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The Shapeshifting Detective (Switch) Review

by Joel A. DeWitte - November 29, 2018, 9:02 pm PST
Total comments: 2

6.5

Loose threads tangle an interesting idea.

Until now, I hadn’t had experience with full motion video (FMV) games. Mostly seen from afar, I had a misconception that they were mostly schlocky, tacky non-games that traded more on the outrageous a la Night Trap. What I’ve learned from The Shapeshifting Detective is that FMV can be an interactive storytelling method that’s engaging, funny, and surprising, if in the right hands.

As the titular character, you are employed by the police chief of a small town called August to investigate the murder of a young cellist. You take on the name Sam, but unbeknownst to everyone other than the chief, you have the ability to take on the appearance of others you meet. The different suspects include gypsies that predicted the victim’s demise via tarot cards and ouija boards, the hotel owner who dislikes them, the boyfriend of the victim, and other local personalities.

Each hour of the evening is broken into separate story chapters, speaking with all the suspects as Sam, then shapeshifting into other characters, which can open up new dialogue options and provide new lines of questioning later. While a little silly or overacted, I grew to mostly enjoy the slate of characters. Each of them had distinct personalities, motives, and believable responses to questions or statements. While given the appearance of open-endedness, you have to complete a set of dialogue options before being allowed to proceed to the next chapter, culminating at the end of evening in an attempt to identify the killer.

The same problems as any narrative-driven title exist here: gives the appearance of choice, but a limited amount of choice that drives truly different story outcomes. I didn’t get the impression that pressing certain questions did more than flavor the tone of responses you get from suspects. Adding to this, the story introduces questions that felt unsatisfyingly unanswered by the end. Beyond that, a disjointedness to the pacing permeates, with earlier chapters feeling slow and later ones rushed as if there was a scramble to wrap the story up. Upon completion, there’s no option to start from a chapter midway to try out different dialogue options, giving the impression there isn’t much to gain in a repeat playthrough.

At its core, The Shapeshifting Detective has a good hook and a compelling enough story structure, but is marred by not feeling like your choices matter, uneven pacing, and the impression that not all the story beats were well thought out or executed. Without sticking the landing on either the story or interactivity, what had potential to be great feels more middle of the pack.

Summary

Pros
  • Humorous, interesting characters
  • Interesting story conceit
Cons
  • Can't tell if choices matter
  • Limited perceived replayability
  • Unexplored, unanswered questions

Talkback

FrozenTroutNovember 30, 2018

I have not played it yet, but my understanding is that the actual murderer changes from playthrough to playthrough, giving it a bit more longevity. If I recall correctly, it may change based on your actions, giving them more actual weight, but it may also be randomized, I’m not sure.

Quote from: FrozenTrout

I have not played it yet, but my understanding is that the actual murderer changes from playthrough to playthrough, giving it a bit more longevity. If I recall correctly, it may change based on your actions, giving them more actual weight, but it may also be randomized, I’m not sure.

Thanks.  That's good to know, if true.  Those honestly are smaller gripes compared to my main critique, which is that the story itself has real issues with plodding along through most of it and then a sudden whiplash rush to the finish which made me feel like the character development gets stunted and not necessarily a good experience that made me feel like I was finding out who the killer was based on my sleuthing.  Instead, it felt like the game was funneling me down to the only logical conclusion each time.

I'll also note something I didn't in my initial review - there's the faintest bit of mystery before and after the main thrust of the story where they insert about the true nature of who you are as "The Shapeshifting Detective" they explain in a way that felt really amateurish, like something I would have filmed with friends in high school in an attempt to be purposefully vague as if there was more mystery to reveal.  Really didn't sit well with me.

One more thing - I did find that you can make choices that reveal yourself to one of the characters as a shapeshifter, which you're warned about not doing before starting the game, but it had little to no impact as far as I could tell when I interacted with that character after I got outed. 

Not to say I didn't find some enjoyment in the experience.  Just that if those two items were as you described, it wouldn't change my overall impression of the game or the score given. 

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Game Profile

Genre Adventure
Developer Wales Interactive Ltd.
Players1

Worldwide Releases

na: The Shapeshifting Detective
Release Nov 06, 2018
PublisherWales Interactive Ltd.
RatingTeen
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