19th Nov2018

‘The Shapeshifting Detective’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Britt Roberts

Shapeshifting_Screenshot_01

The newest FMV gem from the Welsh gaming mecca of Bridgend builds upon the precedent set by Wales Interactive’s previous releases but this time more than ever I felt the constraints of the genre, although the end result is still as polished and enjoyable as I’ve come to expect from the studio.

In The Shapeshifting Detective you play as ‘Sam’, who has been tasked by a shady, bearded man to solve the murder of a young woman named Dorota, a crime seemingly committed by one of three tarot readers staying at a guesthouse in a town called August. The twist in the tale is that ‘Sam’ can morph into any other character that he meets and so as he questions each suspect and even meets with the local chief inspector (Contradiction’s Rupert Booth, a wonderfully emotive actor who brings to mind a leaner, clean-shaven Xander Berkeley) he is able to take their form and re-interview people who will give different responses dependant on their relationship with said character.

There really is a lot to love about these games (The Bunker, Late Shift, Contradiction and The Infectious Madness of Dr Dekker) they are well-shot and well-acted and the level of interactivity means you can really get into the tale with a glass of wine (Barefoot Shiraz, natch) at your own pace. I found myself getting sucked in to the dreamlike atmosphere, helped in no small part by the constant background radio chatterings of several ‘guest DJs’ (including Tex Murphy’s Chris Jones, a nice tip of the hat to the man that dominated the FMV genre through the 90’s) and the wandering camera during the hallway segments in the guest house as well as the mysterious driver as the car winds its way through dimly-lit back roads at night in the scenes depicting travel between locations.

I found The Shapeshifting Detective to be a natural progression from The Infectious Madness of Dr Dekker and the re-casting of actors in different roles brought to mind American Horror Story in its sense of community and an over-arching in-game universe. That said, the clever usage of flipping between characters brought with it the sense that the mechanic could have been taken even further. For example, at one point I had exhausted all of my questions and so I nipped back to my room to shift into another character (as you do) to see what else I could unearth, after which the tarot readers all began talking about ‘not wanting another Birmingham situation’ so I changed back into ‘Sam’, expecting to bring up some juicy gossip about this ‘Birmingham issue’ but I hadn’t unlocked any new conversations and so it remained a mystery for a while longer. It’s an issue that runs through the game and, whilst understandable it does get irritating to want to ask a direct question on a specific topic and having to make other, seemingly lesser choices instead.

The Shapeshifting Detective is a worthy continuation of Wales Interactive’s oeuvre and it’s crisp visuals and intriguing supernatural, noir-ish tale is definitely worth exploring although it’s worth stating that it’s not a huge leap from the previous titles, which is no bad thing in some respects as the games are of such high quality production values but it does boil down to having conversations until you’ve worn out all options and then moving on to the next chapter. Personally, I really like it as it’s purely narrative-driven and a fun game to play with your partner, unravelling the mystery together, but I’m still not convinced that having a random murderer each time adds anything to the replay value of the games as I’m not sure how many people revisit them after their first play-through.

It’s a thumbs-up from me and I’m already looking forward to the next release, hopefully again featuring Rupert Booth’s eyebrows.

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