Distrust – First impressions – Where are my pills?

Gare – Friday, September 1, 2017 12:15 PM
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I entered the world of Disturst with much anticipation – after all, the team of Cheerdealers advertised the title as a game inspired by John Carpenter’s 1982 classic, The Thing. This alone was enough to get my attention, and the ominous, 80s-style tunes in the main menu only amplified my joy. You are advised to hop into the brief tutorial mission before starting the game for real, just to familiarize yourself with the basics of the controls and the mechanics – but after that, you’re ready to head off into the unknown and start a journey that will no doubt end in your death. But hey, let’s stay optimistic.

Challenges to overcome

Initially, your selection of playable characters is sufficiently limited, but you’ll be able to unlock more and more as you meet certain criteria. Each survivor possesses a certain unique trait: one person will be increasingly resistant to cold weather, while another will be able to go without food for much longer than her peers, and so on. The snowy base you find yourself stranded at consists of six zones, with each one providing a specific challenge you need to overcome before you can advance. Needless to say, this isn’t easy as it sounds on paper. You have three primary gauges to keep an eye on when it comes to your survivors – warmth, satiety, and stamina – which can be maintained by staying near lit furnaces, finding a bed to rest in, or scavenging nearby crates or fridges for scraps of food. Bonus points if you find a stove, because at least then you won’t have to chew on raw noodles or frozen vegetables to survive. All of this is, of course, complicated by further hindrances: you may be attacked by an anomaly in your sleep, or cut yourself while scavenging through the trash (in this case, you will need bandages) or even get food poisoning, but more on that later. The game was designed like this – in Distrust, there’s a hurdle at every corner, forcing you to think on your feet and improvise. By the time you get to the last few zones, you’ll likely be scrambling to collect the items you need while always trying not to starve and/or freeze to death. That atmosphere is solid, and the whole “survivor” feeling is definitely there, I will admit. I was significantly less impressed by the story and its presentation – your characters will make some comments here and there and you may even find some notes scattered around the base from time to time, but that’s about it. During the first five zones, I didn’t encounter much in the way of an engaging narrative.

The Thing? No such thing here…

But let’s get back to the beginning. I land in the middle of the snowy base with two characters, and for my first move, decide to do something that will no doubt cause many a horror film buff to knit their collective brows: split up my party, figuring it would help me cover more ground in an effective way. Hey, what’s the worst thing that could happen? Either way, the first zone serves as a solid warmup exercise: I pull a few switches and off I go to the next area. I do, however, get my first dose of disappointment here: namely, that Distrust’s parallels with Carpenter’s The Thing are superficial at best. Our enemies are not identity-stealing mutant creatures from outer space, but… floating orbs that the game refers to as anomalies. Some are weak to light, others shun fire and warmth, and while their appearance might result in some inconveniences, they never fill you with primal dread. While the abandoned base and the background music are admittedly reminiscent of the Carpenter film, Distrust is nonetheless “just” a survival game, without any real horror elements to speak of. This, all in all, was a major disappointment for me, considering the game more or less uses its apparent parallels to The Thing as its main selling point. And while I did eventually encounter an enemy that wasn’t a floating Christmas decoration, it did little to remedy my initial disappointment. If you’re expecting Distrust to deliver the tense human drama and the blood-curdling horror of The Thing, you will most certainly feel let down.

RNG wizardry

Either way, back to my story: my strategy of splitting up the party worked out, so I moved on to the next zone. Multi-tasking with two characters at the same time almost reminded me of managing a base in StarCraft – while one survivor cooked food for us and repaired my equipment, the other set out to explore the nearby buildings. Efficient team work will make your life a lot easier on the frozen base, which is precisely why, in my opinion, Distrust desperately needs a multiplayer mode to truly shine. The game, however, is strictly single player only, with no online co-op available, which is a massive, massive shame. The game could’ve really used it to its advantage, and I would’ve felt more enthusiastic about doing repeated playthroughs with an actual, human teammate at my side.

Anyway, let me once again go back to chronicling my own adventure. The problems arose after breezing through the first zone. Let this be a lesson to you: don’t poke alien objects you know nothing about. One such artifact successfully poisoned my character, and without any pills to help his condition, I was forced to watch as he coughed himself to a coma and eventually died. The divine patron of random generated content did not smile upon me this day: indeed, I found basically everything on the base from duct tape through coffee beans all the way to a pack of frozen vegetables… everything, except for the medicine I needed to save my companion. In the end, I was forced to accept this form of partial defeat and move on to the next area alone. Once there, I was – once again – struck by the curse of food poisoning, and no matter how desperately I searched through every cabinet and trash heap, I came upon no pills. The game was gracious enough to give my character color blindness moments before she died, but at this point, it made precious little difference whether I saw the Game Over screen in color or black and white. Naturally, I refused to give up: armed with all the knowledge I accumulated during my initial run, I was determined to do another, hoping to achieve better results. Dying, you see, forces you to start the entire game again from scratch – there are no safe checkpoints, either, only a “save & quit” function, so all your mistakes are permanent, and you have to live with the consequences. Thankfully, the randomly generated zones provided my new journey with some level of variety: at one point, I needed to find gasoline to start a snowplow truck, while in another zone, I needed to find instructions on how to assemble a bomb, then assemble said bomb to blow a door open. I’ve also discovered the importance of not dallying around for too long – scavenging is good, but when the clock is ticking, and your survivors lose stamina, warmth and satiety with each passing minute, time is of the essence. At times, it is wiser to simply get what you need and get out instead of trying to explore every nook and cranny of the map.

Final thoughts

On some level, I had fun with Distrust. It’s an adequate survival game in its current state, that much I can definitely say. The atmosphere is solid, survival is not easy, and the player has to constantly juggle survival and supply-gathering. After a few hours with the game, though, I found it getting more and more repetitive: the lack of any truly terror-inducing, Carpenter-inspired monsters and the lackluster nature of the storyline prevented me from getting truly immersed in the experience. When broken down, the gameplay itself is fairly trivial: you scavenge for items, loot everything, and hope that you find what you need to advance. Meanwhile, you manage your characters’ three gauges. And that’s about it – gauge-management and looting. I feel like various things could’ve been done to enhance and enrich the experience: imagine some better, more aggressive monsters that you need to barricade yourself up against – scenarios where the survivors need to board up doors and windows to prevent the aliens from getting in. Or how about NPC characters that could either be genuine humans or monsters in disguise? Things like that might’ve added some extra tactical depth and a bit more horror to the game. The randomly generated maps don’t help matters, either: on several occasions, you’ll feel like your survival depends heavily upon pure luck. Even I have only made it to the fifth zone because I lucked out and stumbled upon the necessary key items relatively early on while exploring the previous zones. As you may have noticed when I talked about my own unfortunate experiences with food poisoning, the random aspect of Distrust – which we may very well call the RNG Santa Claus – can easily mess up your entire run with the tiniest of things. So that about sums up the few hours I spent with Distrust. The game fills me with mixed feelings – it does do certain things quite well, and under its thick layers of snow and ice, there may indeed be a worthwhile survival game in there somewhere, provide you’re patient enough. On the other hand, the uninspired enemy design, the occasionally repetitive gameplay, the double-edged sword of the RNG aspect, the minimalistic story, and the aching lack of multiplayer all prevent it from being a truly memorable title.

Distrust is now available on Steam.

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