investigation continues from there. The game does feature three possible killers, and in my 2 playthroughs I got the same killer both times. One time I caught them, the second time I didn’t.
In my second playthrough I deliberately attempted to sabotage the investigation, to see if it was possible to completely mess up the investigation. My attempts were unsuccessful. Even with attempting to screw everything up, I still knew who the killer was. However instead of naming the killer correctly, I picked the wrong person. This resulted in a scene with the actual killer, and gave me one of the many possible endings to the game.
In terms of gameplay, The Shapeshifting Detective plays in a way similar to the other FMVs published boy Wales Interactive. The main bulk of the game sees you deciding where to go. You begin in the guesthouse as Sam (the shapeshifters new identity), and navigate the investigation via a menu. This menu lets you decide who to talk to, to visit your room so you can transform into another character, or hail a cab to head to one of the other locations outside of the guesthouse. These include Chief Dupont’s office, the house of Dorota’s boyfriend, as well as future suspects in the case. All of this is navigated via a menu. Once you finish chatting to someone you can then decide where you want to go next. It’s something that becomes very tedious very quickly, however after a while the tediousness of it wears off. I also understand that there was no other way that the game could have been navigated, giving the investigative nature of the game’s plot.
As explained earlier, you progress the investigation by talking to the characters in the game. They will in turn tell you things, or refuse to tell you things. You can then transform into a character and pry that information from them. One instance that pops to mind is of a character called Violet, and her reported alien abduction. She refuses to talk to Sam about the abduction. It’s of importance as she cannot remember where she was the night of Dorota’s murder. Earlier in the game Chief Dupont mentions that Violet tells him stuff she will not tell other people. You transform in Chief Dupont and talk to Violet. You convince her to talk to Sam about the abduction, and rule her out as Dorota’s murderer. In my playthroughs at least.
This system of not being able to gain knowledge, transforming, getting the person to agree to chat (or divulging that information to you), and then transforming back and getting that information. This is one of the small issues I have with The Shapeshifting Detective. The game feels like endless loops of going through conversation, to meet a roadblock, transform, get info, carry on. Rinse and repeat. It becomes very repetitive, and unfortunately is not something that becomes easier with time.
Visually the game looks amazing. Shot very well, the actors stand out very clearly. When playing The Shapeshifting Detective it is extremely believable that you are genuinely Sam, actually going and investigating this murder. The audio of the game is spot on as well, every sentence is easy to hear. There is no overly loud background music like I found with The Late Shift. The acting itself is something I found issue with. The dialogue of the game feels very forced, very obviously a script as strange as that sounds. Some parts of the conversation do feel very natural, however most of it feels awkward and draws you out of the immersion of The Shapeshifting Detective.
The Shapeshifting Detective is not a game I would recommend for those looking for a gritty FMV. The game tries very hard to be gritty, and the plot is interesting to some extent. However overall it falls very flat, leaving the player with more unanswered questions. If you want to get an FMV fix, then The Shapeshifting Detective will meet your needs. For £10 it won’t break the bank, but it won’t blow you away either.
The rest of this review will contain spoilers for the game. This is not something we normally do, however these are being mentioned as they are relevant to the review of this game.
My main issue with the Shapeshifting Detective is simply that some major parts of the game’s plot make no sense. Some parts of the game are out there, such as the player being a shapeshifting detective, but you can roll with it because it’s a video game. Some things can’t be overlooked though.
For instance late in the game the tarot readers conduct another group reading and, after getting the same cards as the day of Dorota’s murder, conclude that another murder is going to happen. Okay, seems logical enough. However then one of the tarot readers uses her ouija board to find out the name of the person who is going to be murdered. She comes up with a name, Ellis Monroe, and the plot progresses. The issue is in how the use of the ouija board is explained.
It is explained that the dimension travelling creature the tarot readers are hunting inhabits the body of a human. It then uses this body to kill humans as a coming of age rite. The tarot readers apparently know who is going to die because Lexie, the lady who uses the board, uses it to receive messages from the spirit world. The reason being that the spirit world is so far away that messages take a while to reach us, therefore the spirit world is actually a few hours ahead of us. So Lexie receives messages from people who are already dead, but not actually dead yet. It feels like a very put together excuse. Almost as if the developers realised this plot hole and had to come up with a way to sew the plot together. There is also the added fact in my first playthrough I saved Ellis, so Lexie can’t have received a message from Ellis’s spirit in the spirit world.
This next issue we are going to discuss involves an uncomfortable experiencing while playing as a female character, including hints at an intended sexual assualt. If this makes you uncomfortable please do not read on. Just know that it exists in the game, for no valid reason.
In The Shapeshifting Detective there is a character called Zak Weston. A local photographer, he fancies himself a ladies man. We know he was seeing Violet, trying to get Ellis to pose topless and is just generally creepy with his attitude towards women. In one part of the game, it is possible to transform into Lexie and visit Zak. He offers you a drink. The first playthrough I declined. However in my second time I decided to see how far the developers were willing to go with this. I took the drink. I agreed to let Zak photograph me (as Lexie). He then began asking if Lexie would remove her top. I agreed and he took the top off. Rather Zak took it off me. Strange having just met the woman, but the player agreed and you do have the chance to say no. However it gets weird and super creepy when the flashback happens.
This isn’t a flashback that we saw when we started the game. It shows the agent from the beginning tell Sam not to get drugged, or he will revert back to his original form and “no-one wants to see that”. It then comes back to Zak photographing the player. The camera begins to shake, as it does when you transform into another character. Zak begins to panic, asking what you are before running out of the room. It is obviously clear from this interaction that Zak had plans to drug Lexie.
His intentions afterwards cannot have been good ones. I can honestly say I have never felt that uncomfortable playing a game. Seeing that happen from a first person view, the implied intentions, is very disturbing and completely unnecessary. Having gone through this experience, what can the player do with this knowledge? You cannot tell anyone what happened, as no-one is allowed to know you’re a shapeshifter. It couldn’t be used as evidence against Zak. There was no need for this to be in the game. The first time I played I correctly identified Zak as the killer, without him drugging me while I was Lexie.