Being a writer, story has always been paramount when it comes to the entertainment I consume. That’s probably why my preferred gaming habits tend to lean towards the point & click / text adventure genre. Games like Broken Sword, Phoenix Wright and most of the Telltale output have such simplistic gameplay that they’re forced to elevate their writing above other, more bombastic games such as Assassins Creed or Call of Duty.
As such, A Case of Distrust (ACOD) was a game closely followed by myself in the run up to its release. With my recent disappoint in Double Infeminity, a play with a very similar story, perhaps solo developer Ben Wander can do better?
The year is 1924 and San Francisco is several years into the grip of prohibition. Private detective, Phyllis Malone, has been approached by a small time bootlegger about a threatening letter he has received. In fear for his life, he asks Malone to investigate.
With only her trusty pen in hand, Malone strides into the world of smoke-filled nightclubs, deadly gangsters and glamorous flappers as she tries to uncover all the mysteries before it’s too late.
Having been a big fan of 2007’s Hotel Dusk, I immediately felt at home with ACOD. With its likeable female protagonist and intricate mystery, the game calmly invites you into a perfect portrayal of 1920s San Francisco. This is mainly done through detailed and well written descriptions of buildings, people and various conversations with taxi folk.
As you might expect from a text adventure, the gameplay is straightforward. A simple interaction with your cat introduces the player to the game’s basic mechanics. But soon Malone is out in the city visiting a variety of locations, upon where you can click on objects that might be relevant to your investigation. But at certain points you are required to interrogate suspects. In these scenes you have to try and contradict their statements with evidence or with information from prior suspects. It’s hard not to be reminded of the similar approach taken in L.A. Noire; but because of its simplicity, ACOD is far more emotionally satisfying.
But what stands out above all else is the artwork. Clearly inspired by the movie title sequence work of Saul Bass, ACOD embraces 2D silhouettes like it was going out of style. Add in the catchy pieces of jazz and a minimal (but always appropriate) colour palette, each scene becomes a delight just to watch (and listen to!)
As the story marches on it becomes clear that, though this is a story with the trappings of 1920s America, much of the dialogue and treatment of women is reflective of our current situation. One such example was where Malone picks up a discarded periodical, and reads some commentary about President Calvin Coolidge’s anti-immigrant policies:
Perhaps, in a modern city, such talk is brushed aside – Of course the president only wishes to keep away the criminal ranks. But cast a glance to rural America and observe a change in tone – where “foreign” is anyone who is not White or Protestant. It is there that President Coolidge knows exactly his aim: stoke the fires of division to gain the vote of the majority.
That said, occasionally it can get a bit too reflective of our current times, with several behaviours or even non-behaviours seeming rather politically correct considering the period. Malone’s treatment by most of the men around her in particular, while not quite 21st century, is still far more respectful than you might expect towards a woman trying to trade in what is clearly stated to be an entirely male profession.
Despite the fact that this is a text adventure, you also can’t help occasionally feeling that a little more gaming flourish would have been adapt. For example, rather than locations being labelled in a simple list, perhaps an actual map with clickable locations would have been a little more entertaining.
In addition, there are moments where it’s hard not to get a little lost. With dozens of statements from a variety of characters, it can be hard to work out which statements are relevant to the character you’re speaking to at any particular moment. As such, there are points where it simply becomes a process of elimination rather than proper detective work.
In spite of the minor imperfections and an ending that is slightly unearned, A Case of Distrust is a well-structured game with plenty of entertainment. The closing scenes also hint at future games, and I for one would love to
see read more of Miss Malone and her adventures.
A Case of Distrust is available on Steam and Game Jolt for Windows and Mac.