App Reviewed on: iPad Pro
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Saul Bass was a clear inspiration for A Case of Distrust, a stylish crime adventure game set in 1920s San Francisco. This mostly text-based game does a lot with its minimal art style, thanks in big part to its sharp writing. Still though, there are some parts of this game that I wish were as neat and tidy as the case you end up solving.
A Case of Distrust puts a twist on your standard 1920s romp by putting you in control of a private investigator who is also a woman. This isn’t just some arbitrary decision, either. Much of Phyllis Cadence Malone’s character and dialogue directly ties into her identity as a woman, and particularly as a woman working in an industry dominated by men.
The game opens with Malone’s uncertainty of setting out on her own (she’s an ex-cop) and whether she’ll ever become a respected PI who works substantial cases. And then (what do you know?) a very intriguing case comes walking right into her office. One that involves bootlegging, infidelity, and—of course—murder.
Caught in contradiction
As a game, A Case of Distrust largely centers around you traveling to specific locations to chat with witnesses or other persons of interest associated with the crime. As you chat with these folks, your main goal is to separate fact from fiction, and you do this through presenting contradicting evidence to anyone that gives you a false or conflicting story.
In order to contradict someone though, you have to get statements from everyone first, as well as observe your surroundings to gather evidence or hints of a way forward in the case. All of this is fairly standard stuff if you’ve played some more investigation-based adventure games before, but the ride in A Case of Distrust stays enjoyable mostly thanks to its colorful style and whip-smart writing.
As with most other mystery games, there are times where you can (and will) get stuck. You might overlook a statement or misread a piece of evidence and find yourself wandering in circles, hoping that things will crack wide open. There is a system for helping players along in A Case of MIstrust in the form of Southern Coffee-- a cafe that Phyllis frequents--where a friendly bartender doles out some general hints, but it’s not enough.
Your barkeep can indeed provide you direction, but you never really get a sense of how close you are to closing the case, nor does the game make you particularly aware of whether you have enough evidence to make accusations. In this regard, you’re completely on your own. Conceptually, this is kind of cool. You have to actually make decisions around whether you can prove if someone’s guilty. On the other though, it can also result in you chasing red herrings for a really long time, thinking that there’s more to the case than meets the eye.
This is the main downfall of A Case of Distrust. Although your investiagtion does take quite a few twists and turns, they are all pretty predictable and lead to a really clean ending that leaves you wanting more.
The bottom line
By the end of A Case of Distrust, I wasn’t ready to stop inhabiting the world of Phyllis Cadence Malone. As great as the game is about developing its characters and creating a unique atmosphere, I wish the same kind of care and attention were paid to the game’s pacing and storytelling.