Of all the review inboxes in all the websites in all the world, A Case of Distrust had to walk into mine. The sight of this dame was about as welcome as a bottle of gin on a Friday evening, but there was an air of mystery that shrouded her like a funeral shroud. I asked myself if I should take the case, but who was I kidding? I was a sucker for a good mystery.
Ever wish Phoenix Wright made you feel like more of a detective or shone a spotlight on the seedy underbelly and discrimination of prohibition-era San Francisco? Look no further than A Case of Distrust, developed by Ben Wander and published by Serenity Forge, released on February 8th, 2018 on Steam.
A Case of Distrust is a mystery novel game set in 1920s San Francisco and starring Phyllis Malone, a female ex-cop who left to become a private detective in a world that expects her not to succeed at anything. Connor Green, a known booze smuggler and friend of her uncle’s, turns to her for help when he receives a mysterious letter threatening his life, setting off a chain of events that leads her through the criminal underground where everyone is guilty of something, even as they’re her only hope of enacting justice.
The story doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable themes. Sexism, racism, unjust laws and the lengths people go to when they have no legal alternatives, are all topics touched on in this story of betrayal, booze, and bloodshed. Personally, I love these sorts of stories that so often go untold: It’s dark, and there’s far more losers than winners, but that just makes the occasional rays of sunshine all the sweeter.
Make no mistake, the story does take front and center attention. While there are gameplay elements in puzzling out who to talk to or what to press them on, it is essentially a visual novel with a bit more game to it.
Sleuth it Out
What gameplay there is manages to do what so few detective games actually accomplish: Making you feel like a detective. As you explore each locale there are oodles of items to investigate and testimonies to hear from suspects and witnesses. Every last one of these is added to your notebook whether it’s useful or not. When it comes time to ask someone about a topic or present evidence to contradict them, these are all accessible as options.
With the number of options available it’s simply not feasible to just try every single one at every opportunity. Rather, it rewards you for thinking through what you’ve been presented with and puzzling out what they may know. It’s not perfect – quite a number of times I asked about things the person should at least have SOME information about only to be given the default “I know nothing” type of response.
Thankfully, it’s not too difficult in spite of the sleuthing required. Many of the topics will take a number of related options so if you’re on the right track you’ll reach the answer without hunting for the precise item to present. If you ever get truly stuck, the helpful bartender can guide you on your way when asked about your objectives as well.
The art and music are perhaps some of my favorite things about A Case of Distrust. All of the scenes and characters are done in monochrome and silhouette, and nary a line divider goes un-dotted. It’s a nostalgic style that’s reminiscent of Saul Bass’s classic work on movie title sequences and posters.
The music is likewise quite fitting, all soft piano, mournful trumpets, and other background club staples. It fits both the setting and your character’s style: Subtle, calm, and with purpose.
There’s other nice aesthetic tricks it pulls here and there as well, mostly in scene transitions. Every element has a deliberate feel to it, eschewing more typical visual novel UI design to have fun with it instead.
Short and Sweet
Overall, the one bad thing I have to say is the game is awfully short. There are essentially two cases to solve, and that’s it. Worse still, as a mystery game, there isn’t much replay value to be had when you already know the answer. What time I had with it was enjoyable, but I was left wanting more. As far as problems a game can have, that’s a relatively minor one.
~Final Score: 8/10~
Review copy provided by Serenity Forge for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer, featured image provided by publisher.