☆ Review: A Case of Distrust - "Play it again, Phyllis" ☆ #GameDev #IndieGame

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Game Title: A Case of Distrust
Developer: The Wandering Ben
Platform Reviewed: PC (Steam)
Rating: Melting
A Case Of Distrust is a heavily text-based mystery adventure video game set in the 1920s and heavy with a woozy, smoky atmosphere that takes you through the seedy underbelly of a Prohibition-era San Francisco.

You take control of Phyllis Malone, an ex-cop turned private detective who usually spends her days making money out of tailing deadbeat husbands in failing marriages but who gets dragged into a bootlegging gig involving blackmail and other general unsavoriness.

The very fact that you portray a capable woman during this period is an interesting idea in itself, Malone is the usual burned-out private dick that we’ve seen portrayed in media for decades with all the usual hard-drinking / hard-smoking tropes and devil-may-care attitude but it’s rare that this idea is explored from a female perspective. Even more refreshing is that the game doesn’t make a point of this, it’s just all completely natural and taken as standard. The game also does dip into racial politics of the time during some of the plot points which add a flavour of depth to the proceedings, allowing the tense mood and attitudes of the time to settle in.

Gameplay is entirely mouse-based. The graphics are minimalist and stylised with excellent segue animations between various screens. The game is essentially split into two parts, the first sections are the ‘location’ screens where you can click on various items and travel to the different areas that unlock as you get deeper into the case. You’ll find yourself travelling from your home office to a shady Barbers, booze-selling coffee houses, police stations and speakeasies. The second part of the game is when you get into conversations with people and try to get more information out of them by using your trusty notebook which contains details about the case, evidence and statements which allow you to change the direction of the conversation and contradict what people have said, using your notebook as proof.

A Case of Distrust has a lot going for it, I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere, music and tone. The dialogue is also well-written with minimal errors (there are no voice-overs, all dialogue is written) and the case that you follow whilst pretty straightforward is easy to get stuck into. It was only after playing for around an hour did the faults creep in and begin to affect my mood towards the game.

The way that you travel between locations (there aren’t that many in the game, keeping it from being too sprawling) means that you have to click on where you want to go, then have a short sequence where you get in a taxi and choose whether or not to talk to the driver (whilst the cab drivers talk about news of the time, adding background to the era, they add nothing that moves the plot forward and it feels like filler after a while) then you arrive at the destination and click to enter. Whilst it’s only a few seconds, the same thing happens every time and so you find yourself bored of sitting through the same few screens when really, after seeing the faรงade of the building and chatting to the taxi driver once, you should be able to go straight there, it kills the momentum of the game and isn’t helped by how each screen has different music as opposed to a flowing score and so you find yourself clicking through screens and hearing the same intros over and over again, eventually I turned the music off which was a shame as I was originally enjoying it but got tired of hearing the same parts as I travelled the map.

The other area of the game that I found myself wearying of was the way in which you question suspects. It’s a very tight and simple system, you click on something in your notebook and you can ask the suspect about it. The issue is that you have to click on the icon to discuss something in your notebook which then pops up on a separate screen and then click ‘ask about this’ which takes you back to the suspect's response. It may seem sensible written down but in practicality (and due to the sheer amount of questions you’ll be asking due to the information recorded in your notebook), I felt like the notebook  should always be on-screen when you are questioning someone, again it feels like making the player flick between screens is padding to artificially extend the gameplay. A slight niggle but a constant one.
If you get stuck, you can head back to the coffee house to discuss the case with Frankie the bartender who will muse on the case with you and often point you in the right direction, it’s a clever way to add a hint system to the game that doesn’t feel intrusive or break the narrative or atmosphere, a nice touch.

A Case of Distrust is a solid game with a well-told story and great presentation but it feels like it could be tightened up in regards to the in-game menu system and the time it takes to move between locations can become tedious if you don’t choose the correct conversations or evidence to move the story forwards but ultimately it’s a very unique title that I enjoyed spending time with.
Right, I’m off to a gin joint.
Ratings Explained
ICE COOL (Great Game Recommended)
MELTING (Recommended with reservations, one to consider if you are a fan of the genre)
MELTED (Not A Recommended Purchase)

Review By Britt

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