Welsh publisher Wales Interactive have become synonymous with the FMV adventure genre as of late, with releases like The Bunker, Late Shift, and The Infectious Madness of Dr Dekker showing a real commitment to reviving the genre as a whole. It’s something they’ve earned quite a lot of praise for thanks to the quality of each release too, and that trend continues with their latest title The Shape Shifting Detective.
This one comes with quite the unique twist though: not only do you literally shape-shift to help unravel the mysterious murder that you’re investigating, but the actual murderer is also randomised in order to give players a more unpredictable case to uncover.
In The Shape Shifting Detective you take on the role of the enigmatic Sam – a detective who has been called to the town of August to help unravel the mystery behind the murder of a young woman named Dorota Shaw. Of course, Sam also has the aforementioned ability to shape-shift into the form of anyone they meet, including the three key suspects behind the crime. You need to use this ability to sneakily question everyone and find out who exactly is behind the murder.
You’ve got the freedom to question the suspects in any order you choose. Of course, this order can play a big role in the outcome of your case seeing as you can shape-shift – you can only shape-shift into a person if you’ve previously met them, meaning you’ll have to have interacted with them at least once to use their appearance to your advantage. Given that not everyone is available to question at all times, the order you choose can affect how much you can find out from each suspect at any given time.
When you do shape-shift though it can open up some whole new questions, with some suspects more willing to reveal a little bit more to different characters. It’s up to you to figure out which person’s form will help you unravel the events that occurred, figure out if anyone’s lying, and then get ready to contradict both their intentions and their alibis. It’s good fun and there’s a real sense of satisfaction to be had from unravelling new details by taking on another person’s form. Besides adding branching plotlines to the tale, it also helps give The Shape Shifting Detective its own unique identity as an FMV mystery – you definitely shouldn’t expect to see everything it has to offer in one playthrough.
Whilst shape-shifting is the best way to find out the hidden details you need to solve the mystery, it can also have repercussions. Fortunately, these don’t affect you, but rather the characters that are woven into the story – you’ll be pretending to be them after all, so if you ask too many questions you might find yourself causing friction in a pre-existing relationship. Got to solve the case no matter the cost, right? As you progress further you meet more characters, giving you even more lives to ruin… or ways to question other characters, depending how you want to look at it. Either way, it just keeps adding more depth to the experience and ensures you don’t run out of questions to ask fast – and, of course, it’s a lot of fun.
One negative aspect that the shape-shifting adds is that it can drag the game out a little. For one, you have to go back to your room in order to shape-shift, which means leaving a suspect behind and then having to return to them. It’d be nice to have been able to just change instantly, even if it is a bit less ‘realistic’. Then there’s the fact that sometimes you’ll have to change between multiple characters just to unlock additional questions, with it never made clear to the player who’s form they have to take in order to get the suspect to talk. Whilst this is a more justified sense of realism that plays to your role as a detective, it also added a sense of trial and error to the game that got a little tedious over time. It’s a small complaint, but it’s a noticeable one.
One intriguing feature of The Shape Shifting Detective is that the murderer can be one of three suspects, with the game randomly selecting one for you. Whilst this does add some changes to each playthrough (especially with the branching paths), I think I would’ve preferred it if there was just one villain that was set in stone. Sure, it adds a bit extra replayability to the experience, but it also added a sense of pot luck to whether or not you’re actually a good detective and really solved the crime.
Whether you solve the mystery or not, there’s no denying that the actors who take on the role of the suspects do a great job. Whilst some performances were certainly better than others, none ever felt bad – sure, they could be over the top, but it actually fit in well with the whole eccentric vibe of the game. I simply enjoyed interacting with all of The Shape Shifting Detective’s characters and seeing what they had to say, whilst the whole set up and presentation was on point too. It definitely helped me get absorbed by the experience on both of my playthroughs.
Developer: D’Avekki Studios
Publisher: Wales Interactive
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC