With titles such as Ark, The Long Dark and, of course, current popular-kid Player Unknown: Battlegrounds proving so successful with PC gamers – it makes sense that indie game producers are putting forward their own survival-genre offerings. Here, having taken inspiration from the infamous John Carpenter horror film The Thing (1982) we have the arctic expedition from hell.
From a slightly rushed intro we learn the characters embarked on a rescue mission to the arctic, unaware that their colleagues were already irretrievable. The helicopter crashes after the mysterious appearance of a bright light and the game begins. This will perhaps be the only bit of storyline you follow. From the creepy loading screen music, the buffeting noise of the wind and the surprisingly detailed graphics, Distrust successfully builds an atmospheric landscape within the game. With the short tutorial giving nothing away as to what enemies you will cross during game play – the tension bar is certainly set high to start.
You begin by choosing your characters, which can be predominantly unlocked through the trial mode. Each explorer is a well-constructed character with its own backstory, strengths and weaknesses – promising some variation in game play. The artwork for each is also appealing and it is nice to see some clear creative-thought going into each and every one.
Moreover, the aesthetic of the game overall is startlingly beautiful for this price category, with a careful attention to detail with the shadows, light and 3D all done well. This teamed with a haunting soundtrack and sound effects sets a creepy mood that edges this game into the horror genre.
The interface is clear and self-explanatory, which is useful when the pace of the game is so fast that you don’t have time to click through anything complex. My only gripe here is the view only rotates in 90 degree turns which, combined with the high walls of rooms means that it can be a little clunky trying to view what is inside. However, useful highlighting of objects you can interact with helps to counteract this.
The landscape of the game is brutal, perhaps to an unrealistic point where your characters appear to possess the appetite of a growing blue whale and your seasoned explorers will cut themselves on every piece of wood they come across before bleeding to death. Due to the randomly generated nature of the game, the actual tools you need to survive may not even be available in the zone to patch up your wound and your explorer is doomed to die. This means the gameplay itself is, on the plus side, very intense and engaging because there is no time to rest unless you hit pause. Make no mistakes: this game can be hard…and possibly leave you a little physically crippled.
However, the actual antagonist of the game – the so called ‘anomalies’ – are comparatively a disappointing enemy compared to the landscape. For a game with plenty of fun and creative ideas behind it, these blobs do little for the imagination and form an anti-climactic reveal for what has been an otherwise chilling build-up. Fans of The Thing will undoubtedly be wondering why the creatures don’t emulate the characters, although it would have been a complicated task to pull off. So although the purpose of the anomalies in the plot is clear, the gameplay itself could function without them. The world itself becomes a far more chilling enemy.
What Distrust promises that sets it apart from your average barren survival game is the additional complexities of your characters picking up mental disorders as they run out of energy which further hinder your game. This is highlighted in the game’s tagline: ‘You’ll run mad but you can still survive!’
This is where one of the main issues with the game lies, which is a shame as it is an original prospect. The idea of your character contracting, to use one example, colour blindness to complicate your game certainly enriches the psychology of it. However, the way the game is structured means your characters quickly begin to contract around four or five of these maladies at one time – but only when you are already struggling.
Before you know it, one of your characters will be singing manically, whilst another is speaking in Shakespearian verse, with one seeing in black and white, with another in night vision and they all keep bolting to seek out a non-existent helicopter. I do love the playful imagination behind these maladies and it increases the jeopardy of the game but more prominently it succeeds in making the game unplayable from this point forward from an audio and visual standpoint. My characters could carry on, I could have tried to save them but I found I would much rather quit the game and restart to avoid the throng of noise, popups and ugly visuals.
Perhaps the producers are trying to induce a state of psychosis in the player too. However, it feels it would have been more effective for one or two of these conditions to impact temporarily in order to complicate gameplay when you’re doing well – rather than kick you whilst you’re down.
Moreover, speaking of restarting, the other drawback for this title is its repetitiveness. There have been concerted efforts to make another play through different to your previous as the zone maps change at random. However, regardless of these, I found every time the most effective way to play was to send my characters bolting through the zones as quickly as possible scavenging everything in each building until I had the tools to get through to the next – and then I would scavenge through that zone too. Before I knew it, I had forgotten which play-through I was on, which zone I was in… it all looked the same. Ultimately, there is no rest for the player and the game moves at such a pace that the actual hours of gameplay before it gets too same-y is probably between the 10 and 20 mark.
Perhaps we have been spoiled by open-world survival games where the possibilities are endless and you can interact with everything, but here you will find the same buildings and items in each level and little real variation. This said Distrust is currently on Steam for £8.99 and if you’re not the type to re-mortgage your house for Ark or you don’t have a spare 200+ hours to dedicate to The Long Dark – this may well be the answer. You won’t get days of gameplay – but the atmosphere, premise and passion are there.