What Shadows of Doubt aims to do is remarkable. It wants to build an utterly real, immersive world in which players solve crimes. In this sandbox, NPCs live fully realized lives unconcerned with your goals. Almost everything is interactable. And there is no singular path to success, but many to failure. And though the detective sim has the odd quirk to smooth out in Early Access, it has astoundingly managed to realize its vision in one of the most captivating games I’ve played this year.
Set in a hyper-capitalistic future, the sci-fi noir puts me in the shoes of a private investigator. I wake in the night to find a note slipped under my door with a name scrawled across it. Something’s afoot.
But before I go galavanting off to find out what, I take a moment to explore the myriad of things that draw my attention in the apartment. The kitchen has a distracting number of cabinets and draws I can look into. Opening my fridge, I find a block of synthetic meat inside — its item description warns the product isn’t suitable for vegetarians, which makes me laugh — and I notice my action options now include “eat.” So, I take a hearty bite of the questionable meat cube.
Of course, uncooked meat affects me the way you’d expect. I become nauseous and, acting as I would in real life, I direct my character to the bathroom. The toilet, which previously only gave me the option to open and close the lid, now offers a “vomit” action. I open the lid first to be safe and let my poor character purge the meat, which clears up my ailment indicator. However, another one takes its place.
Now I’m stinky. Luckily, being in a bathroom, I have a shower right behind me that I can turn on and clean away any clinging mess. My status indicator now tells me I’m wet, so I check the towel rack. As I half expected, it gives me the ability to dry.
So fed, washed, and pockets full of helpful items I found in the medicine cabinet, I’m ready to investigate the mysterious note. I can place all the relevant info, like the name and address, in a menu that works like a massive corkboard. This lets me pin sticky notes and connected them with case-solving red yarn. It also allows me to set a destination and trigger an arrow in the HUD to point me to my goal.
Rolling up on the scene, I spot a person at the front door who leaves as soon as he sees me. He refuses to talk to me and since I don’t have the authority to arrest him, I have to let him go — though I put him on my board as a suspicious unknown citizen. I also don’t have the legal right to enter the apartment, but a handy key under the entryway mat gives me access so I don’t have to break the door down.
Crossing the threshold, the game warns me I’m trespassing and, if caught, I’ll have to pay a hefty fine. The folded-up body just beyond the door pushes this concern to the back of my mind. I search it for clues, a cause of death, and even take its fingerprints.
I comb the apartment and discover a name on a receipt, fingerprints that don’t belong to the victim, a threatening message, and the last known number on the telephone. I could follow any one of these clues to discover the killer.
My path eventually leads me to a suspect’s apartment, which is where I ran afoul of some of those quirks in need of smoothing out I mentioned in the intro. I wanted to wait outside the dwelling until noon, hoping someone would emerge for lunch, and sat on a bench to pass time.
When I went to stand, I got yeeted into the apartment behind me. The totally uninvolved inhabitants were understandably upset at having a stranger appear in their space and started fighting me. I suffered a broken leg, bruising, and gash wounds in the altercation but managed somehow to get away and back to my apartment.
Bleeding everywhere, I pulled out the objects I’d grabbed from my medicine cabinet in the morning. Painkillers help me move a little, a splint keeps me on my feet, and a bandage helps the wounds. I then jump quickly into bed to sleep it off. Waking up, my apartment was a horror scene of dried blood but I was alive and still able to pursue justice.
I didn’t tread half of the paths I could have to detect the guilty in my time with Shadows of Doubt. I hope the the rough moments — like red yarn just not connecting properly or finding myself in unexpected danger — get worked on in the game’s Early Access stage. I’m eagerly waiting for the 1.0 launch for this one, and, quirks and all, I urge everyone to go play this game.