Get some gum on your shoe
Here’s what a great detective I am: I was playing Shadows of Doubt, walking through the city of Neo Misery on some sort of casework. I hear an altercation ahead of me and see this guy hit the ground. My first thought is that the guy is getting mugged. The person who did it tries to act naturally and walk away. I stop, look at the murder weapon and the guy’s wallet lying on the ground in front of his lifeless body, and then I continue on about my day. Just left the guy lying there in a pool of his own voxel blood.
It’s only later that I get a report about the murder scene and return to start my investigation.
Let me be clear that Shadows of Doubt can sometimes break in interesting ways and defy logic, but this wasn’t one of those moments. I witnessed a murder and decided it wasn’t worth interrupting my current task over. That was me being broken.
Collect the clues
A lot of my time spent with the Early Access of Shadows of Doubt was spent praying that the game wasn’t breaking on me. Another good time was trying to take advantage of the broken parts of the game. Some more of it was spent trying to regain lost progress because Shadows of Doubt doesn’t warn you that you’ll lose unsaved progress when you quit. If you forgot to manually save, it will just let you lose everything since the last time you did. Save early, save often.
If that all sounds awful to you, hear me out. As it stands now, Shadows of Doubt is intriguing and has the potential of being amazing.
In the Early Access blurb, the developers state that Shadows of Doubt is “functionally complete,” which is both reasonably accurate and somewhat misleading. The core of the game is definitely in place. You play as a gumshoe dropped onto the streets of a procedurally generated city, and you work to solve procedural cases. These range from surveillance to theft to actually solving crimes.
Currently, there’s the first chapter of a planned story and a sandbox mode. If you’re hoping the story mode might cut down on the amount of jank involved, it really doesn’t. It’s a decent way to introduce the player to the ins and outs of detective work, but it can still be a pretty rough experience.
Follow the Leads
Where Shadows of Doubt succeeds best is in creating a believable world. The city you create is a number of distinct blocks, and every room in the buildings is accessible. Every person exists persistently. They have jobs, they have homes, or, I guess some of them don’t. Some people just end up with a bad roll of the procedural dice.
Upon generation, Shadows of Doubt sets all these little people up with unique appearances, relationships, and backstories. It goes right down to their blood type and fingerprints. You can squint and see the checklist that the game is randomizing from, but it’s able to generate a convincing environment to play in.
As one of these characters, you have needs. You need to be warm, fed, and not smelly. With the current systems in place, none of these needs are hard to fill and can be made easier by owning an apartment. However, I’m hoping that there will eventually be more to do in the world and more things to spend your money on in the finished product. The casework is fun, but some sort of progression system would go a long way in making an inescapable sandbox game.
Find the ugh… uuurgh!
There are a lot of methods you can employ to find the culprit and crack the case. As I mentioned, every person in the city is static. If you knock on the door of 104 Cesspit Lane, the same person will always come to the door (unless it’s their roommate). Building a Rolodex of helpful people can be helpful. Keeping a lot of fingerprints on file can provide shortcuts over time. However, footwork is always your best friend.
You typically receive leads to go off from the hop. If someone wants you to find an envelope of secret documents, you might be given a name and not much else. You then ask around until someone tells you that they know the person and gradually narrow down where they live. After you find their location, you might break into their apartment or get invited in. Once inside, you can probably determine where they work, break in there, and steal the envelope.
That’s one solution. You could also just get their address from the phonebook, or perhaps I’m even leaving some possible solutions out.
The current state of Shadows of Doubt is pretty rough. Beyond the problems outlined above, I’d constantly run into little quirks. One time, I had to steal an envelope. I finally track down the office, only to discover three secret envelopes sitting on a desk. The only way to determine the one I needed was to pick them up individually until the objective got checked off my to-do list. Detective’s intuition, I guess.
I also find that the punishment for doing anything wrong is unclear at best, and potentially broken entirely. Not once did I get arrested, and it’s not because I’m a smooth criminal. For example, a police officer caught me breaking into his home, and he just chased me around until I busted out the front door and ran to the street. After he lost sight of me, everything was forgiven and forgotten.
Another time, I was lockpicking someone’s mailbox. Someone in the lobby with me took exception to that and pulled a knife. They stabbed me, at which point someone else in the lobby pulled a knife of their own, and the two went at it. One finally collapsed on the floor. Another witness came by and resuscitated the first person, who then sauntered over and pulled the alarm. Then we all just stood there. The automated turrets became active and scanned the room, but didn’t know who to shoot. Meanwhile, the two people who had been stabbing each other decided they were done with that and just milled about in the lobby. I guess we decided we’re just all guilty, and we should stop judging.
Pick up the pieces
Shadows of Doubt may sound broken right now, but I think that implies it doesn’t function. It does. Everything that it claims to do is implemented and functioning. The world is just a little out of sorts right now. You solve crime, but the logic in this city is like a wine glass in a tumble dryer.
I enjoyed my time with Shadows of Doubt. As it stands, I think the Early Access build is a good foundation for what’s to come. With the majority of the game’s concepts in place, it seems like it will just be a matter of touching up the seams and splinting all the bones so the whole thing doesn’t shake itself apart. There are definitely some areas for improvements, but that’s exactly what Early Access is for.
So definitely do some investigation, but don’t be surprised if you decide to come back later after you see what a mess the crime scene is.