The rain-soaked streets and oppressive glow of neon signs make way for the uncaring corridors of an apartment complex. Beyond the distinctive yellow-and-black police tape and an open doorway, a grisly yet familiar scene awaits you, a private investigator in the procedurally generated cities of Shadows of Doubt.
Solid square pixels of blood fleck the walls, a body lies face-down on the ground; there’s nothing you can do for them, other than get out your notepad and camera, and get to work. How you go about this work though, is entirely up to you.
From LA Noire to Disco Elysium, via Return of the Obra Dinn, there have been plenty of great detective games in recent years. What makes Shadows of Doubt different from its peers in the snoopy, stealth deductive-detective genre (yes, that’s the exact technically correct description), is that it takes place in fully simulated urban sandboxes. It blends the freedom of immersive sims like Deus Ex with the assiduous crime-solving of an episode of CSI. Shadows of Doubt doesn’t direct you towards the right clues, the right suspects, or even any particular cases–you make your own way as a detective in this murky world.
These impressively generated and atmospheric cityscapes move through time irrespective of what you do. People have jobs, daily routines, hobbies, and friendships; they live in a simulation that doesn’t revolve around you. But with a serial killer on the loose, they’ll also die if you’re slow to act, fail to follow up on leads, or if your investigations lead you in the wrong direction.
Lives are at stake in Shadows of Doubt, and if you want to give yourself the best chance of being more of a Benoit Blanc than a Walter Neff (yep, we know our fictional detectives round these parts), you’ll need to maximise the tools at your disposal. On the scene, you’ll be able to use cameras, fingerprint scanners, CCTV footage, and other gadgetry to paint a clear picture of what happened.
But sometimes even the greatest detectives need to rely on more…clandestine methods. So you’ll need to hack computers, pick locks, smash doors (and, on occasion, peoples’ faces). True to its immersive sim lineage, vents are your best friend in Shadows of Doubt, and a great way to flow in and out of buildings undetected, before merging back into the metropolitan crowds of the nocturnal city.
Once you’ve put everything together, it’s time to quite literally hit the drawing board, as you use good old-fashioned drawing pins and threads to visualise the various connections between people, paperwork, and, ultimately, suspects. The thrill of seeing your web of evidence slowly weave into a full-on case is one of the reasons you got into this dangerous, down-and-dirty line of work in the first place.
Eventually, the cash from each case will start flowing in, giving you the means to do your job better. Upgrade your gadgetry, move through the streets as swiftly and discreetly like the shadow of a rat, and improve your gift of gab to get the right answers out of the right people.
All this investigative freedom comes together in a powerful voxel-block visual style, where cuboid people rush to work beneath umbrellas, huddle around oil drums for warmth, and–in one case, at least–prowl the night for their next victim… until you stop them.
Shadows of Doubt launches in early 2023. You can wishlist it on Steam, and there on the page you’ll see that you can now play the 90-minute demo, setting foot in this city of vice for the first time. You can also keep track of it on Twitter and Discord.
The city awaits…