The Shapeshifting Detective is a new FMV (Full Motion Video) game from Wales Interactive. It’s a curious game that pretty much does what it says on the tin. You take on the role of the titular detective and have the ability to take on the likeness of anybody you come into contact with, like a deranged, constantly regenerating Doctor Who.
The concept becomes apparent quite quickly. There’s been a murder, and you’re in charge of solving it. You click between a handful of suspects to interview in a stereotypical manor house setting straight out of an episode of Midsomer Murders. You can also hail a cab to visit further family members, the Chief of Police, and suspects who aren’t staying in the house. The game displays all of these interactions in HD, so they look and sound excellent. The number of variable interactions is also a strong selling point, leading to multiple different playthroughs depending on your approach, as well as the order that you interview in. You can also choose to delete questions that you think might put you in a tight spot, or ruin a relationship with a particular character, which can be handy.
The game sometimes, however, feels limited by its own formula. Many times, a character will describe a need to find something in a room, or look for a vital piece of evidence. If the game wasn’t so cemented in being a pure FMV game and allowed us to briefly venture into point and click territory, it would make it a little quicker paced. As is, there are times where you feel you’re just going through the motions, changing into all of the characters one by one until you find an interview that progresses the story further. Bizarrely still, some interviewees sometimes simply won’t be there, or if they are, will just stare blankly at you, forcing you to leave. A line of dialogue saying they were unavailable to chat might’ve been preferable.
However, what good would the tales of Miss Marple or Poirot be without a good aesthetic? The Shapeshifting Detective is filmed in a decently believable maison of death. The production values feel suitably high and the noir stories on the radio in the background add an ambience that actually feels akin to something that one might here in BioShock or Fallout. Unfortunately, the acting is a bit hit or miss. As a nit-pick, the game seems to be set in Britain, yet there are some regional American accents thrown in for some reason. Less forgivable though are some of the blander performances. The boyfriend of the murdered girl, for example, treats the ordeal as if he’s lost his keys, never showing more than a flicker of care for his deceased lover.
The Shapeshifting Detective is an interesting idea that seems to have love and care put into it. Unfortunately, it’s a little too basic, and despite the gimmick of changing into other characters, becomes dull after about an hour of play. The actual narrative is an interesting case however, with additional hinted backstory for your main character, which is somewhat compelling. The visuals and tone are good too, but the hit and miss acting and slow pace make for a slightly underwhelming shapeshifting whodunnit.