Disclaimer: PC Aficionado was provided with a code for the purpose of this review. All thought and opinions expressed in the review are the writers own and are not influenced by the developer and/or publisher in anyway.
“Inspired by John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’”. Quite possibly the shortest, yet most accurate, Steam blurb I’ve ever seen. And that couldn’t possibly be more of a good thing.
While not directly based on the events of the movie, Distrust is heavily inspired by the style and aesthetic of the 1982 film, and replicates them in a way that makes for a unique and gripping experience. Every aspect of the movie’s atmosphere feels lovingly translated into video game format. From the low, droning music creating a constant feeling of unease, to the seemingly endless white void of snow, as if to emphasize your helplessness and isolation, you’ll find yourself on the edge of your seat in this dramatic game of survival.
Without a doubt, the single best aspect of Distrust lies in its presentation. Despite fairly unimpressive graphics, it’s the consistency of the visuals, and the atmosphere that they work together to create, that makes the game look fantastic in its own right, in a perfect example of aesthetic over advancement. In addition, the music is a unique joy to listen to. Its deep yet synth-heavy tones would not sound out of place in the movie from which it was inspired, yet are different enough to stand proudly on their own. Each character is uniquely and attractively designed, in an art direction stylized enough to make the characters stand out and create a solid impression in your mind.
Where the game falls short, however, is in its simple, repetitive gameplay loop, and reliance on inconvenient tropes, which almost seem to be mandatory in its genre. As a game about gathering supplies, you eventually fall into a rhythm of “Enter building, repair appliances, close windows, loot everything, move to next building” with very little variation. The only standout feature, of course, being the monsters hunting you down. Although most of these enemies pose very little challenge, especially early on, as you’ll soon realize the only major threat lies in managing your characters’ hunger, warmth, and stamina; a system that works much like every other game of the genre you’ve played. Being a survival game, you have to become accustomed to the constant needs of your characters, as they’ll die of starvation even after having eaten a full meal only a few minutes prior, and a small cut on their hand will prove fatal in an offensively short amount of time.
This isn’t to say that the gameplay loop isn’t somewhat enjoyable. Being an extremely short game, you’re not likely to play it for a single sitting long enough for any of those aspects to become issues. Quite the opposite, in fact, as the characters were able to leave just enough of an impact for me to feel legitimate concern for their safety. Or perhaps that was out of concern for starting over from the beginning yet again, but either way, each loss feels emotional. Seeing your last surviving character carrying his dying friend on his back, clinging to his last inches of sanity as he desperately crawls to an escape, is a truly suspenseful ordeal.
There is certainly a lot of “by the numbers” design in this game, but focusing on what makes it unique, the fact that the game’s enemies only come after you after you’ve slept creates an interesting dissociation between long-term and short-term survival. Do you stave off sleep, at the cost of mental health, and watch on as your perception of reality shifts and contorts into something possibly confusing or terrifying? Or do you take your time to rest, fully knowing the monsters that it will attract?
Or, at least… it would feel like that, if the monsters were even the slightest bit threatening. Once you understand them even a little, it becomes more accurate to consider your stamina meter as more of a “time limit”. Only, when that time limit runs out, you’re simply mildly inconvenienced by weak, slow moving enemies, that are easily avoided, or even killed.
Throughout my several playthroughs, I only encountered four “anomalies”, as the game puts it. The first and most common kind is a floating black sphere, which somewhat resembles a small black hole. It’s not nearly as dangerous as one, however, as its weakness is any form of light, including the flashlights that all characters are carrying at all times. This means that for at least the first level or two, any monster you will ever encounter can be killed by simply looking at it. Of course it makes sense for a game to start you off with the weakest enemy, but they don’t get much harder from there, with the second anomaly being an ice creature, who is weak to any non-freezing temperature. This means that as long as you’ve repaired the furnace in whatever house you’re in (which if you’re sleeping in said house, you most certainly already have), the creature cannot enter the house without dying, and you can simply wait it out, or escape when it drifts to the other side of the building.
The first opponent that can even enter functioning buildings is the electrical anomaly, who is intended to be defeated by a Ghostbusters style trap, which you simply lay on the ground, and allow it to destroy the monster. While these traps are somewhat rare, and are certainly more difficult to come across than light or heat, you should almost always come across at least one within the first few levels, as the monster won’t appear in the earlier stages of the game; and once you have even a single trap, it isn’t of even the slightest threat to you. Finally, the most powerful enemy I encountered within the game is the fire anomaly. Being the only monster in the game that isn’t simply a floating sphere, I had high hopes for this one. When I encountered my first fire anomaly, I didn’t even think to lay a trap. I simply pulled out my gun, and started shooting. It was then immediately, and anticlimactically, killed with a single click, and a single bullet, which are shockingly plentiful; being easy to find, and one character even beginning the game with four bullets. That’s four instant kills, on the most threatening creature you’ll encounter, before you even have to so much as run away.
After being well-rested, and killing the most powerful enemy in the game with a single input, I took my pleasant time beating the final level fairly leisurely, and walked out the door to see the game’s ending. It was at this point that I feared the game much too easy to be considered “survival”. At least, until I started the game backup, and promptly died on level four. This is when I realized that Distrust, even more so than many games of the genre, relies almost entirely on RNG. While you have more than enough time to acquire the tools necessary to deal with any anomaly, the same cannot be said for the elements themselves, as you sometimes seemingly simply won’t have enough food or tools to survive, regardless of your “skill”; and this can be somewhat hard to forgive, in a game without much of a skill ceiling to begin with, aside from simply learning all of the game’s mechanics.
All in all, Distrust is a fun, engaging, satisfying game, as long as it’s played in short bursts; and the amount of characters for you to choose from allows for decent replay value, with many interesting strategies and combinations. Though, without much challenge outside of RNG, and without the amazing monster designs of the film from which it’s based, it can hard to recommend, unless you’re a true fan of the genre. It took a lot from John Carpenter’s The Thing, bringing all the best aspects of the horror classic into its style and atmosphere, but could have stood to take a bit more, at least to shore up its shockingly lackluster enemy design, and uninteresting plot twist.
- Great visuals and audio that perfectly fit their purpose
- Quick game with lots of replayability
- Pays decent tribute to a classic movie
- Gameplay gets old fast
- Enemies rarely pose any threat
- Over-reliance on RNG