Shadows of Doubt Review [Early Access]

Meet me in the red telephone box at 7 pm.

This indie sandbox detective stealth game lets you play as a private investigator. Developed by a small team at ColePowered Games and published by Fireshine Games, is Shadows of Doubt an immersive new experience or should they leave it to the professionals?

Shadows of Doubt is set in alternative reality late 1970s and early 1980s. A world that didn’t technology advance much from the 1940s. The story is the usual dystopian corporate nightmare.

During the Great War, the popular soft drink Starch-Kola provided drinks to cure the mustard gas used in the war. Starch-Kola is the first mega-corporation and now rules most of the Western world (United Atlantic States). Shadows of Doubt feature different corporations, and they all seem to revolve around food or drinks, such as apples.

The story isn’t great and is mostly in the background. As it is a sandbox for you to play as a detective. The lore about the war and corporations are just there to give it a bit of flavour. It could have easily been set in the actual 1940s without the need for an alternative history timeline.

There is “The Dead of Night” case, a specially crafted story that is more of an introduction and tutorial to the game. In this, you wake up at night and find a note leading you on a trail to find a serial killer. The game explains why you seem to be only the one solving crimes by saying you are a former cop and have been hired by the city to help.

This case is a way to learn the game, and once you have completed it, you can carry on or start a sandbox city. In either option you can select a premade map or make your own. I would recommend people create their own and choose the largest size. While there seem to be more bugs in larger cities, it offers a more immersive experience.

Your goal in Shadows of Doubt is to work to earn “Social Credit”. A high Social Credit will allow a person to retire to the Fields. A place that no one seems to know if it even exists.

The stories you create from your gameplay will be familiar to people who have played Deus Ex, Thief, or Crusader Kings.

The first thing you do when you play Shadows of Doubt is to make a character. There aren’t many options to customise your detective except for skin colour, name and gender. None of which makes any difference to your gameplay. The only one that really matters is your name, as having one with a first and second name will look better in the game world.

You will need to do a lot of running and timekeeping to make a good detective.

You then can create a city or play an already-made one. Here you can construct a small map, which will populate it with around 321 citizens and a map size of 9 blocks. A medium city contains about 440 citizens, and a large city is about 713 citizens and 20 blocks. There is quite a significant difference between map sizes, and is why I think large is the best option. While small is big enough, if you want a more city-like atmosphere, the large city size gives more of that impression. Each city is also given a seed allowing more variety and the possibility to share with others.

Once you are in your city, it will be populated with “blocks.” These blocks contain various different locations and building types. One block might be a park, an apartment, a restaurant, a factory, a city hall etc. Within these blocks, they can be blended together. Apartment blocks might have a restaurant on the ground floor, and apartments in the middle and top, with offices between those. While I have not created enough cities to test the possibilities, there seems to be enough variety to make each place unique and worthwhile to explore. The number of rooms, people and locations is quite mind-boggling.

When I play Shadows of Doubt, I am constantly reminded of Gangsters: Organised Crime, the strategy game from 1998. In Gangsters: Organised Crime, the city was randomly generated and populated with people, apartments, businesses, police, and more. In both, the citizens have a routine. A person will have a home, a place they worked (they may be unemployed), go to restaurants, have people they know, and seem to have a life.

Shadows of Doubt is the first game that has tried to do that on a large scale and in the first person view. Mods for Minecraft and The Elder Scrolls games exist and use similar mechanics. However, in those, it wasn’t on the same scale or in one large city.

When it comes to how you play Shadows of Doubt, it is up to you. You can go around breaking into people’s homes and stealing valuables. If you want you can complete side jobs like taking photos of people or apprehending dangerous suspects.

The gameplay revolves around the “Case Board.” A sight anyone will be familiar with from films and real life. On the Case Board, you can pin items, notes, photos, and suspects found in the city and arrange them how you want. You can create connection strings to link them all up, and within a short time, you will have a spiderweb of connection links that will probably be a confusing mess to anyone except you. This is a great mechanic, and even though it is odd you can pull out your Case Board anywhere, it adds to the feeling of being an investigator.

