You are P.C. Malone, a woman ex-cop turned private investigator in 1920s San Francisco. You haven’t had much luck in the way of work lately, but your latest case comes from a bootlegger who just received a death threat from one of the most dangerous gangs on this side of the Mississippi. What happens when each clue in the case leads to more questions than answers? It’s up to you, Malone, to find out the truth.
Developed by The Wandering Ben and published by Serenity Forge, A Case of Distrust is a narrative-driven mystery noir, and one of the best in the genre. As Malone, you’ll set out across the city in this point-and-click visual novel, and you’ll question characters for what they know about the case and your client.
The game’s greatest strength lies in its immersive storytelling that instantly pulls you in. Reminiscent of pulp noir, A Case of Distrust is a hard game to put down once you start it. With each clue you unravel, the case seems to only get more and more interesting. Apart from this, the game tackles historical issues of racism and poverty that are still relevant contemporarily. Each scene is displayed through a block of color and animated silhouettes of characters that bring them to life. The transitions between scenes are stylish and beautiful, and these dynamic visuals elevate the game’s visual novel-style. As you talk to characters, you’ll pick and choose your dialogue to learn new information. You can interrogate your suspects for new leads on the case.
As you travel from place to place — basement speakeasies, back alley billiards rooms or classy barber shops — you can mouse over highlighted objects to inspect them, to which Malone will comment and it will be recorded in your trusty notebook, which automatically records and holds all pieces of evidence and statements you receive throughout the game. As you talk to different characters, each one having their own block of color to match them, you’ll be looking for discrepancies in their statements, and you’ll be able to use your collected evidence to contradict their stories. In doing so, you’ll steadily be able to piece together the mystery at hand, until you have enough evidence in which you think you can properly accuse one of the suspects of the crime.
Still, the thing about A Case of Distrust is, despite an engaging story, it’s not a story of your own. By this, I mean the dialogue choices you make in the game and whatever you do or say to the characters don’t make any difference in the ending. The game will always end in the same shocking twist of who the culprit really is, and there’s only a slight difference in writing once you decide whether or not to really arrest the culprit. Also, if you’re ever stuck in the game, you need to rely on basic trial-and-error of asking each character about nearly every piece of evidence in your notebook until they give you something new. There is your trusty bartender friend, Frankie, who is there to offer you hints and advice on what to do next on the case, but his advice is often too obvious or vague to be of any use to the player.
For a playtime of three to four hours, A Case of Distrust is short, but leaves on a fulfilling note. I can only hope for a sequel, because the atmosphere of the smoky billiards hall mixed with the smooth jazz that mirrors the time period makes me feel like I’m right there in the moment alongside P.C. Malone. The game has a fairly simple loop of gathering information and pressuring suspects into talking, but once you get a piece of evidence that points you toward the next clue in your case, it’s that much more satisfying.