Shadows of Doubt Preview
What’s it called when you smoosh cyberpunk and noir together? Noirpunk? Whatever it’s called, Shadows of Doubt pulls it off perfectly in this first-person open world mystery game from developer ColePowered Games. Actually, the developer says “sci-fi noir”, and I can see why they’d want to keep this game divorced from the term cyberpunk.
You play a detective who is pulled into solving a murder case in a randomly-generated city where the killer could be anywhere and anyone. Quite literally, you might live next to them for all you know, it all depends on where the evidence takes you.
I played a time-limited version of this game and, despite a 90-minute limit, somehow spent four hours playing it. The astute among you may realise that I probably played it more than once, but I actually only played it twice. Truth is, I got stuck in my second playthrough — literally stuck behind an office cubicle — and had to reload a save file from much earlier.
When given the option between a pre-built city and a randomly generated one, I did a run in both. The game started the same way both times — you wake up and get a note shoved under your door telling you to find a person who it turns out is dead. However, the environments were completely different, with one apartment being one floor up and the other requiring an elevator ride to save time. Also, all four apartments (mine and the victims’) were completely different, and honestly an item required to proceed glitched through a kitchen cabinet slowing down the start of my second playthrough.
You can choose leads to follow or just wander around unaided. As someone who likes a bit of hand-holding, I let the leads guide me to check out a diner, where I had to access the security cameras to see if the victim met anyone. Then I had to find out who they were and their relationship to the victim, where they might be found… With a time limit it was quite stressful, especially as Shadows of Doubt tells you explicitly that some leads might be dead ends. Worrying that you’re wasting time looking for someone unrelated to whatever you’re investigating makes you miss things.
I wound up breaking into places I didn’t need to be, disabling cameras that didn’t need deactivating, beating up two suspects whose only crime was trying to keep me out of their house at 3am, needlessly scanning dozens of fingerprints, hacking a whole bunch of computers and printing their emails… And the whole time I was having an absolute blast. As I already said, I like being told where to go and what to do and I’m not a fan of sandbox environments with complete freedom, but Shadows of Doubt manages to straddle the line perfectly.
Everything you investigate can be pinned on your crime board (in your pause menu) and you can connect them with bits of string. Realise that you need something you saw earlier but don’t remember exactly when/where/what? There’s a search that you can use to look up words like a name or descriptor like “receipt”. You can even set a waypoint on an address on the crime board and when you exit it an arrow will direct you towards your destination, even route-finding up inside multistory buildings! The aim of the early build I played was to fill out a form accusing a specific person, the weapon used, and the suspect’s address, which I unfortunately never managed. I can only assume all cases and side cases require a similar form for “who, how, where”.
Oh, I haven’t even touched on combat in Shadows of Doubt, despite getting into a number of fights. There are weapons, but I didn’t use any of them, prefering to just pummel people unconscious with my fists. It’s honestly very basic with just punching and blocking, but a successfully timed block will counter-punch! Some people actually run away after one slap even if they’re the ones who initiated the fight, but occasionally a passer-by will get involved, or the authorities will pitch in… When you lose all of your health (from being punched or shot) you will be sent to a clinic and have to pay a percentage of your cash to leave. There is the option to sneak out without paying, but I didn’t attempt that.
Finally, there are survival elements much to my surprise. Stay out in the rain for too long and you’ll get wet, then cold and start shivering more and more until you finally get inside somewhere. After a visit to the clinic you’ll be well rested, eating something will give you certain benefits, being attacked may break your leg so you can’t run… I doubt that I encountered all of them, and I know that my list is missing some. Legs can be repaired with splints, I’m guessing that consuming something warm could also take the shivers away, there’s just so damn much in this game! I didn’t even explain how you can augment yourself with these devices you can find or buy, because it’s the sci-fi 70s!
Imagine if a Deus Ex (one of the good ones) was condensed into a city block and set 50 years earlier, and that’s basically Shadows of Doubt. Mystery, conspiracy, side jobs I didn’t even get to experience, dozens of ways to get where you need to go, far too much exquisite detail. I can already tell that I’ll lose hours just filling out the information sheets on every person in town, from voice print to blood type.
There isn’t a release date for Shadows of Doubt yet, but I’ll be sneaking in through ColePowered Games’ ventilation system to find out if they don’t announce anything soon. I need to find a killer, or at least get to accuse someone…
Unders - 05:23am, 3rd March 2023
The game sounds like a grittier 'Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?'.
Acelister - 07:50am, 3rd March 2023 Author
Well if "Where In The City Is Carmen Sandiego And How Did She Commit Murder And What Was Her Motive?" was the working title, I can understand why they changed it to Shadows of Doubt!