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Shadows of Doubt mixes immersive sims with murder mystery

Track targets, find clues, solve crimes

A city streets in Shadows of Doubt, showing neon lights and business signs. One pedestrian stands in the distance. Image: ColePowered Games/Fireshine Games
Cass Marshall is a news writer focusing on gaming and culture coverage, taking a particular interest in the human stories of the wild world of online games.

It’s a late night, and I chug back some scavenged coffee as I head out across the rain-slicked streets of this cursed city. The bodies keep piling up, and if it weren’t for me, no one would be solving these murders. Worse yet, I’ve been evicted, and if I want a nice apartment, I’m going to have to start putting the clues together. I’m playing Shadows of Doubt, a new mystery immersive sim in early access on Steam, and I’m in full noir mode.

Shadows of Doubt is based on a compelling concept: Not only is it a detective game, but it’s a procedurally generated one. If I want, I can generate a whole new city from scratch. It’s my job to track down the guilty among the innocent, piecing together clues and solving crimes like a proper gumshoe. I have access to a mind map, the classic postboard with clues connected by red string, where I can pin together autopsy notes and stray documents. This mechanic becomes crucial as I dive deeper into the mess around a mystery, discovering leads and following up with suspects.

And in Shadows of Doubt, everyone is a suspect. The entire city is generated with people who have their own apartments, jobs, and daily routines. It’s also an unusual alt-history take on the ’80s; no one has cell phones, but I have a fingerprint scanner and an archive machine I carry in my pockets. But while I can walk up to people and politely ask their names or for their fingerprints, no one wants to help me.

A dead citizen sprawls in a bloody doorway in Shadows of Doubt, ripe for the player to find and investigate.
Using my detective powers, I can tell this scene looks... bad.
Image: ColePowered Games/Fireshine Games

Therefore, I’m forced into the questionable measure of sneaking into their apartments via vents and scanning their fingerprints while they sleep. And when a child mugs me in an alleyway, or a business owner explodes in rage because he caught me stealing pocket change, and I have to knock them out with my fists — you better believe I scan their fingerprints before I scamper away. That info might pop up in a future case, once I clear my current workload.

That’s the beauty of Shadows of Doubt. The world is huge and expansive, with some quests carrying a gravitas — a lovers’ quarrel with one dead, or a nefarious employer. Others require me to beat up a guy in a dark alleyway. I think all of these forms of detective labor are noble in their own way. Its procedural generation means it’s impossible for the game to reach the heights of a Return of the Obra Dinn or The Case of the Golden Idol, but there’s an impressive breadth of content to explore nonetheless.

Not all jobs are made equal, but I’m the only one willing to take them off the hands of the local police. I dig through drawers, read employee reports, interrogate colleagues, and break into people’s apartments to read their tenancy agreements. There’s so much stuff to sort through, and when you start to put the pieces together into a complete narrative, it feels great. And since solving a murder requires so much legwork, I can spend hours looking for clues in someone’s garbage or going through the employees’ computer terminals at a tech corporation. All that data is added to my mind palace, where I can sort it into groups and make sense of it all.

A screenshot of an evidence map in Shadows of Doubt, showing a collection of clues linked by red string on a mental mind map. Image: ColePowered Games/Fireshine Games via Polygon

Despite still being in early access, Shadows of Doubt offers an impressive web of interlocking systems in the boundaries of its noir city. Different companies each take up residence in their own offices, with their own security networks and systems. Buildings are linked together by elevators, stairs, and ventilation systems. I pick locks, break into the power systems, and bribe my way into places I shouldn’t be. Then, once I crack the case, I fill out forms and drop them off at the local police station.

Shadows of Doubt’s cases are a fantastic excuse to explore its grim cities, and the game’s dark-hued voxel graphics are simple yet completely evocative of detective stories and the noir genre. I ran into a few hiccups, such as filing what appeared to be a concrete conclusion only to find out I was wrong, but completely devoid of leads to follow next. But developer ColePowered Games has created something special here, and I’ll be along for the ride as it continues through early access.

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