The Shapeshifting Detective is an FMV game. This is from the same studio as The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker and is the followup title.
An FMV game is mostly about having a live actor talk directly to the camera and player and act out their role, then the player has some level of interactivity. In The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker, it was a complex language system where it tries to parse questions from the viewer and respond, though that system didn’t work exactly as promised. The Shapeshifting Detective took a step back from that and created a better framework, and it’s a huge improvement.
In The Shapeshifting Detective, the player simply has to click the question they want to ask that appears on the screen. It takes almost all the guesswork out of the game, but it produces a better experience as the player can involve themselves with the story instead of being pulled out of the story to play a guessing game about what word the game is expecting.
In practice, it does its job and keeps the story moving, to the point my wife and I was watching and playing along. Well, there is a minimal amount of interactivity in most FMV games, The Shapeshifting Detectives adds a few pieces. There are multiple points where players are given two questions that they can ask, and once that decision is made the other response is lost forever. In addition, players are now able to “Delete” a question, which means they are choosing not to ask that. It doesn’t seem like a major piece of the gameplay, but it is nice to be given the choice or needs to hold back on certain lines of questioning.
With the name The Shapeshifting Detective, the entire game revolves around an investigation, and, of course, a shapeshifter. Our main character Sam has powers. It’s never really clear what or how these powers exist but Sam can change into the form of anyone he meets, which means if there is some level of collusion between two people, Sam can pose as one of them and discover their secrets. That’s used a couple of times in the game, but it’s not a very common necessity sadly as it has the most potential.
The rest of the game is mostly an exploration of a small town called August somewhere in the UK where a murder has occurred. A trio of tarot readers said it would happen with the name of the target ahead of time and so Sam is sent to help the police with the investigation.
Since the entire game is FMV related, much of the game will focus on both the actors and delivery of the material as well as the material itself. In that… The Shapeshifting Detective flounders a bit. It’s not that these actors are poor, in fact, one of my favorite actors from The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker, Aislinn De’ath, returns in a new role, and even she seems off.
There’s a lot of cuts in the responses, weird camera angles used, and strange takes. If I found out this game was recorded in a rush, that would make sense, but I don’t think that’s what happened. What’s stranger is I praised the Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker for the high quality of both their actors and delivery of the material, so the weakness here makes no sense.
That material is also underwhelming. The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker focused on a psychiatrist who was murdered and five of his patients who all had interesting and compelling stories. In The Shapeshifting Detective, there are only a couple of characters who are interesting. There is also one that feels completely repugnant on purpose, but none of the stories feel satisfying or complete. The reason to play through an FMV game is both the stories and characters(actors) and in this case, it feels like they let the game down.
The story also tries to be a little more mature and sexual, focusing a few kinks and adult topics. However the writing treats this as simple titillation, rather than an interesting and deep look at the topics, and it comes off feeling more juvenile, such as someone bringing up a topic they are unsure of and quickly changing the subject before they are exposed. There are interesting ideas present but they don’t get explored.
Part of the reason can be that The Shapeshifting Detective is over in only three hours, where the Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker will likely take two or three times that length. Perhaps there wasn’t room for a deeper dive into the adult themes brought up, but if that’s the case, they might not have needed to be brought up at all. It certainly started a more interesting line of thought but the thread is abruptly cut before anything more can be said.
The Shapeshifting Detective tried to improve on the previous game. The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker was too long to replay for a minor change to the ending delivered by a randomized killer. In The Shapeshifting Detective, the game is shorter, but that doesn’t help as much, besides, there’s only three possible killers instead of six.
But I feel this was the wrong change. The infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker’s real fault was that it was unable to give a single cohesive story with the randomized killer. The Shapeshifting Detective could have the same problem, but instead delivers a worse experience and I honestly don’t know why the experience here suffered so much. The studio clearly can film characters interestingly and uniquely. It can bring a story to life and did so in the previous game, so it’s a bit disappointing that the newest game feels so underwhelming.
There are a few more things that bother me but shouldn’t matter. The biggest being that it would be nice to have a chapter select rather than requiring players to replay the entire story a second time. I also felt the story wasn’t fully clear if my choice was correct and left the answer ambiguous, though it would have been good to have some solid closure on that.
Ultimately The Shapeshifting Detective is an interesting game, it is a unique format that is worth playing. However, it is flawed and a major step back for the studio.
On my arbitrary scale of arbitrariness, I give this a
I enjoyed the short time with The Shapeshifting Detective, but I’d recommend The Insane Madness of Doctor Dekker over this. With that said, I’ve recently moved to make a 6/10 a non recommend, however, I’m going to override that in the case of the Shapeshifting Detective as it’s enjoyable for what it is, but it is not a great FMV. If you liked The Insane Madness of Doctor Dekker, check this one out, but it’s a small step back.
I played this as part of my coverage of the Humble Choice September 2020, if you want to see my further thoughts on this game or that bundle, you can find them:
Also, I played several FMVs recently and made a video on the best and worst part of them, including the Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker, which can be seen here: