The Shapeshifting Detective
Developed by: D’Avekki Studios
Published by: Wales Interactive
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and Steam
The Shapeshifting Detective is the second FMV game to come from D’Avekki Studios, following in the footsteps of The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker which was released in June 2018. Much like its predecessor, The Shapeshifting Detective consists entirely of Full-Motion Video and uses a Murder Mystery story structure instead of the typical point-and-click format. This isn’t a surprise as D’Avekki Studios started life writing Murder Mystery Party games with digital elements included – branching out into the FMV world is a natural progression for the company and allows the concept of the Murder Mystery Party to be experienced by those without a group of like-minded friends. Focused more on questioning suspects over finding clues, The Shapeshifting Detective is a perfect title for armchair detectives who think they can spot a lie from miles away.
Brought to an atmospheric guesthouse to investigate the murder of a promising young musician with a mysterious past, you play the role of a shapeshifter – able to take the form of the various suspects you’ll come across. This offers the unique opportunity to question any of the suspects using the faces of their friends or enemies to find out extra clues – it’s a brilliant gameplay mechanic, and means that the detectives themselves have to avoid detection. Of course, this additional twist on the formula means that D’Avekki Studios have to create thousands of different responses to account for every potential combination of suspect interactions – 1,600 to be precise. The game also includes a “delete question” mechanic that allows players to avoid asking questions that might ruin relationships, raise suspicion or end an interview. Sometimes saying nothing can reveal more than asking questions.
The cast of actors are all brilliant in their roles, putting in convincing performances that help establish a creepy, supernatural atmosphere to events. FMV game stalwarts such as Rupert Booth (“Contradiction”) or Aislinn De’Ath (“The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker”) chew up the scenery and inhabit the roles with glee. The rest of the cast are equally as watchable – particularly Esmonde Cole who played Zak – the killer in my playthrough. Now, that’s not a spoiler per se, as this game randomly generates the killer at the beginning of each playthrough, creating plenty of opportunity for repeat playthroughs and different reactions to questioning. With each of the characters demonstrating some kind of shady behaviour, it isn’t a simple task to unmask the murderer – especially since it could be anyone! While this does help eliminate spoilers, it does rob the game of a solid narrative as the story can be flexible to whatever random playthrough has been selected.
Because the game is reliant on your choices, it does affect how much of the story you actually get to see. On my initial playthrough, I noticed a few inconsistencies and automatic assumptions that took place – and it wasn’t until my second playthrough that I realised that the game expected me to have visited A before B, and so I’d missed out some bits of exposition that explained why the game made those assumptions. In branching narratives, there is also the danger of inconsistencies and plot holes and thankfully, The Shapeshifting Detective keeps these to a minimum, resulting in a storyline that makes largely makes sense no matter how you approach it. There were enough ‘missed opportunities’ to make me want to play through the game to see how the suspects would react to a less favourable approach, and I’m pleased to say that I felt like the choices actually mattered and I was getting a different story. For example, I discovered more about Violet and Chief Dupont’s relationship in my second playthrough because I focused more on those two the second time around, asking different questions and being more willing to push boundaries.
Filmed in HD, The Shapeshifting Detective is a thing of beauty – capturing that sense of realism that comes from FMV games. The B-roll that plays whilst you make your decisions evokes a sense of discomfort, which is compounded by the occasional jump-scare. I played this on my Nintendo Switch and there were a few instances where I jumped or gasped, no doubt raising eyebrows amongst my fellow commuters. I love how crisp the video is, and the UI is nice and minimalistic in design, ensuring the player is immersed into this first-person exploration.
As a Murder Mystery, there is a limit to the actual gameplay that is found within the game – most of the experience is trial and error, and it would have been better if there was an actual limitation on the number of transformations that you could perform to inject an element of strategy to the game. Ultimately, the only way to lose is to overstep your mark in conversation or pick the wrong suspect at the climax. That said, I think the game should be considered to be more of an interactive movie, or a pre-recorded live experience. It is an evolution from the point-and-click FMV games of the past, catering to a new audience who don’t want to spend days figuring out elaborate puzzles. While I would love to see D’Avekki Studios approach a more traditional format in their future games, I must admit that I do enjoy these ‘interrogation simulators’ and the sheer volume of content that goes into creating them.
With its killer hook, and pitch-perfect atmosphere, The Shapeshifting Detective is one of the more original FMV titles out there. Dark, sexy and mysterious, armchair detectives will be on the edge of their sofas attempting to figure out who murdered Dorota Shaw…