You’re free to pursue your goals how you want. A job might only give a name of a person they want. So you can look them up in a phone book, ask people if they know them, search computer databases or break into homes and identify them that way. The choice is yours.

I was on the Case of the “Cut-throat Nightwalker.” A name the press had given them after one murder. The woman was found cut several times with a sharp object. It happened at night, and there weren’t many clues except a message painted on the wall that read, “Should have put a pin in it,” and a calling card with a similar message. I searched the apartment and found foreign fingerprints on a utility knife, the likely murder weapon.

Stealth is crucial, and citizen routines need to be kept in check.

I asked the neighbour if they saw anything, and all they could give was that they saw an angry person of average height. I first identified and talked to the victim’s partner. I quickly cleared them of involvement. I went to the victim’s place of work and got the identities of all who worked there just to be safe.

I went back to the apartment block to check the cameras. Unusually floor 10, where the murder happened, didn’t have a camera, so I checked floor 9 and floor 11 cameras and got pictures of six possible suspects based on height. After eliminating three, I decided on a different approach.

I checked a local hardware store sales log for someone who bought a utility knife. This gave me a name that I linked to a home. I searched their home and cleared them from my suspect list.

I went to the crime scene to check the phone for calls, as I had forgotten before. A call had been made the previous evening. This allowed me to link it to a colleague who didn’t match the possible clues of the fingerprint and possible shoe size. 

Now I went to the basement to track if any other calls had been made to the phone. I unlocked the phone router and traced a call to another apartment block. I went to that location and did the same. This revealed a floor of where the call came from. I made my way up to that floor and asked a resident on the way up who said they had seen something fishy recently. I knocked on each door, and each resident said they had seen something suspicious but did not give away much. One resident said they had seen something next door.

I followed him up three flights of stairs to a door. I now had a choice: arrest him or see what he does? I decided on the latter.

I knocked on that door and no answer. I looked under the door, and the light was on. I picked the door lock and opened the door. I entered the small apartment and was greeted by a dead woman in her underwear on the floor. I had just missed the killer. A few moments later, a call told me there had been a murder where I was. I had to hide. The Enforcers (police) were on their way. I hid in a cupboard while they searched the place. Satisfied, they left and put police tape on the door. I was now free to search for more clues.

The suspect prints came up, this time on the doorknob. The victim worked at Willow Solutions. Both victims worked there. Which was a clue. I now checked the cameras. This time I got a clear shot of someone hanging around the door before the murder. I had already identified the suspect from Willow Solutions as a man of average height and large feet. With this, I was able to find where they lived.

I went to his home and bribed him to let me look around. Not much was found. I did manage to match the fingerprints and feet size to the ones found at the crime scenes. This was clear evidence I had caught the person responsible. To be sure, I put a tracker on them. I now went to the cafe across the street and waited.

The spiderweb of a madman or a genius?

He was supposed to work for the Willow Solutions QA department. He didn’t seem to work or go out during the day. After waiting a long time and drinking several coffees, they decided to go out just before 10 pm. I followed them the short distance to another apartment block. I had to be careful for them not to be suspicious of me following them. I followed him up three flights of stairs to a door. I now had a choice: arrest him or see what he does? I decided on the latter.

He picked up the door and opened it. The camera in the corridor noticed him, so he disabled it before taking his coat off inside the apartment and pulling out a kitchen knife. He now chased a screaming woman while her partner was sleeping peacefully. He corned her and stabbed them a few times, killing her instantly. 

He dropped the murder weapon and a calling card before searching a few drawers and cupboards. He turned off the lights and made for the front door. Before he could leave, the victim’s partner woke up, noticed the corpse and rang the enforcers. All hell broke loose, alarms blaring, and the apartment security shutter came crashing down around. The suspect tried to act innocently outside the front door. That is when I arrested him.

The third female victim had also worked at Willow Soulutions, and the kitchen knife I traced back to one the suspect had in their kitchen, a room which contained a kitchen knife and two utility knives in drawers. The fingerprints and footprints all matched up. I defiantly knew I had the killer.

