One of my favorite types of books growing up was the “choose your own adventure” types. Being able to participate in the progress of the story to get different endings was exciting. Wales Interactive have made a few video games that have the same idea.
The Shapeshifting Detective is the second one I’ve played, and it utilizes a very creative twist. You shapeshift into other people within the story. Being able to talk to someone who thinks you’re someone else can give you a lot of conversation choices. In this story, there are a few different endings. It’s similar to a movie as far as run-time, though it can take quite a while to get to the end if you shapeshift and talk to everyone. Sometimes it’s not obvious what the next step is to move the story along. It is a true mystery and will leave you second-guessing yourself the entire time.
Here’s what I liked:
Personalities — Being a character study-based crime investigation, actors must really dig deep into facial expressions and body language. Aside from what the characters say, you have to pay attention to other details that could reveal more than any words could. I don’t believe there were any weak actors. Everyone did an exceptional job and were, for the most part, believable. There were some I favored and really hoped would not be the killer. I wanted the ones I didn’t care about much to be the ones that got locked up. Though, there was always still doubt because you know that anyone could be lying. Being able to get to know these people through shapeshifting and being yourself was a blast.
Being Someone Else — The premise of “shapeshifting” is a spectacular one. You may be doing the detective work solo, but you feel like a team. Not getting the right responses from someone? Change into someone you know they trust. Not all goes well either. You can make people quite suspicious if you say things that don’t make sense or if you contradict yourself. It’s all about deceit and keeping everyone in line. Saying things that confuse the personalities can be quite entertaining. I was compelled to become everyone and talk to everyone before moving on to the next chapter so that I could see all the game had to offer me. I really loved the whole concept.
Being the Detective — Watching the events unfold while you gather clues can be extremely satisfying. Gaining clues and information comes at a pretty good pace. At first, you don’t know much, but as you progress you start actually knowing the characters and piecing together the mystery. Suddenly new people are introduced because conversations have directed you to question them. You get more and more suspects. Being a detective is empowering. Your job is to get to the bottom of the murder and you actually feel like you’re making a dent in the case. While I was in school, I took a test that would suggest what job I might be most interested in. My end result was basically a private eye. Years later, this is pretty much the only actual detective work I’ve been able to do and I quite enjoyed it. It’s a game that really lets you be someone else, and I don’t mean that because you can shapeshift.
Here’s what I didn’t like
Time Wasters — There are a few scenarios that slow the momentum of the story a little bit. For example, when you shift into another character you always test out their voice. If you by mistake change into the wrong person, you must wait until the lines are said before choosing the right one. This happens each time you shift. It was interesting the first time, but with so much switching it gets a bit tedious. The other issue I had was that if someone you go to visit isn’t there, you still load into that area and it just shows a scene where there is an empty room. Why even let us go there? You basically just waste your time trying every person listed in an attempt to progress the story but have to sit there plenty of time wasting scenes. I do get that you don’t know they aren’t there, but there should be a way that you can skip these. I would have appreciated a quick “nobody was around” message instead.
Note: After completing the game, you are able to skip these scenes in other playthroughs.
Mild Story — Even though everything was quite positive and well produced, I did find the story a little bit lacking. The group of tarot card readers going on a crusade to save people who could be murdered was a bit farfetched. It wasn’t a terrible idea, but I felt there was so much more they could have done. Having a group of people worked out as being one unit. You only ever have you and one other person in the room. Yet at the same time, you feel burdened that three of them are all extremely close and all do the same job. It takes away from having lots of suspects because you either assume they’re all in on it or actually trying to save people’s lives. I also think it’s odd you never get to look at any kind of evidence or exploring areas more. You simply talk and gather clues that way.
A lot of games have dialogue choices that change the outcome of the story. Here, the whole focus is the story as well as making several choices that can heavily weigh the outcome. With multiple endings, you steer your mystery taking uncertain turns in the hope they lead you in the right direction. The unique shapeshifting mechanic is absolutely genius. The flow of the scenes is done quite well, with the only hiccup being the time you felt was wasted from showing up at empty rooms. You may feel content with your ending but may also have that itch to try again to see all of the possible outcomes. I don’t tend to watch movies more than once, but one that changes constantly in a video game format is something I can definitely get on board with.
Score: Highly Recommended
The Shapeshifting Detective was published by Wales Interactive and developed by D’Avekki Studios on Xbox One. It was released on November 6, 2018, for $12.99. A copy was provided by the publisher for review purposes.