Shadows of Doubt is an interesting detective game and an enthralling idiot simulator.
This voxel-styled detective sim, currently in Steam Early Access, is sort of fun when you’re solving crime. But Shadows of Doubt really comes into its own when you wander off the beaten track and start doing stupid, stupid things. Sure, solving a murder is kind of cool but you know what really had us grinning? Stealing all the billiard balls from a bar and hurling them at random pedestrians.
Because what makes Shadows of Doubt stand out is its world. Sure, you can’t mow someone down in a car, GTA style, but it feels more alive than a great deal of other open world games. You can choose how big you want the city to be but you can go more or less anywhere.
Feel like stalking someone? Follow them and they won’t just walk around the block, they’ll go to work in an office or similar. And when it’s time to knock off, you can follow them home or break into the company they work for and steal their paperclip supply.
We’ve yet to find a door that can’t be picked – take that, Silent Hill 2 and your stupid broken locks. Of course, someone could be lurking inside which is where things can go sideways. But that’s just a pitfall of being a reprehensible scumbag – sorry, “detective” – in the big city.
But at some point, you’re going to have to engage with the serious business of investigating people, places and events. The whole detective system can be a little daunting at first, even when you factor in the tutorial. But the more you plug away at it, the more it’ll become second nature. And, since a lot of the game is procedurally generated, the tasks/crimes will differ each time you play.
Forget Ace Attorney (for now, we’ll come back to that later), you don’t get led by the nose. Want to find who someone’s been meeting with? Sneak into the back room of the rendezvous and poke around with the security cameras. That’s after you’ve flipped a breaker; otherwise there’s a real chance you’ll get gunned down.
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At least, that’s if you decide to go that route. You might also track down their place of work and poke through the contents of their desk. We’re still making headway into Shadows of Doubt but the freedom is absolutely refreshing. Analysis, fingerprinting, stealing the contents of that murder victim’s wallet? It’s all there.
So why hasn’t Shadows of Doubt‘s detective aspect hooked us in the way it probably should have? Mainly because, as busy as the world is, some of the time it we feels like we’re just skating over it. Here’s a case in point – we were investigating a murder and, arriving at the victim’s apartment, discovered that they didn’t live alone.
Our hearts sank as the deceased’s girlfriend opened the door, leaving us dreading the next chunk of dialogue. Did she already know she was dead? Had the police told her? We’d have to tread softly – she was grieving, after all.
Or maybe, we thought, going into full Columbo mode, she was the one responsible? Our minds swam with the possibilities. What we got was a conversation that was disappointingly identical to virtually other NPC we’d spoken to. The city, gloomy as it is, feels alive. In-game conversations? Not so much.
By contrast, Ace Attorney’s cases are roller coasters of emotion. Yes, they’re linear, but even the characters who, ultimately, have nothing to do with the case react in a human way. No, a defence attorney shouldn’t have to find the actual culprit but we’ll let that slide for now.
The good news is that developer ColePowered Games is, apparently, addressing this. While it’s in Early Access, they plan to “new citizen interaction options”. We’re hoping that factors in NPCs’ feelings, at least those who are directly affected by a crime.
Shadows of Doubt is worth your time, whether you’re there for the crime-solving or the stupid, stupid open-world shenanigans. But there’s still room for improvement and with a little extra personality, this could be something really special.