By Ronald Gordon
Being a detective is cool and all, but what if you could make your job a whole lot easier by becoming one of the suspects you’re investigating? And instead of wondering if the character is lying or not, why not turn into someone the suspect trusts? The possibilities are endless.
The Shapeshifting Detective is an FMV Indie Mystery game developed by D’Avekki Studios Ltd and published by Wales Interactive. You play as a man named Sam who has been hired as a detective for a recent murder case that happened in a town called August. Your job is to solve the murder of the young Dorota Shaw and find the killer before he or she strikes again.
The story starts out when you arrive at the Custom House in August to question the suspects and learn more about the situation. There’s the group of Tarot readers, Bronwyn, Lexie and Rayne; Violet, the owner of the Custom House; Dorota’s boyfriend Oscar; the strange photographer, Zak; and Poe & Munro, the co-hosts of a radio show that airs throughout August. As it turns out, Dorota’s murder was predicted by the Tarot readers, who used a special Tarot deck to find out who was about to be killed. Normally, Tarot card readings wouldn’t be taken seriously in this situation, but since the prediction came true, the police began to wonder if the Tarot readers had anything to do with Dorota’s murder since they were all staying at the same Custom House. However, the Tarot readers said that they wanted to stop the murder from happening, but they were unable to. You begin your interrogations, but you can only get so much information without relying on your special ability.
As hinted at during the opening of the game, you aren’t exactly human; you only pretend to be. You’re actually a shapeshifter with the power to change into anyone you meet. That could be one of the suspects, or your partner in the investigation, Police Chief Dupont. When you turn into someone else, you’re able to trick suspects into telling you their secrets. That makes the case a lot easier, as long as you know who to turn into and who to talk to.
I enjoyed this aspect of the gameplay as it made me think about which characters would help me the most if I shifted into them. There were so many conversations that could’ve taken place, but I chose the interactions that helped me solve the murder in the end. This took time and concentration, since I had to pay close attention to the things I learned from the suspects and put the pieces together in a way that made sense.
The Shapeshifting Detective is a great game not only because of its interesting shapeshifting mechanic, but also because of its Full Motion Video aspect. Not many games nowadays can pull off this FMV style like Shapeshifting Detective. The acting is direct and powerful. Because all of the actors have had experience in different movies, they’re no amateurs when it comes to putting on different faces. Their expressions, body movements, voices, and reactions to your questions all draw you into the story and make you feel like you’re actually having a conversation with a real person.
The cinematography makes the game feel like an interactive movie, because the camerawork draws your attention to the characters and gets you emotionally involved. For example, when you find out whether the suspect you chose is the actual killer, the camera angle tilts, so that you feel like something might be wrong and you should be worried. And the camera’s movements become jarring and dramatic, making you as edgy as the other characters because you don’t know what’s going to happen. Once the situation resolves, the camera settles down to reflect the calmer scene you’re in now – if you solved the case correctly, of course.
In The Shapeshifting Detective, there is a plethora of different outcomes, and finding the right one isn’t always easy. For those who are up to the challenge of solving a classic “Whodunit” scenario, I strongly suggest this one.
Ronald Gordon is creating the City Tech College chapter of the New York Videogame Critics Circle.