Adventure Game Hotspot


Shadows of Doubt hands-on preview – Many reasons for confidence in this open-world voxel art genre-bender

Shadows of Doubt hands-on preview – Many reasons for confidence in this open-world voxel art genre-bender

“Hello! Have you noticed anything interesting around here?”

“Hello! Do you recognize this person?”

“Hello! Can you spare some change?”

What do you get when you mix a sandbox-style game that is overflowing with NPCs and an obsessive compulsive person? Me, walking down the Shadows of Doubt city street for three hours talking to everyone that passes by. I’m being sensational here, but there is already a lot to get distracted by in this early access game.

You're skeptical. Is Shadows of Doubt even an adventure game?

When people ask me what Shadows of Doubt is, I describe it as a first-person mystery sim, but the game is so much more. In fact, I’m not sure what it is exactly. It’s got loads of adventure, exploration and action all rolled up into a procedurally generated open-world package. That’s a mouthful, but the best way to describe it is: it’s fun.

It’s an alternate 1979, and the world is … well, it sucks. Earth's water levels are drastically rising and crime is an everyday experience. The megacorporation named Amazo… errr, Starch Kola owns everything and doesn’t think twice about exploiting people for profit. The authorities don’t seem to care, because in reality there aren’t any. There are some enforcers, but they seem to be more worried about “that sound” they heard. You are the real authority: the everyday man or woman determined to take matters into your own hands. Luckily you’re paid handsomely to do it, because it’s yours and everyone else's goal to get the heck out of this city.

In Shadows of Doubt you solve crimes to pay the bills, and you’ll do anything to close the case. And I mean anything. If that means committing crimes to solve crime, who’s gonna notice? The world is falling apart, but it’s your world and you can do with it what you will.

Do choices REALLY matter?

The city itself doesn’t seem all that bad at first glance. (Then again, I'm a huge Blade Runner fan.) You’ve got your typical neo-noir experience with maybe a little more pinks and reds than usual, whether cast from neon signs in the flashy district, or from white light bouncing off Asian-inspired décor. (I’d like to have a word with the electrical contractors in this city, and I do in my Shadows of Doubt YouTube video.) The buildings reach high and the gutters are low. And it’s a busy place: people are moving around following their typical work schedules, online dating, selling stocks or slinging dope. Stick around, though, and you’ll experience first-hand just how crime-ridden this place is. Yeah, you’ll probably get mugged. You might even decide to mug people yourself, but that’s okay so long as you end up getting paid.

You don’t have to give into your baser instincts, of course. Just about whatever you want to do in the game, it can be done in a handful of ways. Solving crimes is relatively easy once you realize this. You can pay for information, sneak in and snoop around, strong-arm suspects, or it can even be as simple as heading to the bureau and using the enforcers’ computer. (They aren’t going to actually solve a crime anyways.) But maybe you just want to get rich. You can pick up the odd job (and I do mean odd) of humiliating someone, vandalizing an apartment, arresting people, or gathering evidence, paid for discreetly by the highest bidder. You know, something to do while you’re breaking into every house and business to rob the owners blind.

Really the sky’s the limit for what you want to do, and how you want to do it. If you can see it, you can interact with it. But remember that your character has needs. Are you thirsty? Well, you’d better find a fridge and see what's inside. No fridge around? You could break into one of those doors and raid the tenants’ loft. How do you get in the loft? Maybe pick the lock with those hairpins you’ve been collecting, climb through a vent using the building blueprints you found, bust the door down, or maybe just knock. You get where I’m going.

So how does it all work? 

Every gumshoe (or crook, for that matter) needs some tools. Shadows of Doubt provides a plethora of items to help you succeed, provided you have the cash or quick enough hands to acquire them. You start the game with a standard Investigator kit that includes a flashlight and a scanner to check fingerprints, DNA and other clues. You also have a highly customizable case board to help you keep track of evidence when you’re working a case. But if you’re looking to get fancy, you’ll be wanting to pick up a camera, handcuffs, weapons, trackers, codebreakers and more.

Every person in this city has a unique set of details. You can learn their handwriting style, occupations, work schedules, passcodes, buying habits, vices, prescriptions, you name it. The fun part is figuring out how to acquire that information and how to leverage that data against them.

As the protagonist, you’ve also got your own variables that keep the game interesting. You have to keep an eye on the different states inflicted during your adventure. You can get hungry, thirsty, tired, cold, wet, nauseous, or suffer bleeding, broken bones and more. Each one of these states affects a certain aspect of gameplay and must be handled one way or another. The many possibilities really force you to flex your mental muscles.

Speaking of muscles, what’s the fun of doing anything if you can’t get better at it? You can upgrade your character by acquiring synthetic parts through honest job payouts or through relieving the owner of their prized possession. You want to carry more items? You can. Do you want to be more resistant to the cold? You can. Do you want to be more charismatic when bribing others? You can. Do you want to be better at sex? Well, you can’t. There is no sex in the game, but you can become more deductive through upgrades.

Sounds too good to be true. What about the flaws?

While all this is going on, the sights and sounds of Shadows of Doubt are magnetic. Rather than going for realism, the game uses voxel art that is surprisingly clean with smooth animation. I didn't think it would sit well with me, but those beautiful voxels quickly won me over. The ambient music instinctively changes based on the situation, with a well-produced score that will make you wish you had the soundtrack playing on repeat outside of the game to give you the motivation needed to get through the day. Audio effects are incredibly satisfying too; when I first started playing I just ran around my room flicking the lights on and off to hear that lovely click. If I'm at a crime scene and the TV is on, I often find myself watching and listening to what's on.

Shadows of Doubt is still in early access so I’m not going to ding it too hard for any one thing in particular, but there are currently still some flaws. Most glaring is the repetitive gameplay. The dialogue options are uniform, the jobs are pretty much the same, the objects in the world are reused everywhere, and the computer emails are cut and paste. The good news is that developer ColePowered Games has already started implementing more content to fix this problem. The recent “Cheats and Liars” update added new cases, new skins, new jobs and more. It wasn’t a big update, but it shows that progress is still being made ahead of the game’s official release.

Another weakness at the moment is that the AI isn’t all that smart. The NPCs will attempt to incapacitate you for dropping a fork in a restaurant just as fast as they will for throwing a hammer through their window. Another example is that they go about their daily business as if you are not there. Are you in their bathroom? Well, they just might pull their pants down and relieve themselves.

Let there be no doubt

Shadows of Doubt is everything I enjoy in a game, checking all of the right boxes. It makes you think while encouraging you to explore, and though each murder seems overwhelming at first, through a process of deduction you will learn how to navigate each circumstance. Its early access version is still far from finished, as the team is regularly adding more items, buildings, jobs and character types, but I’ve put more than 30 hours in and the game already feels vast and expansive. It’s easy to imagine just how far things can go in the coming year before it's finalized in its complete form. I will be continuing to play this game, and I cannot wait for the inevitable modding option, which the development team says is being implemented. If you like the sound of a good mystery, lots of player agency, an open world to explore, and gameplay that is a couple steps slower than an action game but one step faster than a classic adventure, then believe me that Shadows of Doubt is for you.


Want to join the discussion? Leave a comment as guest, sign in or register.

Leave a comment