I knew nothing about The Shapeshifting Detective before I played it. I was expecting a game where you explore your environment, find clues and interact with NPC’s. It’s not often that a game gives you a new experience. An unusual style of gameplay and a genuinely new experience. But after 4 hours of gameplay I had to sit back and recognise that, for me at least, this was something I had never encountered before.
I knew I was well out of my comfort zone in gaming when I found myself trying to seduce my landlady’s secret lover to get him to confess to murdering someone else. A position I rarely find myself in.
The Shapeshifting Detective from Wales Interactive is a mash up of a videogame, adventure book (you know the ones where you decide which page to turn to), and a 1950’s radio drama.
If you’ve played The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker, you’ll know how this plays. But if you haven’t then this may be a unique experience for you and may be more fun than you expect.
The Shapeshifting Detective is available on Steam, XBox, Switch and, the console I reviewed it on, PS4. It is a Full Motion Video game which puts you in the titular role of a Detective with a special ability, brought in to help the local police solve a murder.
This is a genre of gaming rarely at the forefront of most gamers’ minds, but it is a relaxing and engaging style of play.
You are Sam, a Detective with a very special ability. You can transform into anyone you have met. In The Shapeshifting Detective your job is to start meeting the main characters in this noir crime-drama. After meeting the local Chief of Police, who hints at your dodgy past, you move into a guest house where you can interview three guests and the house owner. You choose the questions that you ask or pause for them to react and the chapter ends when you are satisfied you have got what you need. The questions are branching and can lead in any number if direction. You can threaten, flirt, seduce, challenge or lie to get what you want. But where The Shapeshifting Detective differs, is that you can change into any of those characters and visit another one to try and corroborate or disprove their account.
With each chapter the number of suspects and your deductions increase. You start to pull together theories about the people and who is lying. Each interaction is played First Person perspective and in Full HD video. There are over 1600 videos that you may see, depending on what decisions you take and questions you ask.
The actors are good, and the video doesn’t glitch between scenes, so it keeps the interactions feeling realistic. There aren’t always a massive range of questions, but there is enough to keep you on track. The game has the ability to randomly allocate the murderer so replayability is high. There are no traditional controls, you don’t move your character. You select where they go (Go to room) and tell them what to do (Speak to …). The game is broken down into chapters so there are logical stepping off points which is useful. The crime is not an easy one to solve and there are twists and turns ahead.
The vast majority of the game is in First Person and uses Full Motion Video to show the action and responses, so visually this is stunning. There are no frame-rate issues or poor textures as it’s 1080p video. When you do go back to your room to shapeshift, there is a vibration in the screen (and controller) to let you know you have changed. You don’t see the change. While The Shapeshifting Detective looks good, it isn’t that challenging for a modern console. But it does what it does well. There are no jaw dropping moments when you are amazed at how far games have come. This is more like choosing the direction that a TV show goes than playing a game.
Lip Sync is spot on and the actors are great in The Shapeshifting Detective. They are believable and suck you into their story. The whole game has a Radio playing in the background, Radio August. As well as period music the hosts, who you meet and interview later in the game, introduce the time of day and the crimes that have happened. The audio quality is good, matches the visuals and keeps things on track. There are no real sound effects to the game due to the FMV style.
The radio in the background talks about the crimes and fills in some gaps. It talks about events that are happening in the community that may, or may not, be a clue.
There is only one game mode available, but as the murderer is randomly selected, so it can be replayed. Add to that the different permutations of questions you can ask, and characters you can be and there is a lot to dig into.
While the gameplay gets a bit repetitive, you can always get a summary of your findings from the Police Chief. Everyone is a suspect in this game and when you think you’ve worked something out, they often get an alibi or witness that exonerates them.
The game is unusual if not unique and it won’t be for everyone.
The Shapeshifting Detective feels like an interactive movie, or a digital boardgame, or a playable novel. I’m not sure which, but it does it well and makes you want to play on.
The Shapeshifting Detective looks and sounds good. It will appeal to fans the genre and surprise those who aren’t. It’s the sort of game you could easily lose an evening or two to and I hope more people try this out. It may not be for a hack’n’slash gamer or a FPS fan, but if you want to chill on the couch and dig onto an interactive story this is perfect and accessible.
Wales Interactive have cleverly pulled the questions, responses, videos and soundtrack together to make an immersive experience and story.
The Shapeshifting Detective is well worthy of a Thumb Culture Silver Award. It doesn’t do anything wrong, but it is niche and lacks mass appeal.
Disclaimer: A Code was provided to enable us to complete this review.