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A Case of Distrust

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Serenity Forge
Developer: The Wandering Ben
Release Date: Feb. 8, 2018

About Lauren "Feffy" Hall

I am a freelance writer based in Canada, where it's too cold to go outside; therefore, we play a lot of video games. I'm an expert zombie slayer (the virtual kind), amateur archer (for actual zombie slaying and general apocalypse purposes - it could happen), and a work-in-progress wife and mother (IRL). My claim to fame: I completed the original MYST without looking up cheats. It took several years. What other accomplishments does one need in life?


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PC Review - 'A Case of Distrust'

by Lauren "Feffy" Hall on April 5, 2018 @ 12:15 a.m. PDT

A Case of Distrust is a narrative mystery from 1924 San Francisco where you play as private investigator Phyllis Cadence Malone in this historical 2D adventure game.

I've always secretly enjoyed those old 1920s detective mysteries on TV: the seductive percussion with just a touch of saxophone; the intoxicating dry, jaded dialogue; the damsel in distress seeking refuge from a life of despair in the dark, dusty office of a troubled yet admirable detective who's seen just a little too much sadness in his day. There's just something classic about them, and this 2-D adventure game by The Wandering Ben, A Case of Distrust, delivers the same experience, but now, you get to be the detective, and the detective is a she. How very non-1920s!

In this entertaining narrative mystery, you are PI Malone, and you have, admittedly, a few vices. With few others to converse with, you prefer the company of a stray cat who occasionally slips into your barren apartment for food, and your only other real points of contact are your bartender and cab drivers. It's safe to say that Malone is not a people person. You used to be on the force, and you have a stack of cold files in your sad little apartment that you sift through from time to time because you can't seem to let go. The arrival of a Mr. Green provides you with a new case, and you embark on a mystery littered with deception and riddles.

The gameplay is simple, utilizing a point-and-click mechanic with your magnifying glass, and the goal is clear: solve the mystery. Much like Harvester Games' The Cat Lady, another 2-D narrative indie adventure game, the artwork plays a pretty big part in the gameplay. Like our friend The Cat Lady, the use of silhouettes and contrast plays a significant role in the gameplay. In A Case of Distrust, each screen is a series of dark rotoscoped silhouettes on a colorful background. For example, when in conversation with Mr. Green, the background is green, and the important or manipulatable text is white. In other scenes, such as your apartment, in which you can only have a conversation with the cat, the objects that you can interact with light up as well. It's pretty hard to miss and makes for a very satisfying experience as you unearth the details of the mystery. The color palette is really beautiful, and the theme maintains the game's classy persona.

One of the best things about this title is that you are thrown into the mystery with very minimal instruction. Your tutorial, if you can call it that, is administered by means of a clever and hungry stray cat. You learn to use your hastily jotted notes to convince the cat that there's no food there for him, just as you use the notes throughout to gain information from people, and it was a great way to introduce the gameplay mechanics without feeling like you were being led through a tutorial.

It's fitting that A Case of Distrust has a minimalist interface, and navigating is honestly a delight. Traveling from place to place is quick and painless, as it should be with a game in which you are both the main character and the audience, so it makes sense that certain trivialities are ditched. In this narrative mystery game, running between quest hubs is not the name of the game, nor should it ever be. When you're finished exploring your meager apartment, all it takes to progress the story is a click on your door, at which point you're brought to a list of destinations. Click, and you are on your way — with a twist. My favorite part of the game was how the loading screen was punctuated with your conversations with the cab drivers. You have choices, again, which affect how much information you obtain, and it was an interesting way to convey that your character is traveling.

The dialogue is interesting, as a series of paragraphs and narrative options progress the story and provide the illusion of choice. The characters are distinct in their styles and motivations, and that is portrayed nicely through your conversations with them. Each choice in the conversation changes the expression of the character you're speaking to. This is no easy feat when you're dealing with some pretty minimalist artwork.

I really wanted to feel like my choices mattered, as any lover of narrative stories hopes, but it didn't seem like they did — at least, not to the extent I wanted it to. On the one hand, that's not so bad because as a player, you don't want to find yourself inadvertently "locked out" of an exciting part of the story due to some poor conversation decisions. However, you also want to feel like your choices can affect the game. It's admittedly a difficult balance to master, but it's one that I think impedes the gameplay.

If you don't get the answer you were hoping for, you'll undoubtedly end up doing what I ended up doing: going through your notes and clicking on any entry that might provide an answer. I did this — mostly with success, I might add — far more times than I care to admit. It's the age-old inventory-adventure game issue: If you have items in your inventory, or in this case, your journal, that you aren't sure about, "action" them anywhere and everywhere. You'll probably get results down the road, but it's not very immersive. In the long run, it wasn't a deal breaker, and that's mainly due to the stellar writing, the music, and the dialogue.

The music was simply fantastic. It was the first aspect of the game that really struck a chord with me (pun intended). It fits the saucy mysterious personality that the game wears so well. That feeling of the classic detective mystery was so well captured in the music. Paired with the vintage art, which I also loved, the audio left me in the mood to solve all those cold cases. The conversations were so well written that it's hard to believe that this is The Wandering Ben's first game.

A Case of Distrust wasn't always a great game, as the developer humbly admits himself. It took time, but it was time well spent. I didn't feel like I was being led around, but rather, I was given a number of potential options that would lead me along the entertaining plot in one way or another. The music, art, and authentic conversation left me feeling immersed in the bittersweet era of cigarettes, love, and mystery, and I loved every minute.

Essentially, A Case of Distrust is everything a narrative adventure game should be.
It's engaging, humorous, and progressive. The characters are likeable and relatable, even though they're 95% silhouette and 5% deliciously vintage, and the story is entertaining. It's chic and fresh at the same time, and it's impossible to not love your character. Throw in a few quirky cab drivers, and the title becomes something special. If your game of choice involves an engaging plot with a twist, this is your kind of cocktail. Clocking in at approximately three hours of gameplay, though, it's a short stroll down a romantically lit midnight promenade, and it's well worth the journey.

Score: 8.5/10

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