Shadows of Doubt early access preview — Shining a light on the truth

Ever since a friend posted about this game, I was intrigued. A pixely detective game? Shadows of Doubt certainly gets points for originality. That said, it’s not enough to just look great, your concept has to work, and I’m intrigued by what ColePowered Games are cooking.

Let me start here: there’s no right path in Shadows of Doubt. Some of that is annoying, but the potential is incredible. This game is procedurally-generated, meaning your first time in the game will differ from the second as the game is built for your instance. While it’s an awesome idea, I’m admittedly someone who likes more structure in what he’s doing.

Shadows of Doubt - 39 minutes of gameplay [GamingTrend]

That said, what Shadows of Doubt is accomplishing is phenomenal. Jumping into the pre-built case that helps you get started, you’re supposed to go looking into a murder. At least, you’ve found a note and it’s leading you in that direction. From here I couldn’t just walk to the crime scene, I had to find a phone book, look up the name, go there, and proceed to break into their apartment.

As a private detective, I’m not supposed to be there either, so the threat of being seen via security cameras or another person exists. If caught, I can be fined and probably sustain injury if I fight back. There’s certainly a bit of terror in looking for fingerprints with the threat of the city’s enforcers storming in. I know this because that’s exactly what happened, except I got stuck in the bathroom and in turning off the light forgot to look for an air duct to escape, which meant I brought a fist to a gunfight. Thankfully I made it out, but there are no guarantees in Shadows of Doubt.

Back to the dead body at hand, I was able to identify him via fingerprints. What’s really interesting is how every procedurally generated character has their own, meaning you’ll truly be trying to solve a case with a killer who’s just walking around doing their thing. There are different things to look for at the crime scene, but I’m guessing it’s best you keep things brief given the enforcers can and will show up. Finding out who the victim called last, looking at notes around their place, and just going over things with a fine tooth comb as quickly as you can is important to your investigation. You never know what little tidbit will lead you to the next clue.

Your investigations are certainly in-depth, but some things require your memory. A lot of things you find out, like finding the last number they called and so on, is available to be pinned on a detective case board in your menu. While these will lead you to the next clue, there are some frustrations. In one instance I found my way to the home of the last person my victim called, only to get frozen out because they didn’t want to talk, not even giving me their name.

Maybe I just didn’t have enough money to bribe them, but it was a frustrating moment. More so, I talked with the neighbor, who confirmed her name, but that didn’t lead to any movement on my case board. I’d like canvassing the neighbors to help me a little more beyond my own knowledge that I’m on the right track, or that I could approach the suspect with that knowledge.

Even so, there are a lot of directions you can go from here. Where the victim worked from the ID badge you found on his table, a receipt leading you to the last place he ate, all of these can bring you ever closer to the truth. Again, it’s going to take you using your noggin and leaving no stones unturned, but the more information you gather, the better off you’ll be.

You can’t just walk into these places either, as similar to the crime scenes, you’ll be trespassing. Even worse, you can also be charged with breaking and entering depending on how you get in. Paying attention to the patterns of the people going in and out, figuring out where the security cameras are and where to turn them off, and more, will get you into position to learn everything you need to know to get your best payout at the end of the case (given you get the most money by solving more than just identifying the killer).

While the tutorial and premade level help you get started, I would like a little more hand holding. I know the simulation genre this exists in doesn’t always do that, but helping me to understand everything to its fullest extent, like the systems in play, would be appreciated. In my fight with the cops I broke my leg (there are some different survival-like status effects in Shadows of Doubt), and needed a splint. I had no idea how to get one, so I wandered around until I happened upon a medical vending machine. What do you know, a splint. It doesn’t necessarily have to be spelled out for me, but I’d like a tiny bit more direction in these mechanics.

Thankfully, there are some pieces of equipment you can use right away that are more intuitive to use. The fingerprint scanner is one of those, being a point and click that reveals fingerprints in the area and identifies them, assuming you have that person’s prints logged. You’ll still need to get different fingerprints in your system, but finding other sets of prints in the room with your victim is telling. Handcuffs also are easy, you just use them to incapacitate your suspect when you’re ready to take them in. This might be the easiest part to understand in Shadows of Doubt, if only because of how simple they are to use.

Given the simulation aspect, solving a case doesn’t end your game. It leaves you listless, wandering aimlessly looking for something to do. That’s not a bad thing, as the world is fun to explore, but it’s present. You eventually get your own living space, so some of your earnings from solving the cases can allow you to furnish it. Furthermore, if you are short on funds, there are odd jobs to do. These were a little bit annoying, because you are up a creek without a paddle on these, having to discover what person to take a picture of or what apartment to damage, and all with very little information to go on. The odd jobs really should be simpler than the cases, and they aren’t.

Speaking of the world, it’s beautiful to behold. ColePowered Games chose to go the “Minecraft” route, with a pixely art design, and it fits the world wonderfully. It’s incredible the amount of detail that they’ve been able to inject into Shadows of Doubt; there’s honestly nothing like walking the wet brick roads watching the rain fall from the sky. It may sound like high praise, but it’s deserved.

After wandering around for a little bit after solving the premade case, another just “appeared”. The call came over the radio, and with that information I was able to head to the scene of that crime. Here everything repeats, but with a different location, a different victim, and new clues to discover. I’ll admit that I probably goofed up by instantly entering – there were enforcers all over the place – but it’s really cool to see the cycle repeating itself without… repeating itself. It’s going to take a lot more time with the game to find the repetition, but Shadows of Doubt is already impressive in figuring out how to keep things fresh.

Here’s the thing about that- I want to learn more. The gameplay loop, while sometimes obtuse, engages you in a way that leaves you craving understanding. There are so many complexities to what you’re doing here that you want to uncover, and the rewards of discovery are enough to keep you coming back. The first time I played, I arrived at a hangup in the case after an hour, got a bit mad, and quit. Then, I immediately booted it back up and went at it all again. Now, I’m on YouTube hunting tips and tricks on how to play. This is how you make a simulation game work, by making it mysterious enough for people to keep at until they figure it out and rewarding them when they unearth something new.

Overall, while there’s a bit of vagueness to some systems and some that need to be fleshed out, I’m really happy with what I’m seeing in Shadows of Doubt. These are just initial impressions – I’ve only scratched the surface on what’s available – but everything is very promising. The art design is an absolute vibe, the investigations have the intensity you’re looking for, and you feel accomplished when bringing in the right suspect. With the game coming to consoles soon, look for Shadows of Doubt to get a light shined on it that will cast a very long shadow.

You can purchase Shadows of Doubt in early access now on Steam via this link, and it will arrive on PlayStation and Xbox consoles later this year as it exits early access.

Lead Video Game Editor | [email protected]

David Burdette is a gamer/writer/content creator from TN and Lead Editor for Gaming Trend. He loves Playstation, Star Wars, Marvel, and many other fandoms. He also plays way too much Call Of Duty. You can chat with him on Twitter @SplitEnd89.

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