With thanks to the folks at ColePowered and Fireshine Games, we’re bringing you our Shadows of Doubt early access review. While it’s subject to change as an early access title, we’re also including a quick look at the title with our common-sense parent’s guide and accessibility assessment.
So as ever if you’re looking to find out if Shadows of Doubt is worth spending out on, or if it’s safe for kids (at the time of writing), we’ve got you covered. Find our early access video review just below, or keep reading for our written review here too. For those who like it a little faster, find our review in under a minute over on Tik Tok.
The Basics – What is Shadows of Doubt About?
Available on: PC (Steam)
Type: Stealth Detective Sim
Shadows of Doubt has hit the early access program well, and has already launched its first major update. This one is a film-noir detective story, set in an alternative-reality hyper-industrial 80s city. Using procedural generation, players can create their own cities of various sizes, which they’ll be able to use and grow used to through serial murder cases.
The title has a cute voxel-art style, which picks out grizzly crime scenes in the grimy city. However, the most simplistic visuals belie an incredible depth in mechanics. Playing as a private detective, you’ll use various methods to infiltrate, investigate and track down your killer.
As you are not a member of the official police Enforcers, you’ll have to make your way into crime scenes through vents, or by picking locks, finding keys or sneaking your way in. While in there, you’ll need to remain undetected, while you find fingerprints and boot prints, emails, ID and other leads.
You’ll have to track down your killer before they strike again. There’s a significant number of ways to approach this, depending on the crime and the clues you have available. You might identify and search their workplace, or follow a crumpled receipt to a coffee shop and check the CCTV to gather further clues. There are so many clues you can find in order to lead you on your way, as well as a few red herrings.
Shadows of Doubt also provides you with your very own murder board. Here you can link together people, places and evidence, to keep track of your investigation. At the end, you’ll use this to locate, name and even potentially arrest the killer before handing your findings in at City Hall. If you don’t make it in time, the good thing is that as the killer strikes once more, they’ll leave you with more clues and more links to investigate.
Impressively, each NPC in the game has their own home, place of work, relationships and favourite places to hang out. Regardless of what you do, they continue to live their lives, meaning that the time and way you approach your investigation really do matter.
Is Shadows of Doubt Safe for Children?
NB: Do remember that as an early access title, Shadows of Doubt will change during development, which may alter parental guidance.
Shadows of Doubt comes with incredibly cute voxel-art visuals, but they don’t do a whole lot to obscure bloody crime scenes and evidence. In addition to this, the title also has a number of themes such as alcohol and drug use, and romantic relationships, often told through background media such as emails. There is also live violence in the title with fist and gun fights and more, depending on your play style.
It’s subject to change, of course, but currently it’s not one which we’d be happy with our younger micro-bandits playing, and we’d probably not go much lower than the 12-14 age mark. For more parental info don’t forget to check out Shadows of Doubt’s Family Gaming Database entry.
Is Shadows of Doubt Accessible?
NB: Much like parental guidance, accessibility settings can change during development here in early access.
Shadows of Doubt misses a couple of things like colour blind options, but overall it has a lot of flexibility. Players can remap all keyboard or controller button options, with a really adaptable settings menu. In addition, there are a good range of difficulty options.
In addition to the general easy to hard settings, players can also turn on or off individual statuses. This means that if there’s an option which annoys you (such as becoming smelly and therefore less stealthy after searching bins) you can remorse it from the game.
Players can also alter multiple sound layers to get the balance which is right for them. Overall, for difficulty, sound and control adaptability, Shadows of Doubt is looking pretty flexible, and we don’t expect it to do anything apart from improve during development.
The Run Down – Our Five-Point Early Access review for Shadows of Doubt
As an early access title, we’ll not be giving final scores at this point. With all of these elements open for change during development, things may flex here and there, and we’ll be back with a full and final review score update after it hits full release.
With that said, even here in the relatively-early days of early access, gameplay in Shadows of Doubt is pretty incredible. The title has some exceptional mechanics packed into a stable and solid build. There are some parts which do need some work. Loading times can get a little long at times (as the title needs to build and populate the city and all citizens) and paper trails such as email can get incredibly repetitive very quickly. However, other than this, we’ve not come across much in the way of bugs and glitches and overall the gameplay provides a great detective experience.
Visuals are also, for the most part, pretty decent most of the time. The voxel-art visuals are cute, but they also manage to communicate a grimy and industrialised 80s noir city. There are some slight bugbears here, with floating footprints, awkward body positions and some frame-rate drops here and there. Overall though, for early access and with ongoing work, things have looked good enough to keep us immersed in game.
I’ve really enjoyed the audio in the title, and while it could do with a little balancing the soundtrack is really strong. It’s not constant, but when the music hits it brings Blade Runner style 80s techno vibes which take me right back to movies such as the Running Man, Commando and other electronic hit scores.
There is a narrative element here, with a hand crafted case to use as a tutorial. Outside that, though, the procedurally generated cities, crimes, evidence and population doesn’t really lend itself to any real kind of story. While it could be nice to have some dropped within later development, it’s not something we’d really expect to see from a title like this.
Replay value is already high, thanks to the procedural nature of cities and crimes. As you always start each new adventure with fresh clues and intrigue, it is one which keeps drawing us back in. For Twitch streamers, having the opportunity to integrate your community as citizens is fantastic, and works surprisingly well to make believable names based on stream followers.
The Verdict – Is Shadows of Doubt Worth It?
Even though it is a long way from finished, Shadows of Doubt is shaping up to be one of our favourite titles of 2023. If you’re looking for mystery, puzzle and intrigue, it’s definitely one to jump into right away, even now in early access.
Sneaking into crime scenes is enjoyable, but the gathering of evidence and linking up of the murder board has absolutely captured my heart. The variety of leads and clues at this early stage is really quite incredible. Browsing through CCTV footage or finding a crumpled note in the office trash might help you to get a new lead or completely break a case.
The status effects also double down on immersion. Get too cold and your vision will shake, and you’ll need to warm up before taking too much damage. Search through trash and you’ll get smelly, and noticeable by smell if you’re trying to sneak. Take a shower to get rid of that, but make sure to dry yourself, or you might slip while running on smooth surfaces.
The fact that each NPC also leads their own individual life means that players can get really immersed into their city. Further than this, with players having to genuinely investigate and build a case, rather than simply tick boxes, it’s one which quickly becomes addicting.
If you are looking for a puzzle-solving detective sim, Shadows of Doubt is, even in early access, an incredible feat from a tiny developer. We look forward to seeing where the Early Access period takes the title, but even now it’s worth jumping in.
As ever, to provide this early access review and common-sense parent’s guide, we received a free copy of Shadows of Doubt from the folks at Fireshine Games