Publisher: Alawar Premium
Review Platform: PC (Steam)
Release Date: August 23, 2017
I love John Carpenter’s The Thing from 1982 and I love video games, so naturally I’ve been on the lookout for a game that successfully emulates the terror of that seminal classic. What makes that film great is not only the beautiful creature design from Rob Bottin, but the tension built amongst the lack of trust anyone seems to feel for each other. The creatures are scary, sure, but not knowing who you can trust in a desolate location such as the arctic? That’s an entirely different level of terror.
And in the early 2000’s, a game based upon The Thing did come out, and it… was fine. A pretty generic shooter, set in the same frigid locales of the film, and there was even a meter that indicated how cold the character was. It never breached that whole distrust thing, but it captured the most gamey aspects of the film fairly well.
Cheardealers’ Distrust broaches this subject, but ultimately gets bogged down by frustratingly difficult survival mechanics, and characters’ suspicions of each other barely see the light of day.
But let’s start with basics: Distrust randomly generates 6 levels, each with their own escape which requires completing certain feats. For example, in one you might simply be required to find a key, while in another you have to flip a series of switches in a certain order to open the gate. The variety that Distrust offers up in terms of objectives is surprising, and repeated playthroughs rarely feel the same.
These 6 stages are populated by a series of buildings that all look the same – or at least roughly the same – which feels at home with the Antarctic setting. You’ll find yourself managing your two (or more) characters, sprinting from building to building trying to find supplies. In the meantime, you’re required to manage a bevy of statistics. You’ll need to ensure you’re well-fed; that you’re getting enough sleep; and that you’re kept warm through clothing, furnaces, and warm food and drinks. In order to accomplish each of these, you’re required to do a handful of things.
For example, you’ll scavenge the kitchen looking for any scraps of food, ultimately finding some frozen vegetables. Those veggies need to be cooked, but – uh oh – the stove is broken and requires you to fix it using 3 planks. Can’t find three planks? Better start searching. Eventually you grow hungry. You grow tired. You get cold. And eventually you begin to lose your mind. This is where Distrust absolutely shines.
While frustratingly trying to repair a bed so your character can get just a moment’s rest, you’ll see a notification flash upon the screen, and suddenly your screen turns black and white. Or your character begins reciting Shakespeare. Or they start yelling profanities. Distrust‘s ideas of losing your mind are sometimes hilarious, but rarely create many difficulties in the way of completing objectives. In fact, the most difficult aspect I’ve run into, is simply trying to find time to sleep without invoking the game’s aliens.
The aliens truly disappoint, in a game that takes so much inspiration from Carpenter’s The Thing, I had hoped that the aliens would have been more aggressive, or perhaps did something more that float around the outside of a building. I mean, they do, of course. They can turn off power and the furnace, which can certainly grow frustrating, but in the end, surviving the elements proves much more challenging and frightening.
A game set in a remote Antarctic scientific base, featuring aliens, and a title like “Distrust” invoke certain expectations in me. Distrust, unfortunately, doesn’t do much in the way of meeting those expectations. It insists upon being a survival game first, and a horror game last, which would be fine, if it wasn’t called Distrust. I know, getting hung up on the title seems stupid and insignificant, but expectations are an important part of gaming. If Assassin’s Creed featured no assassins, or Ninja Gaiden had no ninjas, we’d be pretty disappointed. Distrust features absolutely no levels of distrust. If a character begins to hallucinate that the other is an alien, I can verify that it’s not an alien, simply by switching characters. There are alien artifacts littering the base, and my assumption for the longest time was that if I touched one, it would somehow infect my character. Nope, I’d either get rewarded – with a boost to my health, for example – or punished with an illness or something similarly un-menacing.
I was looking forward to Distrust. I really was. I wanted to love it, but I couldn’t. I could only like it, and just barely. It’s frustrating survival design, and the developer’s decision to never live up to it’s namesake bring this game down in so many ways that could’ve been avoided had some of the half-baked ideas been given a bit more time and focus.