A Case of Distrust is a narrative-driven, murder mystery game heavily inspired by the works of noir mystery writers Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Its unique twist on the noir mystery genre, pulpy writing, and transfixing presentation makes this one of the best detective stories in gaming.
What is A Case of Distrust?
A Case of Distrust is a hardboiled mystery piece of interactive fiction in which you play as P.C. Malone – a female detective in 1924 San Francisco. Any fans of classic murder mystery faire can tell you that’s a pretty unique twist. Not the time period or the setting, but playing a woman detective. Women are normally relegated to damsels in distress or back-stabbing harlots in this particular genre. So to see a woman doing everything you’d expect a man to do in a noir story – drinking, hating life, complaining about the police force, and looking sadly into the middle-distance in the rain – is instantly engaging.
Once you add the other factors that come with that into the equation, then it really gets interesting. Nobody respects you simply because you’re a woman. You can’t really fight anyone with strength, so you have to use brains. Malone was once a police officer herself, but left after repeatedly being harassed and looked down upon to start her own business. Why exactly she started that business is up to you and your dialog options, but suffice to say there’s a dead relative in there, eating her up.
There’s not much to explain in terms of gameplay. This could technically be classified as a visual novel, but it’s more akin to 80 Days than any Japanese anime inspired dating sim. What makes the presentation so unique is how much work has gone into it. Text appears at certain places across the screen, a single, bold color lights every scene, animations play out across silhouettes of characters and objects.
In terms of presentation alone, A Case of Distrust is unlike any other game I’ve ever seen before. It’s so bold, so colorful, and so vivid it adds a lot to the atmosphere. Coupled with the music, you can practically slice the atmosphere with a knife, assuming you can stomach the smell of old cigarettes, whiskey, cheap cologne, and disappointment from its cast of characters.
A Case of Distrust won’t be the most emotionally challenging game you’ve ever played, but it finds a niche for itself and makes it home. Good hardboiled detective stories are always about compelling characters, and a bleak ambience. This game delivers both of those in spades.
Every character, from P.C. Malone herself, to her BFF bartender Frankie, to the shady gangster Connor Green, are all instantly compelling. You really do feel like Malone at times, as you interact with people you’ve never met before, but it feels like you’ve known them your whole life. These characters are also woven nicely into the gameplay, as Frankie was a friend of your uncle, another former cop. This allows Frankie to serve as an organic, in-game hint-giver whenever you get stuck or lost. His hints can sometimes be a little too obvious, but it’s always great fun seeing Malone and Frankie bounce ideas off one another.
You’re Off the Case
As solid as the presentation is, there’s not much on offer in the gameplay department. Searching environments for clues boils down to nothing more than dragging your mouse cursor around the screen, waiting until you see an object highlighted, then clicking on it. Malone will say something about that object, and it will automatically be added to your notes so you can ask suspects about it.
Questioning suspects isn’t any more rewarding. When questioning a suspect, you have access to your notebook, which contains your goals, any statements said by characters, and any physical clues you’ve found by the aforementioned method of moving your cursor around environments. You have to decide which is most relevant to that suspect, and ask them about it. Some of what you can ask about is useless, and if you pick wrong, you’ll just get a generic “I don’t see how that’s useful” response. Other things you can ask about will contribute to the backstory or their characters, nice little asides that you can chat about.
But the main thing you’re looking for is what will drive the investigation forward. The thing is, questioning these suspects is exactly the same as finding clues. You can ask suspects anything, as many times as you want, and without any time limit. You can also leave a conversation and go back to that suspect to ask them about new stuff you’ve found, whenever you want – again without any inhibitors. So, if you don’t know what you should be asking about, there’s nothing stopping you asking a suspect about every single item in your notebook – which is automatically filled in so you can’t miss anything – until you stumble on the right question.
This means that the gameplay is little more than a distraction, there’s no challenge whatsoever, and you never feel like you’re in control of events.
Not being in control isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however. In fact, in the case of… distrust, it adds to the game. A Case of Distrust isn’t your story, it’s the story of P.C. Malone. By not really letting the player do all that much, it keeps the focus on her and her investigation. This is a tight, lean game, and it doesn’t want or need itself getting bogged down in complicated plot lines that the player can change or screw up, and it doesn’t need or benefit from the player messing up the investigation by missing clues or angering a suspect to the point they won’t talk to you anymore.
Because of that, A Case of Distrust isn’t for everyone. The story is excellent, and perfectly told coupled with the art, animation, and music. And that art and music really is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a game before. But I was also kind of bored with some of the interrogations and finding clues.
You’ll notice I said “bored” there, not “frustrated” or “angry,” or any other simile relating to rage, even though what I just described sounds like it would be just that. It speaks volumes of how tight a grip A Case of Distrust’s narrative and presentation had on me that I never got mad at it, I just wanted to keep playing.
- Great writing that instantly pulls you in with its uniqueness and compelling characters
- Fantastic art, music, and animations add so many extra layers to the atmosphere
- The story doesn’t drag on for too long
- Gameplay feels more like a distraction at times than an integral part of the game
A Case of Distrust has 2018 off to a great start for indie games. It tells a rich, compelling story with engaging characters and an engrossing atmosphere, aided by fantastic music and art. The gameplay is lacking, but the focus is on the story, and it’s so damn good you probably won’t even notice.