Game Developer Interview: Sinister Design
Previous Indie Corner Episode 33: Chickens In Space
Indie Corner Episode 34: A Voxel Realm
Welcome to a new episode of the Indie Corner. Once again, the weather here in the UK has been… weird! Lots of sunshine, but two degrees Celsius in late April. I know I’ll miss cooler weather in summer, so I will not complain.
Anyhow, I have two reviews to share today. There will be no big introduction speech from me this time, so grab some snacks and enjoy!
Shadows of Doubt
Damn. After enjoying my time with the Next Fest Demo, I was fortunate enough to secure a pre-release review code of this game, giving me a few days before launch to play SOD first-hand. Now that’s a great abbreviation. I promise I won’t use it too much today.
Thanks to the developer and the people at PressEngine for providing the review code <3
One of my most highly anticipated upcoming games is Nivalis — a game by Ion Lands, and the continuation of their atmospheric masterpiece in Cloudpunk. Despite that game’s significant flaws, they nailed the world and atmosphere. I still boot up Cloudpunk now and then to do a little cyberpunk driving. Nivalis has no release date yet, but a cyberpunk slice-of-life sim? Where the hell do I sign?
Cities in video games are incredibly challenging to make. The majority of video game cities lack interaction and immersion, and I prefer smaller hub cities that contain depth over width. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is perhaps my favourite video-game city, as Prague and Golem City are full of life. Cyberpunk 2077’s Night City might lack deeper interaction, but as one of the largest cities in gaming, they did an incredible job creating a realistic city. I just wish I had more things to do, you know?
Shadows of Doubt may not quite match the level of simulation Nivalis is hinting at, but it comes close. It’s more of an open-world, detective sandbox than a life simulator, but there’s enough world interaction and immersive sim qualities that it is doable. That is what drew me to Shadows of Doubt, beyond all else. While solving murder mysteries is the core of the game, it is not all you can do. The simulated, procedurally-generated cities in immaculate detail ended up being my biggest draw to the game, and I hope in future updates that Shadows leans into that. The developers have been open about the game’s current state. This isn’t a massive open-world RPG with dozens of deep questlines. This is an immersive sim detective game that focuses on living, breathing cities and non-linear progression. There’s some amazing technology on display here. It reminds me a lot of Teardown — another game that employs voxel physics.
Time to shove the elephant out of the room — this is an Early Access game. That means things will be unfinished and buggy. Shadows of Doubt is no exception to that. While everything is functional, with endless, deep cities to generate and explore, there are some issues. None of these issues break anything for me, but there’s a fair bit of jank left in. I had NPCS vanishing through floors, glitchy textures, and frequent frame drops. Nothing major, and to the game’s credit, I’ve had no crashes. Players will need a powerful rig to explore Shadows of Doubt to the best of their ability, however. The developer recommends a GTX 1060 main GPU at minimum for 1080p. Having this installed on an SSD feels mandatory.
I run my tests on a ‘Gaming laptop’, packing a GTX 1060 Max-Q 6GB graphics card, Intel i7 8750H, and 32 GB ram, with the game installed on an SSD. I’m a little under the minimum requirements, and my performance showed that. While I was able to keep an average of 30FPS, I suffered frequent frame drops when entering new spaces. There are no loading screens at all, but this should give an example of what to expect. The graphic settings lack certain options right now, but optimization is a priority for the team, so expect improvements in future updates. This will run your system hot, and laptops are no exception. Just something to watch out for. Fortunately, Shadows of Doubt is playable on the cloud platform Geforce Now.
Performance aside, Shadows of Doubt largely holds up to what was promised. Every city generated is fully accessible. See those giant skyscrapers? You can enter every building. Murder investigations happen organically, and it is up to the player to work out who dunnit. The game grants players many ways of achieving their goals. Hack cameras and unlock doors, take prints, dig through evidence, and talk to NPCs to learn more intel. There’s always the chance of being discovered by Enforcers, requiring the need to escape or fight. There are plenty of weapons for the latter, but while enemies can use guns, players can’t. This is a conscious decision by the developers. An intriguing choice, but I would have preferred a toggle in Sandbox mode. There are many customization options available for players — why not the choice of allowing players to use guns?
The interface is fairly intuitive if a little unpolished, allowing players to pin information so that it doesn’t get lost. I love the non-linear approach to how cases can be solved, and the amount of freedom is astonishing. Currently, the variety in cases is a little lacking — but this is something that is on the roadmap. More curated missions will improve this experience, but in its present state, I can see it getting stale for some. I noticed some repetition.
