The Shapeshifting Detective: A Thrilling FMV (Review)

The Shapeshifting Detective: A Thrilling FMV (Review)

Moments after I’ve settled in my room at the guesthouse, I hail a cab to see the Chief. Time is precious. He fills me in about the murder I’ve been sent to investigate. My memory’s foggy; there’s something I’m going to get out of this, but I can’t quite remember what. The Chief points it out for me; he’s going to bury my problem if I solve this case for him. As I travel back to my room, I ponder over the crime. The Chief has already told me who the killer is. My gut instinct tells me to ignore his suspicions and reach a conclusion myself. It’s settled, then; I’ll treat everyone I talk to just as likely to be the murderer.

I rush to my room the second I reach the guesthouse. There is no time to tune into the radio or make small talk with other guests. I must begin investigating. The strangest thing is, I can’t quite remember what I look like. Try as I might, I simply cannot recall my face in my mind. The details keep … shifting. But the Chief is a different story. I remember every single twitch of his eyebrows, every pore on his face, every time he subjected me to his stern, unyielding gaze. The sheen of the light bouncing off his shaven head. The quizzical look he gave me as he waited for my response.

I focus, trying to imagine his face in front of me, as my body begins to tremble. After a few seconds of violent shaking, I calm down. “Hello, I’m Chief Dupont.” I test out my new voice – his voice. For now, I am the Chief. I figure it’d be easier to interrogate the residents as an authority figure. Let the questioning begin.

*                      *                      *       

Full Motion Video games

I have always been intrigued by interactive movies. Something about the idea of controlling the direction the story takes and determining the fate of the leading character(s) is so alluring that I cannot put it into words. Nothing gets closer to experiencing an interactive movie than playing a FMV game. Though FMVs have been making a resurgence in the past few years, graphic adventures remain way more popular among gamers.

Before I get into a review of The Shapeshifting Detective, I’ll say this: despite the Gamer Girl fiasco, I think Wales Interactive has made some interesting content. I really enjoyed The Bunker. Late Shift seems promising too. Naturally, (as they published this title) I went into this game expecting a fun time. I barely knew anything about the game, besides what one would infer from the title itself.  

Gameplay

You visit a set of locations and talk to the people involved in the murder of a certain Dorota Shaw. More settings and characters are available to interrogate as the story progresses. The game itself is divided into chapters, which are separated by hourly radio broadcasts on ‘Poe and Munro,’ the local talk show.  

Interactive menu showing options in-game

The ‘hallway menu’ at the guesthouse
Credit: D’Avekki Studios Ltd., Wales Interactive Ltd.

You choose from dialogue options to interact with other characters. While dialogue seems to be branching in certain situations, there is no feedback on how your choices have changed the path of the story. The main contribution and relevance of the branching dialogue is to bring to light certain facts about the crime that would help in identifying the killer, which would otherwise be left undiscovered if you didn’t choose that option. Certain actions can only be triggered by choosing a specific dialogue. To its credit, the game also has multiple endings which make each playthrough really interesting.

This review would be incomplete without mentioning the radio. You have the option to listen to an in-game radio broadcast, which you can tune into from a certain location. Eerily reminiscent of tales that sound like they’re right out of The Twilight Zone (they also reminded me of the Bright Falls segment from Alan Wake, which itself was based on The Twilight Zone), the radio ties in nicely to the atmosphere that the game builds up with the mystery. I must admit that I lay in bed for well over an hour, listening to the creepy stories narrated in a perfectly chilling manner.

Graphics and Audio

This is quite literally an interactive film, so expect a movie, except it’s you deciding how it pans out. However, it’s played in the first-person view, so you never get to see yourself. This choice works well considering the air of total mystery surrounding the player.

A scene from the game featuring Violet (Aislinn De'ath)

Just like a movie – where you choose the outcome
Credit: D’Avekki Studios Ltd., Wales Interactive Ltd.

The background score complements the tension built-up throughout the game, however subsequent looping of the sound becomes apparent after a while. The somber notes still fit the atmosphere well, conveying a sense of urgency and desperation at times.

Overall

As interactive movies merge film and gaming, the performances are just as integral to success as the game mechanics and method of storytelling. The Shapeshifting Detective does not disappoint. While the UI and dialogue branches could have been more impactful and consequential, they didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the story. Certain sections are left to the player’s – or should I say viewer’s – imagination, rather than venturing into explanations. In fact, very little of our backstory is revealed to us, and the player is free to draw conclusions about their supernatural origins based on the information learned during the course of the investigation. The Shapeshifting Detective shows more than it tells, and for the most part, that works in its favour.

Hope you enjoyed this Shapeshifting Detective review, and thank you for joining us at Gamer’s Waypoint. Be sure to check out our Twitter page and our latest YouTube video!

Looking for something other than a review? How about this piece on the portrayal of adoption in video games?

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