When I first heard about Distrust and saw that it was ‘inspired by John Carpenter’s The Thing’, I was immediately sold. See, this film had a huge impact on me when I watched it back in the 1980’s as a young man, so much so that I’m getting shivers just thinking about it! Of course, now I’m a grown man I’m not freaking out any more, but a game inspired by the film had me intrigued. Coming from Alawar Premium, Distrust is set on a remote Arctic base, and so for that reason alone, I pulled on my best woolly pully and set off through the snow.
The story setup is an interesting one, played out over a series of static cut scenes. An Arctic base sends out an SOS, and a team is sent to investigate, but sadly the helicopter they are travelling on crashes. This is where the game opens, with the two survivors waking up in the snow next to the flaming wreckage of their aircraft. All they have to do now is survive! Looking around the base, the rest of the inhabitants seem to have disappeared, and it’s therefore down to our intrepid explorers to get to the bottom of why and where they have gone.
Before starting this adventure you are invited to choose the two crew members who are going to go into the unknown. There are a good variety of men and women to choose from, and each has a unique skill, whether it be cold resistance, being able to quell hunger pangs for longer or even making scarce resources – such as wood and gasoline – go further. You’ll also need to choose which difficulty level you wish to play Distrust on and believe me there is quite a difference between them. In an interesting move, the easier difficulty level won’t let you unlock all the characters that are available, and a lot of achievements are disabled as well, but it’s well worth having a couple of runs on this difficulty to get used to the controls, as the difference between the two levels is marked.
At its heart, Distrust is about survival. The cold, the hunger and the darkness are as much your enemies as are the mysterious creatures that are scuttling about the place. You need to keep your survivors warm, either by equipping clothing that you scavenge, or better yet, by keeping them inside with a nice roaring fire. Finding food is another priority, and some of it needs to be cooked, requiring a stove, or you can chance eating raw or spoiled food at the risk of being poisoned. They will also need to sleep to keep their stamina levels up, and here’s where the problems begin. You see, the only way to keep stamina up is to sleep in any of the beds or sofas in the living quarters. But as your characters have a kip, the room seems to fill with fireflies, and if you let them sleep for too long, the fireflies coalesce into an anomaly. These are floating creatures that come in a few different flavours, the most common of which is one with a multitude of eyes. These are easily fought off with light, as it seems to injure them, so trapping them in a well lit building will cause them to die, and shining a torch on them outdoors will cause them to flee. There are other types, such as ones that can suck the heat out of a furnace, making the whole building colder, and these need other tactics to deal with them. I’ll leave you to find out what to do with them!
The compelling thing about the gameplay found in Distrust is that every choice you make seems to have real weight to it. One of the first things you’ll find is a bunch of keys, and when you come across a locked door, you have a few choices. You can stand there and try each key in turn, which takes a while and can lead to trouble if you are outside trying to get in, or, if you have a lockpick or crowbar, you can circumvent this procedure. If you do this however, the door is damaged, can’t be shut and so heat escapes from the building, and you have to use precious resources to fix it. This is just one example of the many choices that have to be made, ranging from risking eating rotten food to fixing machines without the correct parts. In quite a lot of situations, the game essentially flips a coin for you, with the end result being randomly decided, either for good or bad.
Another fascinating addition is the role that mental health plays. You see, as your character’s health deteriorates, and it will, they become susceptible to various types of madness, which can have a marked effect on gameplay. Things like hearing voices or laughter are not too bad, but there are other types of madness that make the characters see the world in black and white, or that completely skew the laws of perspective. As you see the game as if you were the character, any madness effects they are suffering from manifest in your view of the game world, and this can make things a whole new level of challenging. A nice touch is that as you control a couple of people, they quite often suffer from different mental health issues, so you can flip between them to see if the thing you can see on the screen is just in the mind of one character or is really there. It’s hard to express just how effective this technique is, dragging you in and making you care about the fate of the characters as you try desperately to get them out of the zone they are in into the next one in search of answers. Of course, if you are halfway round the twist in one zone, getting to the next doesn’t cure them, so it pays to try and keep them as happy as you can.
Graphically and Distrust is seen from an old school isometric viewpoint, with the ability to either rotate the camera through 90 degrees in either direction, or pan it around to see what’s around the corner. The issue I have with this camera setup is that although it pans and spins smoothly, it’s quite easy to lose the cursor, which in turn affects what you tell your characters. When there’s a huge monster breathing down your neck, the last thing you want is to be frantically twiddling the left stick to try to find where you are at; something which is made all the worse when under the influence of certain flavours of madness. Other than this, Distrust is easy to play, with a real “just one more go” feel, especially as the levels are not the same each time you play them, and the actions requried to open the exit gate to the next zone change. This adds a real touch of unpredictability to the gameplay which increases the long term appeal.
All in all and Distrust is a very interesting proposition. The setting is great, very bleak and creepy, and the oppressive feeling as madness starts to close in is an effective one. With fresh levels each time and the overall challenge of the game, the longevity certainly appears to be secure. One slightly strange design decision however is in regards the achievements, as the majority of those unlocked have had 0G value, with only five in the whole game scoring 200G each. Obviously this doesn’t affect how things play out, but in a world obsessed with points scoring, it’s a strange decision. Other than this though, and the slightly fiddly controls, Distrust is well worth a playthrough.
Just don’t always believe your eyes…