Don’t want to be a shitty detective? Don’t have to! Shadows of Doubt is a fully-open immersive sim, after all. Players can do little odd jobs for cash, and explore the nooks and crannies of the generated, neo-noir city. There are survival mechanics to manage such as energy and health, but players must be careful when out in the rain. Imagine my shock when, after entering an apartment block after running away from a madman (whom I did not punch), I slipped due to my wet shoes and fell over! The game is full of little moments like this, and this is what Shadows of Doubt excels at. I’d like to see more life-sim options, and the odd jobs are repetitive as well.
Shadows of Doubt combines exceptional technology and ambition into a tasty, yet sloppy sandwich. Some ingredients are a little stale, and the performance needs improvements. The launch version added full controller support — a lovely feature. From my early tests on the Steam Deck, Shadows of Doubt is playable but requires a high TDP setting to keep a stable framerate. Hopefully, optimization work will improve the experience on both PC and the Steam Deck. The game strongly reminds me of Teardown. Both games employ awesome voxel-based physics, focusing on immersion and world interaction. Teardown’s core campaign involved tricky heists and some frustrating timers, but sandbox mode and mod support transformed Teardown into an incredible game over time.
If Shadows of Doubt builds upon their promising start — fixing bugs, and adding more content, there is potential for true greatness. Nothing makes me more excited than living in a funky, cyberpunk city to call my own. I’m odd like that. For that reason alone, Shadows of Doubt deserves a look, even if it loses some of that charm after a few runs. There are very few games on the market right now like it. If you are willing to deal with some Early Access jank and some performance problems to try an endless, detective immersive-sim, this might be the game for you.
A great display of procedural generation technology
Systems in the game are functional but will need some work
Cities feel real, with NPCS generating their own lives and stories.
In serious need of optimization, and a powerful computer rig is needed
No two cities are the same
Mission content is a little repetitive in its current state
A deep immersive sim with plenty of mechanics to support player choice
A lot of bugs and glitches: nothing gamebreaking, but enough to note
A reasonable price tag for the experience
Dependent on the player’s creativity and imagination to make their own fun
The final game I’ll be featuring today is Netherguild — another April release that took me by surprise. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve said that! The work of one man — David Vinokurov — this game possesses real charm.
The first surprise was this game’s price tag. Do you know how we get people to argue that some games are too expensive? While I believe some games are pushing that, we’ve got the opposite end of the spectrum. I feel Netherguild is too inexpensive for what it offers, even in Early Access. For £7.19/8EUR/9USD, players can enjoy a solid dungeon crawler with plenty to enjoy. David, you are charging too little for this!
Netherguild is one of those typical dungeon crawlers, set in a fantasy world. A plague is ravaging the kingdom, and it is up to the plucky player to find a cure. That cure lies somewhere in the depths of this gigantic, underground ruin. Along the way, players must delve deep into this vast network, finding monsters and bandits, recruiting new companions from the town above, and upgrading their little party of warriors. The gameplay loop might be simple, but not everything needs to be complicated, do they? The voxel graphics remind me of Crystal Project, one of my favourite games from last year.
Each dungeon map comes equipped with mini-quests and little things to discover, adding some refreshment to the palette. This is a team-based game — you do not venture forth solo! Your party comes with its inventory and skills to manage, the usual mechanics to expect. What I like is the ability to split the party up so they can venture in different directions. Covering more ground is helpful, sometimes. Combat feels fluid, and while I had a habit of accidentally hitting my boys in battle, this is an enjoyable experience.
This is a very early impressions review, and I wish I had more to say, but I’m enjoying this game so far. The developer has actively been fixing bugs since launch, and you can’t go wrong with the price. I’d recommend this to anyone even remotely interested in this genre. I did run into several glitches, but these are being patched. Overall, I’m impressed. Kudos.
Incredible value for the price
Early Access — therefore incomplete
A well-developed, deep dungeon crawler
A few bugs and glitches, but these are being fixed
Plenty of content for the current Early Access state
In active development, and great communication by the developer
That is it for today’s episode! Shadows of Doubt ended up being a longer review than I expected, but that’s what happens when I get to play a game I’ve been waiting for months, I suppose.
In Episode 35, Spacebourne 2 is long due for a review… so I think we shall start with that one? Who knows.