Have you ever watched a murder mystery show and thought that you could do a much better job than the detectives? Well now you have a chance to prove it in D’Avekki Studios’ supernatural-noir game, The Shapeshifting Detective
. Given that this is an FMV game, it really feels as though you’re playing through an episode of a show, which makes for a more immersive experience. Short epilogues and a few missing quality of life features make for some minor grievances, but they fail to seriously weaken the overall experience.
Unsurprisingly, The Shapeshifting Detective
will have players assuming the role of a detective who is able to morph into the people that he meets. He uses the alias “Sam” throughout the game, but the detective’s true identity remains a mystery, and unfortunately, his backstory is only touched upon or referenced in short, vague conversations. At the beginning of the game you’ll be sent to a small town named August and tasked with solving the murder of local cellist Dorota Shaw. You’ll be staying at a guesthouse as you conduct your investigation, and you will need to get to know both the other visitors and the locals. By using your ability to impersonate someone before speaking to other characters, you can hear hidden dialogue and discover new situations. These situations and conversations often reveal important information in the form of conflicting statements, uncorroborated alibis, secret relationships, and other dialogue of that nature. The game does a great job at making you feel like a real detective in these instances, especially when clues that you gather lead to genuine "aha!" moments.
The game’s main gameplay mechanic can be a bit of a double-edged sword at times. The shapeshifting doesn’t come without consequence, as you still need to know details surrounding the characters you impersonate so as not to arouse any suspicion or create any unwanted problems with those whom you interact. For instance, shapeshifting can create issues between two characters who have never actually met if you choose inflammatory dialogue options when posing as someone else when meeting another character for the first time. That may sound a bit confusing, but it should be. In my case, I created a situation with unintended consequences by shapeshifting into one of the prime suspects for the murder. I then went to speak to the police chief multiple times to ask him questions as the suspect. Later in the game, the chief became annoyed with this constant “interrogation” and put the person I was impersonating in jail. Situations such as these make for an extra bit of engagement that is required of the player, especially if they wish to avoid unintended outcomes. The potential for such outcomes to occur helps greatly in terms of immersion. Keeping track of character relationships, where each character has been, and who they have interacted with independently of you can be confusing at first, but it made solving the mystery all the more rewarding in the end.
The pacing in The Shapeshifting Detective
is solid, and the game keeps you on your toes. The events take place over the course of just a few hours, all on the same night — the night after the murder. You’re given as much time as you need to investigate in each chapter of the game before you must manually choose to move on to the next one. As each new chapter begins, an hour or so passes and new events unfold, including more supernatural plotlines. As soon as you’ve learned all you can about the current cast of characters, another one or two people are thrown into the mix. The game has you feeling like you’re constantly playing catch-up. The detective isn’t from the town of August, so this feeling is an appropriate one to have.
There’s a good amount of characters in the game, and the majority of them deliver believable performances that can range from eerie to innocent. The cast manages to keep you guessing until the very end. Surprisingly, the least believable delivery comes from Dorota's boyfriend, as he seems almost unfazed by her death in most scenes. I’m purposely leaving out names and specifics so as not to delve too deep into the plot. With all there is to remember about each individual, it becomes extremely satisfying to be able to piece all of the clues together and narrow down the suspects. With that being said, the killer is chosen at random upon every new game, so you may not have the same experience that I did. I wanted to test this feature out by playing through the game twice, but unfortunately for me, I ended up with the same murderer two times in a row.
Playing through the game twice just to get the same killer is unlucky for sure, but this shouldn’t be a possibility to begin with. This, along with other minor grievances, hurts the replay value of a game that should be exciting to go through multiple times. For the amount of scenes in The Shapeshifting Detective
, there should be an option to skip the ones that you have already seen on subsequent playthroughs. Sitting through the same exact scenes more than once became tedious near the end of my second run. Additionally, if you don’t have any conversation options with a character, their name should probably be greyed out from the list of people you can choose to visit. There were countless instances in which I went to speak to someone, but they either weren’t there, or simply had no dialogue options for me at all. These gripes aren’t exactly major, but addressing them could allow for a more streamlined experience.
With the choice-based nature of the gameplay, multiple endings are more or less expected, but the game doesn’t seem to have enough of an epilogue for either of the two endings that I received. Both felt quite short, and they left me with the notion that there would be more to come. That notion ended up feeling empty in the end because of how abruptly I was just sent back to the title screen, with a few questions that I felt needed answers.The Shapeshifting Detective
contains a total of 21 achievements, most of which appear as though they may take some time to find or figure out. A few are self-explanatory, but the others seem to require very specific choices to be made throughout the game. With no chapter select, this can be a completion that may take much longer than it should, especially if you make the wrong choices. The game seems to autosave after every choice, so you’re locked in if you make any mistakes.Check out our Best Xbox Adventure Games Available in 2018 article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.
SummaryThe Shapeshifting Detective
truly does make the player feel as though they’re controlling the main character in a murder mystery TV show. Quality of life improvements such as skipping repeated scenes on later playthroughs and hiding useless menu options would be appreciated, but on the other hand, the game’s narrative is so engaging that I was tempted to take notes in order to keep all of the characters’ stories straight. Finding flaws in alibis, spotting discrepancies in statements, and slowly getting to learn about each character’s backstory were the main highlights of the game, and they manage to overshadow the less appealing aspects of this sleuthing experience.
- Choosing a random killer adds replay value
- Engaging narrative makes you suspect almost everyone
- Attention to detail is necessary, even with shapeshift mechanic
- The majority of performances are solid and keep you guessing
- Possible to get the same killer two playthroughs in a row
- Epilogues feel as though they could use a few more added scenes
This reviewer spent approximately seven hours impersonating other people while managing to complete the game twice and unlock 12 out of 21 achievements. A download code was provided for the purpose of this review.
Please read our Review and Ethics Statement for more information.