I filled out the case form with all the clues. I handed it in and got fewer “Crows” (money) than I would of if I had done a quick apprehending side job. The newspapers that the day before was all talking about the murders now didn’t even report that it had been solved. In the end, it all felt anti-climactic. All that work and the payoff didn’t feel up to the same level.

I love the gameplay in Shadows of Doubt, but the number of instability issues, lag problems, bugs, and more made the experience less enjoyable.

While the world is supposed to be futuristic, it comes across as an American city of the early 20th century. Phone boxes, clothing, signs, television programs, adverts, designs and more are all relevant to that era. If you are familiar of Art Deco, Film Noir, and the Americana style, then you will know what I mean. The city is filled with nematic tubes that allow citizens to send Vacuum Mail which is an odd system. There is no internet.

I like how the city looks. Rain comes pouring down, wetting the street, snow settles on the ground, and lighting lights up the sky. The voxel graphics make objects and items have a jaggedy quality while everything else looks smooth, which I don’t mind. Less kind words can be said for the player models. Often it can be hard to distinguish people when their faces are a bunch of little boxes. I have changed my mind several times about it. Whether I like the look of the people or I don’t. I prefer a cleaner look like the characters in Thirty Flights of Loving (if they had smaller heads). You can argue that the voxels give more variety.

Inventory space is limited but can be upgraded with items.

Music in Shadows of Doubt is sparse. Occasionally it is used to create tension and is suitably dystopian, but there isn’t much of it. You will be left to the ambient sounds of the city. While citizens don’t talk, atmospheric sounds such as wind, rain, doors, footsteps, alarms, and electronic noises bring the world to life.

Televisions play old-timey films. I don’t know if they have been created for the game or are from the public domain. Wheter the case, they are pleasing, and it is fun to see citizens sitting down and watching some film noir while next door someone is getting murdered.

There is plenty in Shadows of Doubt to keep you busy. One playthrough requiring you to get to Society Credit Level 10 (something I haven’t done) could take a long time, with the randomised nature keeping it fresh. It all depends on how much you enjoy the loop around doing side jobs and the occasional murder mystery case.

Whether the side jobs get more interesting as you level up is another thing I would like to know. So far, it has mostly been taking photos, humiliating people, finding secret documents, and apprehending dangerous subjects. Hopefully, there is a lot more mission variety to keep it not getting stale.

Like I said earlier, the murder case I spent a long time solving felt anti-climatic and not worth the time in progression sake compared to doing quick side jobs.

The bug and technical issues are numerous. Maybe the city size matters as I seem to have more problems with the larger size maps. Buttons would be unresponsive, and the map couldn’t be zoomed in or out. Cases would randomly fail for some reason. There was one issue where I had to start again, as the names of people and places became all muddled up. A person’s wallet photo and name wouldn’t match the person. I hope some technical issues are the game’s fault, not mine.

One glaring problem with the game is the way the felonies system works. Committing crimes such as trespassing and breaking property incurs a felony linked to a cost. You are supposed to pay a fine if caught. However, there are few enforcers, and they will likely try to kill you anyway. Once incapacitated, you pay a medical fee which I don’t believe links to your felony. This means if you have no money, you pay no fine. If you do, it doesn’t matter anyway. Making this worse is that the felony is linked to a city block, so all you have to do to lose the felony is leave through the front door and you a free. You can even reenter the building as if nothing happened. Except on the rare occasion the block is put on lockdown. When that happens all you have to do is wait for a short period.

The game is very atmospheric and cosy in places.

Shadows of Doubt is the most excited I have been for a game in a long time. It brings me back to the old days when games felt like they could be anything and on a scale unimaginable. Something that developers seem less likely to attempt with the increasing cost of game development. Imagine a Grand Theft Auto where you could enter any building, and all the NPCs had a routine.

The fact weapons don’t seem to have much impact in the game and that only killers can kill is a weird choice. The game desperately needs a reputation and faction system, more content, and a better policing mechanic. Nonetheless, a few games give you the freedom to do what you want, and If you like the world of noir films, then I highly recommend Shadows of Doubt.


Developer: ColePowered Games.

Publisher: Fireshine Games.

Platform: PC.

System: PC.

Release: 24th April 2023.

Score: A (83/99)

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