A Case of Distrust Review

March 15, 2018
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It was a Wednesday evening, like any other. I slumped at my desk, the dull buzz of the lamp light in the room nagging me to get the electrics looked at. Tough ask, to be sure: a deadline was looming and I was so incredibly tired. Yet, I had a job to do — this article wouldn’t write itself. The monitor glowed in front of me; one hand guided the mouse, another lit a cigarette as I tapped on the keyboard. I scratched my head in confusion. Where did that third hand come from? More importantly, when did I suddenly start smoking? A pointer steamed across the screen. An automatic gesture, but there was a clarity of purpose here, something I couldn’t put my finger on. A longing for a tale that actually made me feel something. The button clicked under my finger, tactile, satisfying. I felt a disconnect. Was I playing this? Or was it playing me? A double bass thrummed through my speakers. A lonely xylophone plinked out notes in a minor key. I was about to take a journey into the heady world of noir, and I wasn’t sure if I’d like it. In every respect, it was A Case of Distrust. I grimaced and put out the cigarette, before realising it had been a pencil all along and I’d reduced the end to blackened ash. I really needed a refill on my coffee. This was going to be a long night.

The minimalist art style captures the essence of each environment.

Right from the start, I was hooked. A bait-and-switch with a couple of possible outcomes lured me in, before the rug was pulled from under me. I should have known better. I smiled ruefully; it was a training exercise, a way to show me the ropes. I was a policewoman turned private eye by the name of Phyllis Malone, trained by my uncle who took his own life in mysterious circumstances. Now every creep on the street wanted me to help them out. I could listen to them gabble on, make notes in my trusty notebook, and contradict key points in their story by using information from items I’d found while scouring the environment. There was a lot of reading to do, but it didn’t seem like effort. Not when you were a hardened gumshoe, like I was.

A Case of Distrust was a starkly illustrated story, simple in its execution. It owed a debt to the colours and lines of Saul Bass, and the depiction of the characters I met was minimal but striking. The text weaved an atmosphere; the silhouetted visuals were the icing. And the music, my God. I was there, in Prohibition-era San Francisco, fighting the good fight for a bootlegging snitch and wondering what the hell I was doing with my life. A trusted bartender kept my glass filled, and even when I took a break from my work there was always a handy reminder telling me what I needed to find out next.

The game doesn't shy away from highlighting similarities between past and present.

The case soon got tricky, even for a hardboiled dick like me. Before too long, I was deep into the case, and had a murder to solve. Like any murder, I had to establish means, motive and opportunity. There was no room for slip-ups; I could chat to possible suspects all day long, but as soon as I pointed the finger — bam! — they locked their lips faster than a couple in the back row of a Saturday matinee. I had to use my wits and evidence to make a case, and that meant a lot of back and forth between locations. It could have been a tough ask, but the dialogue flowed as free and easy as the half-empty bottle of bourbon keeping me company on the case, and there were always new items to peruse. Most of it was set dressing, but it gave me a flavour of the era, just like the chat I shared with the numerous taxi drivers who drove me to each destination. I flitted from racetrack to smoky bar, from speakeasy to the SFPD. It felt tight, momentum pushing me ever onward to follow up my next lead.

Using accrued evidence logically will normally see you right.

Correlating the whereabouts of the suspects and their motivations was made trickier by the notebook I used, which sometimes duplicated entries. A smart dame like me would expect the same entry — for instance, about a secret entrance to an establishment — to yield the same result, but clearly I was chasing a phoney lead in that respect. Each suspect needed to be questioned about the same topic, and the source of that topic needed to be correct before they’d spill the beans. If it wasn't they kept schtum. It didn’t make too much sense to me — a clue is a clue, regardless of its source, surely? — but I shrugged as I always did and got on with the job. It wasn’t a deal-breaker, and I didn’t get my badge by dragging people over the coals for minor problems. That was a job for the bad cops, and I was on the right side of the law.

Locations are varied and interesting.

The three hours I spent on the case flew by. I chatted to molls in hazy laudanum clouds, minor mobsters with a score to settle, and barbers with a side interest in the ponies. Just as I thought I knew where my leads were taking me, a vital line from a suspect upended my entire case. Even as the credits rolled and I realised that my initial hunch had been closest — call it a woman’s intuition — I was impressed by how slick the story was. Cherry-picked portions of US history make for compelling reading, and comparisons between the state of politics then and now are frightening in their similarity. In fact, I wrapped up the case despite knowing the bare minimum about Malone’s own background. A dame as a PI? She should have been given a bigger stage. As for her past, a motivation was touched upon and a tragic past hinted at, but I’m going to have to wait until the signposted second chapter hits the newsstands before I can find out more. 

I have a feeling it’ll be worth a dime of anyone’s money.

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The Wandering Ben has delivered a riveting crime caper, revelling in the clichés of the period, but not beholden to them. If you enjoy mystery, noir or simply an atmosphere to get lost in for a few hours, A Case of Distrust is essential.
Rob Kershaw

I've been gaming since the days of the Amstrad. Huge RPG fan. Planescape: Torment tops my list, but if a game tells a good story, I'm interested. Absolutely not a fanboy of any specific console or PC - the proof is in the gaming pudding. Also, I like cake.