Everyone can relate to the feelings of guilt and regret. Pushing ourselves to reach a goal, no matter who is caught in the crossfire. DISTRAINT: Deluxe Edition by developer Winterveil Studios Oy is a 2D-psychological horror game that dares to explore these themes and how they can affect our mental stability and the lengths we’ll go to further ourselves, no matter who is hurt along the way.
Playing as a man known as Price, your role is to repossess properties on behalf of your company, all in the hope that you’ll become a partner within the business itself. Your dark tale takes you to various locales whom test your guilt as you struggle with your inner demons to decide what is right and what is wrong. DISTRAINT builds itself a beautiful horror aesthetic with a unique art style which enhances the creepy ambience. Relying less on jump scares and more on imagery, sound and atmosphere, everything about DISTRAINT is down to your engagement to become fully immersed in this world. The Xbox One version bolsters a narrower letterbox aspect ratio, which at first seems limited but adds to the general claustrophobia of Price’s mental stability as the game progresses. Many story beats deal with serious and very real themes, but the game manages to balance this out with a certain amount of dark humour sprinkled through to create a balanced palette of pacing.
The main objective in DISTRAINT is discovered through a variety of point and click adventure levels, very reminiscent of early LucasArts games such as The Secret of Monkey Island. Unfortunately, this leads to one of the game’s weaker points and a convention that’s plagued the genre since its creation. As you explore the environments, you will often find objects needing to be used within the world to progress. However, this can occasionally lead to situations where you are aimlessly interacting with every facet of the world until something clicks. Often, the solution can be easily put together, but other moments had me scratching my head as no two items married up with each other as being a collaboration. The inventory system is easy to use and only holds up to three items at one time, so limits the amount of confusion in the world. But these puzzles can also often lead to what feels like unnecessary padding, and for a game which is roughly only three hours long can make some sections feel needlessly drawn out.
Each level has its own style and often comes with a different gameplay hook to showcase its creativity. Some of the level designs can be confusing though as each environment has a similar art style making each room merge into the next. This becomes most prevalent in one level which requires timed movements to navigate through rooms in a specific order, requiring certain backtracking to gather items. This adds to the confusion of discovering which item is needed to progress as everything begins to merge into one. The art style remains consistently pleasing throughout though, and the option to increase or decrease the film grain to your personal preference is a good way to cater to the visual aesthetic to your choosing. Everything has a real grungy and filthy look to it, which further emphasises the putrid disorder of the actions Price will take to become who he wants to be.
Spread throughout are certain set piece moments, as well as story driven sections which help break the pace of the levels invoking some of DISTRAINT’s darker moments. The atmosphere oozes from the screen as soon as the game starts and is accompanied by some incredible sound design and music. Every sound feels meticulously crafted to compliment its uneasy 2D art style and constantly creates a feeling of dread.
As mentioned earlier, DISTRAINT on Xbox One relies more on psychological-horror rather than jump scares and induces some disturbing imagery. The themes are orchestrated nicely into its levels as Price delves further into his mental conscious, but imagery can sometimes feel on the nose and lack subtlety. An example of this is Price having to figuratively deal with his ‘elephant in the room’ which leads to a chase sequence involving an actual elephant. It’s clear that the game creator, Jesse Makkonen, has a distinct vision which is portrayed with ease. However, I feel it could have been implemented to greater success if the player was left to their own imagination to discuss amongst what they believe happened. What does work exceptionally well though is the ending, which brings the story around full circle in a surprising twist which begs for a second playthrough to piece together what led to the climax.
DISTRAINT is clearly a story that wants to be told and while it’s not always successful in its endeavours, it does manage to successfully create a horrific brooding atmosphere to portray many dark human emotions. In a world where many horror games rely on cheap tactics to shock gamers, it’s refreshing to see a passion project with an engaging story and atmosphere on the market.