As soon as you enter the stylish, monochrome world of A Case of Distrust, you can immediately feel the mood this game is trying to set. It’s the 1920s, you’re a down on your luck gumshoe with a troubled past, a former cop who interacts with the seedy underbelly. There’s a lot of fun and winky nostalgia as you talk very seriously to your cat as you lament your empty fridge in the game’s clever tutorial phase.
The game has virtually no user interface. The only persistent element on the screen is a small tab in the corner that allows you to review your notes. It’s a great touch and lets you entirely focus on the story being told through the game’s text blocks and static images.
There are three ways to interact with A Case of Distrust. There are large scenes with objects you can click on that will give you clues or flavor text, there are conversations where you can pick from multiple dialog options, or there is the “Show Notes” interface where you can press for more info or contradict someone’s story by presenting something from your detective’s notebook.
For anyone that’s played L.A. Noire or Ace Attorney or any number of detective games, this will all seem very similar. That’s really the problem with A Case of Distrust, though. The more I played, the more things felt familiar. Not a new take on an existing genre or a nostalgic look at a foregone period, but a tedious attempt to capture the feeling of something else while doing none of the work.
The art for the still images is crisp and stylish and the writing is a fun homage to detective writers like Dashiel Hammett or Raymond Chandler, but when all is said and done you’re basically paying $15 to read a short choose-your-own adventure detective story with pictures. Your notebook fills up with red herrings as you try and press the game’s few characters for information, all of which return stock responses. Progression is linear, there is no fail state.
The game is cute and interesting, but it never quite justifies it’s price tag. The main character’s backstory is a fascinating look at a female cop in the 20s, but you never feel like you get a strong sense of who she is under the layers of PI tropes. Going from place to place can trigger a neat little conversation with a cab driver, but it never amounts to anything. It’s like an informational loading screen when nothing is loading and the information isn’t germane to the game being played.
A Cast of Distrust would be a great game for anyone looking for an introduction to the detective/noir genre in either novel or game form, but it might be a little too familiar for anyone who’s spent some time with Phoenix Wright or Humphrey Bogart.