Personally, I am a very huge crime fan. Everything with solving a case excites me and wakes up my interest. It was always fascinating and I think I picked up the love of catching evil-doers from my mother when she used to watch TV series with me as a child.
Why I didn’t end up working for the police? Because reality and the things you see on TV do not add up. Shocking, I know. Plus, I am a fan of regular hours, so… I like to watch others do justice instead. Or play as the good one. In this case, I am Phyllis Cadence Malone, a Private Detective that solves cases on her own. Taking place in San Franciso in the year 1924, the private investigator gets a rather strange case. Still better that than none at all, am I right?
A Case of Distrust is a narrative 2D mystery. On the website, it states that, and I quote, “This game is a blend of the board game Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, the adventure games 80 Days and Phoenix Wright, the poster design of Saul Bass, and the hard-boiled novels of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.”
Knowing me, it only took two words to catch my interest: Phoenix Wright. As a massive fan of Capcom’s franchise, that advertising was successful. The graphics are interesting as well, so that added to my general interest. And Sherlock Holmes is always good, right?!
So, it is your task once again to catch people lying and find out the truth. What really lies behind the case of the bootlegger Connor Green? What about the threatening letter he presents to you one day in your office/home?
You solve crimes with very simple controls. You investigate with a magnifying glass as your cursor and move it with the left analog stick. Alternatively, you can use the touch screen and directly tap on the desired object you would like to examine. Moving the cursor over a section highlights the things you are able to take a closer look at.
To be honest, that is basically the main control you have to do. When using a controller, you confirm to investigate an object by pressing A. The + button causes the game to pause and the logo appears. I really do not see any valid point to that since the game does not require you to act in a certain time frame.
On the lower right side of the screen, your notes will open. You get a practical case summary that documents your progress that you have made. Right next to it, you got a sort of folder with some tabs to click on. The first one is labelled as “Basics”. This shows you what you need to do in a very short manner. “Evidence” speaks for itself since it is only a list of things that might be of interest or that stood out to you. In the “Statements”, you will find highlighted parts of a conversation of the people you have encountered and that you can present to other people you talk to. To scroll through the text, you either use the D-Pad or the right analog stick.
Finding clues and interrogating people to find out the answer is not easy. All characters you encounter are filled with personality: you got a cheerful bartender you really cannot picture in any other profession. Green, your employer, is a man that has “suspicious” written all over his face. The furious wife of his, a singer at The Tin Spoon, is short-tempered and jealous. All of them are bursting personalities and somehow hard to crack open. Who would wonder, though, since you explore rather dubious locations and talk to even more suspicious individuals.
Displaying the different locations as minimalistic images with text and only switch to a tiny bit more animated ones when talking to people is brilliant. While having a conversation with someone, a tilt of the head or a smug smile underlines the personalities without displaying their eyes. It was more interesting than I first thought and fits the theme of A Case of Distrust well.
Unlocking new leads tend to be rather difficult sometimes. You will find out about Phyllis past a bit more when picking the right choices. What I missed is a bit more character depth spent on her than on other human beings she meets. Our main character feels a bit more like yourself. It is not so bad, but you can choose to not learn much about yourself and smoke in silence instead of actually develop what is inside her.
Especially in a narrative novel, I would like to know about the quirks of the woman (or man) that I take control of. Inserting myself into a given world was only exciting as a teen, so I found that a bit of a missed opportunity. Some might say she is just like that because her job asks that out of her, but I feel that our good Phyllis isn’t really pressing and stubborn enough at some interrogations.
Although, I do like the freedom the game gives you, just as you have in real life. You can react differently in many situations. Not just during interrogations, but actually in riding a cab, too. That is actually how you transport between different locations. By doing so, you are given the choice to explore a ton of extra content during those taxi rides, because when you board a cab, you can decide if you want to talk to the driver or just stay silent.
Sometimes, Phyllis just picks up a newspaper that somebody left on the backseat. Sometimes, another driver rambles about some random things or they actually discuss some deep topics with you. It is a good way to add more of the political or ethnic themes into the game without boring the gamer if he or she is not interested in it. The rare chance of seeing the other party of the conversation never again loosens the tongue, I guess…
As often as Phyllis rides a cab in my playthrough, she might have seen one or two taxi driver twice.
Again, a missed chance to accent the heroine if you ask me. Since our private detective could have bantered about herself a bit in that conversation, leaving her to resolve a bit of mystery that blurs herself towards the player. Because in a big town like San Francisco, the namelessness would be a good excuse to vent a little and talk about herself to reveal more to the player.
I think that the bland characterisation of hers bothers me that much since in that era, discrimination against women was more common. In fact, Phyllis faces sexism more than once in the game as well. Even with a troubled past, a character can be portrayed bland in that field of profession. She felt not authentic and lax in interrogations to me. The last point actually manoeuvred me into a problem, too.
I got stuck during my playthrough. More than I’d like to admit. It leads to actually question myself instead of the culprits and be more glad about not being a part of the police. I think I would have made a crappy job in 1924, working for the SFPD. Actually, I did and I started rather presenting everything I had to my interlocutor. A nice thing was actually Malone’s protective hand when I was about to present something that could be fatal to my client and I had not thought of it. Again, better off as a writer than a policewoman!
Literally throwing your case files against the head of the person facing you took a lot of tense out of the game for me. It became rather back-breaking. It leaves a bitter aftertaste, though, The charismatic bartender, Frankie Cornway, functions as a helping hand for you when you are stuck. Unfortunately, I rarely found him really that helpful. Malone’s lack of thoughts tends to make you feel helpless and not pointing you in the direction you swoop into next… When you get information again, the spark of curiosity about the case is lit again!
Without getting stuck and doubt yourself, A Case of Distrust entertains you for a solid 3 hours. I liked the writing style of the game and the music compliments both the genre as well as the world it takes place in. The characters were crafted well and while the story and dialogues were highly enjoyable, the unique style added to its charm. I, though, do not see myself coming back again as I did with the Ace Attorney series that entertained me for hours, over and over again.
The controls are clean and simple, although letting you know it was a port of a PC game sometimes. That is no con, not at all. The performance was smooth, too. Adding good voice acting would have given the game more charm. Too bad there is none, but the experience was good without it, too. What I am doing is just nitpicking now.
On the final note in my case files, I can recommend A Case of Distrust if you are a fan of the genre. It was a pleasant experience, even though I faced some frustrations. Then again, which good detective isn’t? Ah wait, maybe I am a good one after all…
This game was provided by Serenity Forge for the purposes of this review.