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I broke into a suspect’s apartment, got detected and had to beat him unconscious before handcuffing him. I left him cuffed on the ground and went directly to the police to inform, only to find out I beat up and cuffed the wrong man. After giving a hefty fine, I went back to my apartment and played Shadows of Doubt instead. 

And believe me when I tell you, Shadows of Doubt had me scratching my brains for real! It’s like a genre in itself we had rarely seen before (maybe since L.A. Noire). But is it really that good?

Shadows of doubt is a fully immersive, procedurally generated detective simulator set in an alternate reality in the hyper-industrialized 1980s. Developed by ColePowered Games and published by Fireshine Games, Shadows of Doubt was released on Early Access on 24 April 2023.

Welcome to Sin City

The plot is nonexistent, as the entire game is built around the concept of carrying out investigations in a virtually simulated noir city rife with crime and corruption. However, there is a backdrop to set the stage. You’re a private investigator living in a rundown apartment and trying to make money by taking on cases that have the potential to pay the bills. There are 2 types of options to start the game: Tutorial, which is a scripted murder case, and second is procedurally generated cases. Your job is to find clues, talk to suspects, follow leads, connect evidence, do anything and everything to solve the case.

And for that, the entire procedurally generated city is at your expense. This means every NPC, I repeat EVERY single NPC has personal information that you can examine like unique names recorded in address books, phone numbers you can call, medical records like fingerprints, eye color and blood types to cross-reference. They even have jobs at different places that they actually go to and which you can visit as well, including the entirety of the apartments they live in! And did I mention every residential apartment has a labyrinthian vent system that lets you sneak into every single suite? Not even Deus Ex games come this close to building an immersive sandbox!

Apart from the tutorial that tells you where to go to, you’re given completely free rein; you can literally do whatever you want, approach a case however you want, follow leads in any order you want. Question anyone, handcuff anyone, sneak into anyone’s house, the degree of freedom that Shadows of Doubt offers is staggering! You can visit cafés to buy food and that is where you get your detective job listings pinned on the notice board. 

In the end, everything boils down to how you deduce the clues and plan your approach. Want to interrogate a suspect? What if he doesn’t comply? In that case, you can track down when he leaves his apartment for work, then sneak inside to look for clues that would help bolster your interrogation. But, oh no! His house his locked. If you’re lucky, you can find the house key underneath the door mat. But in most cases, it calls for the hard way—breaking and entering. 

But wait, there are security cams nearby! They need to be taken care of first. So, I trace their red wiring to the switch box whose lock I have to pick. Once the cameras are turned off, I go inside only to find a complete mess of a house. Time to open my fingerprint scanner and look for mismatching fingerprints. A business card and few sticky notes give me enough information about where the suspect will be next, as well as his computer’s password. There are already 2 sets of fingerprints on his computer’s keyboard, so someone from the outside was here, as the suspect was living alone. When suddenly, I hear footsteps and the red outline of another voxelated human being about to turn the front doorknob So, I run to the bathroom, open the vent and scram as fast as I can… only to land in another apartment suite where the owner gets instantly aggressive and calls the cops on me. 

This brings me to the terrible combat, which is basically just bare bones. I do manage to knock him out, as civilians don’t know how to fight back much. However, try your best to avoid confrontation and plan a proper escape route in case things so down south.

The game changer of Shadows of Doubt is the detective board where you will be spending half the time to plan, investigate, connect and filter out leads. And I would go as far as saying that it’s the best implementation of in-game notepad I have ever seen! You can use the sticky note feature to create your own notes, and all your leads like phone records, medical records, addresses, phone numbers, photographic evidence, will be connected via strings. And you can even rename the strings, form your own connection to filter out dead-ends. At any point you can skip a case and move on to a new one and once you have enough information, you can fill the Resolution Form and proceed to arrest the perp. Your inventory is listed here, you can plot routes to anywhere in the city, and you can also check your stats as in this simulated world you’ll find many health upgrades especially in safes in various apartments. 

Speaking of stats, your character will experience hunger, thirst, and if he’s spending quite some time outside, he’ll experience cold. So better to take some time out from running from pillar to post and spend some money on your health. If you’re low on cash, just sneak into one of the apartments and loot their safes. Like I said, you’re given full freedom. However, once you trespass, you’ll start raking up fines and anything you steal will add up to it. So, try your best not to get caught after trespassing.

The Downsides

Despite my praise of the game, you ask why are there downsides? Well, Shadows of Doubt has all that you would expect from a procedurally generated murder mystery and when it works, you’ll have a ‘Eureka!’ moment. But when it doesn’t, it really doesn’t! I’m not talking about running into a wall due to your own poor deducing and investigation prowess, I’m talking about the horrendous, game-breaking bugs that plague this Early Access built of Shadows of Doubt. Bugs range of game freezing while using your detective board, characters and objects glitching into the environment making interactions with them impossible, and my personal favorite—your ‘Quick Saves’ not saving even after quicksaving. It’s quite junkier as it is, and the glitch further worsens it.

But there’s a deeper downside than mere glitches. You see, despite all these top-of-the-line immersion and freedom that Shadows of Doubt offers, half of the procedurally generated cases are…. just boring. Who’s the murderer? Oh, it’s the neighbor living adjacent to him (slow claps). Almost all cases are solved by scanning and cross-referencing fingerprints; the NPCs rarely help you. Heck, they don’t even witness the crime even if they are living next door! The thing about being cogs in a machine is they become the machine (their robotic movement further breaks the immersion) as the set of dialogues you can ask NPCs is pretty much the same!

Modern Noir

Despite it’s highly voxelated visuals, despite its robotic citizens, there’s a certain charm of Shadows of Doubt thanks to its noir setting. The ambience is always moody—it’s either raining or snowing—might as well wear a trench coat with smokes in mouth. However, the voxel aesthetic might get in the way when you’re looking for a tiny object in a brick-like world, especially while analyzing the crime scenes.

The ambience is further enhanced by the moody synth tracks, and there are even a bunch of copyrighted songs that you can play in various juke boxes at the cafés. 

As for the performance, apart from the bugs and glitches, the game struggles when you’re out in the rain, which is understandable. 

Real Talk

To be honest, from its premise, I was rather dubious before diving in and how good a procedurally generated detective thriller could be, and how it would actually work. However, after hours trying to solve the initial tutorial murder, and time spent in my first sandbox city trying to catch a killer, I can honestly say this is the one of the smartest games I’ve had the pleasure of playing. By no means is it all smooth sailing, and there were a fair number of technical issues that stopped me dead in my tracks, but then Shadows of Doubt is still in Early Access.

It is all about the journey, the process of solving the crime, the building connections, the sneaking, the scanning, the interrogations, and all these give a hyper-detailed immersive experience. However, considering it is the current build, it’s better to wait for the full release when the devs iron out most if not all the bugs. 


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