A Case of Distrust (Ben Wander)

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I mentioned this game in a previous link assortment, but it deserves its own post: A Case of Distrust is a detective adventure by Ben Wander, set in 1920s San Francisco. You’re a female detective who previously spent time (unusually) on the police force, thanks to a policeman uncle who took you under his wing. But now Uncle Lewis is dead, you’re trying to fend for yourself, and the cases are not coming through the door as quickly as you might like. Happily, one does turn up eventually, and you get involved — only to find that the matter escalates while you’re investigating.

The game is stylish and attractive, and it has a solid search-and-interrogate mechanic common to a lot of detective adventures. By clicking around an environment, you can find physical clues to note in your notebook; by interrogating witness, you add to your collection of evidence from statements. All of that evidence can then be used to raise new topics of conversation with the characters you need to speak to. Travel from one place to another is by taxi, and you can either sit in silence or chat with the taxi driver: these are a series of cute stand-alone anecdotes that show off the author’s research about the period.

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Gameplay has also been solid: it’s the usual round of going to different locations trying to shake out information, but the experience is smooth and it’s been easy to keep moving (until just now). And sometimes characters have dialogue responses even for objects that they don’t technically need to respond to — giving a little of the depth and explorability of a parser game. Cliqist’s review complains that this is a little too simple, and that it’s possible to just lawnmower your investigation. But the lists of both evidence and testimony get pretty long, while the clues are pretty clear most of the time —  so at least for me, the gameplay was not that difficult but also not mostly composed of grinding.

So A Case of Distrust is cool and entertaining, text heavy, with puzzles: I suspect it’ll appeal to many readers of this blog.

The story is more “acceptable” than “awesome,” from my perspective. Other reviews cite the memorable characters: I found them okay, but often a bit stilted. I feel the game is recapitulating a lot of the tropes of noir in a slightly cartoonish way (fair enough) — but it’s not all the way into silly parody land the way a Ryan Veeder or Robin Johnson game with this material likely would be. It does not, however, really commit to the core nature of noir — the idea that basically everyone is awful. This is not Make It Good, either.

And a few rot13d thoughts for those who have already played or want spoilers:

Va gur raq, jura gur phycevg gheaf bhg gb or lbhe byqrfg naq zbfg gehfgrq sevraq, lbh pna pubbfr abg gb ghea uvz va. Naq gubhtu V guvax V’q gnxr gur fvqr bs gur ynj va erny yvsr, va gur fgbel V pubfr gb yrg uvz bss gur ubbx. Gur crefba ur xvyyrq jnf fb njshy gung V pbhyqa’g frr ehvavat fbzrbar ryfr’f yvsr bire gur ybff bs uvz.

Guvf vf gur cbvag ng juvpu gur fgbel orpbzrf zbfg crefbany, naq gur znva bppnfvba jurer lbh trg gb znxr n pubvpr gung vfa’g nyfb n punyyratr gur jnl fbyivat gur zheqre jnf. Ohg vg’f snveyl vasb-qhzc-l naq rkcbfvgvbany, naq V jbhyq unir jrypbzrq fbzrguvat n ovg qvssrerag urer.

Thematically, the story draws some parallels between the 1920s and the present day, with commentary on wealth disparity, racism, and sexism. A few times in my play through this tipped over into being a little too broad for my preferences — there’s an explicit #MeToo reference (all but the hashtag), and while it’s certainly possible to talk usefully about the treatment of women in past eras, linking it to the events of the last six months feels a bit jarring.

Other takes: Colin Campbell at Polygon loved it and gave it a 9. Paul Tamayo at Kotaku also liked it.

[Disclosures: I received a free download of this game. It is published by Serenity Forge. The same publisher is also publishing Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, a game to which I contributed writing.]

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