As with all reviews, we must start with full disclosure. I love John Carpenter’s The Thing. Obsessed with it. To an unhealthy level that has impacted my personal and professional life. If I come home from a night out and the film is on ITV or Channel 4 - I’m watching it.
If I come home slightly drunk, I’m putting The Thing on. And now we have been gifted with a game influenced by The Thing. Distrust is the first game from Russian developers Cheerdealers.
Unfortunately, it falls short of my expectations of the visceral horror and paranoia of John Carpenter's The Thing. This game is more like playing The Call of Cthulhu tabletop role playing game. And it’s a great game for it. Not so much about winning, but more about surviving.
The game begins with a helicopter crash in the arctic, you select the two survivors, with more unlocked as you play through the game. The goal is to move the characters through six stages of on arctic base scavenging as you go along to survive and find out what has happened to this abandoned tundra.
As with This War of Mine, the focus is keeping the characters fed, rested and warm. This part of the core gameplay is the best thing about the game. The first two stages are a breeze to get through. There is plenty of warm shelters, beds and a reasonable amount of food.
From stage three up until six, the game becomes a race against time and the elements. Quick decisions and commitment to a plan are a necessity to survive. Beds need to be fixed, windows shut, coal and oil scavenged. To move onto the next stages, a rudimentary puzzle must be completed. They range from pulling levers in a sequential order to having to fix a snowmobile.
The gameplay is minimalistic and risks becoming boring after a while doing the same tasks over and over again. However, the aesthetics of the game stop this from happening because it creates an empathetic bond between me and the characters. The music is a foreboding synthesised drone that encapsulates the aforementioned source material. The graphics and animations are clear and smooth, and not overtly and unnecessarily stylised.
The game achieves what Scott McCloud spoke about in Understanding Comics, “When we abstract an image through cartooning we’re not so much eliminating details as we are focusing on specific details. By stripping down an image to its essential ‘meaning’ an artist can amplify that meaning in a way that realistic art can’t”.
The isometric view is especially effective in drawing you into the control you have over the characters’ lives. A first person or third person view would not have achieved this. This view harkens back to Populous and Syndicate in the control that you have.
Then the enemies appear and completely ruin the experience. When a player goes to sleep they will appear. The first type you see is black sphere and it’s just boring and uninspired. Later on you get more traditional alien like designs but I never felt them to be an actual threat or something to be afraid of to survive. Just an annoyance. Not at all an effective antagonist. The desire and need to keep your character sane is the main enemy.
A lack of sleep will bring in the madness mechanic and assign a psychosis to the character, which stacks. This is all represented by audio and visual effects like, constant laughing, everything in black and white, or characters eating random food and dropping inventory items.
You will die a lot playing this game, and each new game has a new procedurally generated map to mix things up a bit. But, it’s not exactly a true roguelike experience like FTL, Rogue Legacy or Darkest Dungeon, due to a minimum amount of enemies and items available. There are very little surprises after a few games.
There are two game modes available. Adventure mode, which is medium in difficulty and Trial which is hard. If you are going to play, you have to do Trial so you can earn every achievement and unlock every character.
Although the game is challenging, it could have been a lot harder if the characters did not have a shared inventory. This is a minor complaint, but it pulls you out of the immersion the mise-en-scene creates and reminds you that you are playing a game. Example, to open doors early in the game, you use a bunch of keys. These keys can only be used by one character at a time. The characters could be on other side of the map, but the one set of keys magically transfers between the characters through the shared inventory.
Furthermore, there is no multiplayer element in this game. I’m not one of these people that says every game must have multiplayer, but because you control up to three characters, it would have been nice to have had an online multiplayer element to it.
Overall, Distrust is a solid good game that creates an effective environment and great experience. But it falls short at a few hurdles to be an excellent game. There is a lot of potential in the game being shown by Cheerdealers and I look forward to playing more of their work as Distrust reminds me of a Bullfrog game. A Distrust 2 would certainly be welcomed by me, but for now, why don't we just wait here for a little while, see what happens?