In A Case of Distrust, players walk a mile in the shoes of P.C. Malone, a female private detective investigating a mob murder in the seedy criminal underworld of 1924 San Francisco. This visual novel sets the mood effectively via stylish art, jazzy background music, and characters and setting that emanate prohibition-era noire. The three-hour story gripped me the whole way through, and despite a mildly disappointing ending, I left satisfied with the thoroughly absorbing adventure.
A Case of Distrust quickly and subtly acclimates players to the game’s systems by way of an encounter with a stray cat in the game’s opening scene. The feisty feline wants food, and will not leave until Malone can prove that she does not have any food to offer. Players can accomplish this by clicking on items throughout the room and collecting Evidence. Eventually, the player must approach the cat with evidence damning enough to show that there is no food in the house (In this case, an empty icebox is proof enough). Soon after gameplay is explained, the stage is set for the story. Malone, who is starving for a case, gets her first job in ages. A local mobster has received a mysterious letter, and he wants Malone to figure out who sent it and what they want. After accepting the case, Malone makes a quick stop at a speakeasy (this is prohibition, after all), where players are introduced to Frankie, a bartender and friend, who also happens to serve as the game’s hint system. This sums up one of the most impressive aspects of A Case of Distrust’s presentation: the game’s tutorial is seamless to a point where it never feels like a disconnect from the actual game and story being told.
Once this sneaking introduction is complete, the game takes off. Predictably, a new development soon throws Malone’s case off the rails for what is the first of the story’s many twists and turns. Players now have to solve a murder. They can put a case together by investigating various areas and questioning suspects about all of the details in an attempt to prove an inconsistency. In order to find crucial evidence, players will have to leave no stone unturned by asking the right questions to the right people. If players navigate the fulfilling detective work properly, within about three hours Malone will have enough evidence to prove the killer and accuse the prime suspect. Players have to be careful because an erroneous accusation will make suspects apprehensive about helping Malone, which may bar her from finding critical clues.
The story itself is a satisfying adventure. The locations and characters have a certain attention to detail that sets a strong feel consistent with the setting and era, making the plot all the more believable. The mystery progresses as quickly as the player can acquire new evidence. Unfortunately, an ill-designed twist ends the story on a note slightly below the bar set by the thrilling mystery built up beforehand.
Other than a poor ending, the only other real issue in A Case of Distrust comes with some unrefined moments with detective work. Sometimes, presenting a piece of evidence to a character did not invoke any reaction, but subsequently offering a related, but only slightly different, piece of evidence would cause the character to suddenly remember a detail incredibly crucial to the murder. Even worse, there was at least one occasion where a character revealed extremely important information, but in this specific instance, Malone did not record it as evidence, so I could not use it to advance the case until I got the character to say it a different way. This caused investigation to sometimes feel more like trial-and-error than actually seeking solutions to a case. It did not help that this issue also extended to the hint system: many times, bringing up a piece of evidence that should have yielded some sense of direction fails. By the end of the game, hints felt completely useless. In terms of display, the game’s limited color palette sometimes made important pieces of evidence blend in with the background of the same color. More than once, I had to go back over certain areas only to find an important piece of evidence that had not been visible several times prior.
Despite a few presentation issues and a poor twist, A Case of Distrust is still an solid adventure. The story, although quick, does not release its grip on the player until the very end. Expertly designed characters and settings look, speak, and feel like they are part of a living and breathing depiction of San Francisco in 1924. A Case of Distrust is worth a look for anyone who enjoys interactive fiction, and it should be especially enticing to players with an interest in murder mysteries, noire, or the criminal underworld.
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