Developed by Cheerdealers
Published by Alawar Premium
Available on PC through Steam
Suitable for ages 12+
When you think of John Carpenter’s 1982 classic The Thing, what part of that movie sticks out in your mind the most? Is it the grotesque malformed monster, spewing forth all manner of illogical tentacles and limbs? Maybe it’s growing paranoia that anyone could secretly be the monster, just waiting for the moment to strike. It could even be the cramped and inescapable Arctic setting. I can only guess which one of the numerous brilliant elements of The Thing was your personal favorite. What I can guarantee was that it wasn’t the part where they take inventory of all their supplies.
A game supposedly inspired by this criterion of horror history, Distrust might be the most deceptively marketed game I’ve ever played. Taking place on an isolated Arctic base in the wake a UFO excavation, this sums of the totality of how Distrust resembles The Thing. Starting off with two survivors (three if you’ve beaten the game once already), you’ll slog through the various buildings collecting food, tools, fuel, and whatever key item you need to proceed to the next zone. Wash and repeat five times to make it to the end.
A mix between survival and management simulators, the common term for these kinds of games is “plate spinning simulator.” You have to spin the hunger plate, the stamina plate, the warmth plate, the keeping fuel in the generator plate, and all the various task plates like opening doors and checking shelves for loot. The challenge is supposed to come from keeping all these plates spinning at the same time. With a limited amount of focus, becoming too fixated on one particular thing can mean letting other concerns slowly creep up on you into life threatening dangers. The enjoyment you get out of it is directly proportional to how satisfying the plate spinning is. Make it too hard, and the game becomes an impossible chore. Make it too easy, and what’s the point?
I have played Distrust exactly two times now. Both of those times I got to the end without a single casualty or life threatening situation. The game divvies itself up into two difficulties, an easier “Adventure” and a harder “Trial” mode. While the Trial mode was marginally more difficult, it’s nothing that really warrants its own separate category.
Even though the layout of the levels and exit conditions are randomized, how you play will always be exactly the same. Scavenge through some buildings for stuff, collect resources, manage your tools, and move on to the next zone. Eat food to stave off hunger, stay in warm buildings to up your warmth, and sleep to up your stamina. This will be altered marginally by what characters you choose. Each has a special perk and stats like run speed and cold resist. I picked the two starting characters both times and had no problem finishing the game.
On a positive note, I did like Distrust’s streamlined inventory system. No matter where your characters are, all the inventory goes into a single communal pot that anyone can draw from at any time. That means that your character with higher cold resist can go scavenge the kitchen for more food while your character with the cooking boost can sit in the warm base and make everyone cans of soup and instant noodles. I’ve always found inventory swapping to be the most tedious and pointless part of multi-character RPGs, so good on Cheerdealers for that.
And that’s about it. There’s no real plot to speak of, and most of the mechanics can be summed up in a paragraph. All of the tertiary elements are garbage. I’ll start with the “combat.” Rather than the horrifying shambling horrors of The Thing, enemies in Distrust are floating orbs called “anomalies” (pretty big hint that this is a Russian game). The interesting thing is that anomalies only spawn when you sleep. Sleep is your go-to way to regenerate stamina, meaning that you’ll have to balance using your limited stamina boosting food items with the threat of sleeping.
In theory you’re supposed to fight the anomaly with its corresponding elemental weakness. Ice anomalies don’t like heat, dark anomalies hate light, and the electrical ones are vulnerable to Ghostbusters Ghost Traps. In practice, the only anomaly you can really be clever about is the ice one. Open a window, let out the heat, lure the icy orb in, and then close the window again. Riveting stuff. Without a way to turn the lights off, the shadow orbs have to be chased down in the snow with your flashlights. Honestly, how hell is something that’s literally deathly afraid of a flashlight supposed to threaten me? You can’t make additional Ghost Traps, meaning that the electrical ones are just a dice roll. To top it all off, every single anomaly can be killed by a single bullet. They also just dissolve if left alone long enough. Terrifying.
So the monsters are nonthreatening and survival elements trivially easy to overcome. Let’s spice it up with some coin flips! At random intervals, a prompt will let you know that you have been selected by RNGesus to take part in his trial by bullshit. An example of one such test of faith is moldy food. Based on no factor other than random chance, every once in awhile you’ll try to eat some food only to find a bit of mold on it. Do you chance it? Win, and you’ll be rewarded with extra nutritious supermold. Lose, and you’ll get food poisoning.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not against random chance in games. I play Hearthstone after all. Distrust’s random coin flips just make no sense. At one point I was putting fuel into a furnace that had just gone out when I got a prompt to flip a coin to see if I got a lockpick hidden in the ashes. What, in the furnace that was just on? I’m sorry, but no. That’s some immersion breaking shit.
I haven’t even gotten into the translational errors or sanity effects. Instead of hunger, the bar reads “Satiety.” It’s the kind of technically correct word you expect from Google Translate. You also will randomly get sanity effects from groping alien artifacts. These can range from some annoying ones like grayscale graphics to inconsequential ones like your character quoting Shakespeare. They serve no purpose in enhancing Distrust’s setting or gameplay. They could frankly be entirely taken out to no effect.
Going back to my original point, why the hell is this game called Distrust? There is no element of actually distrusting anyone in the entire game. Your team works together to survive, and there are no NPCs to morph randomly into hulking abominations. The only reason I can imagine for the name is to try to ape off of the movie that Distrust is supposedly inspired by. It’s downright deceitful to call this game anything close to The Thing. Even ignoring that, there’s just not much to like about it. After breezing through twice, I can’t think of a reason I’d go back and try to unlock the other 8 or so characters I still have locked. I saw all I wanted to see in about 4 uneventful hours. Maybe that’s worth $12 to you. For me, I’d say give it a pass.
- One-Eye ROAD GAMES is great. Although it's no secret Curtis had a bad experience shooting in Australia, so I guess that colours her memory of the film.
- Christopher Parker Howard I'm curious what people found so scary, or even original about this film. It's a 2 hour family drama with 15 minutes of supernatural horror all at the end. There was some great disturbing imagery for...
- Andrew Lyall I love stuff like this, keep em coming!
- Dread Central I kind of need to read this now.
- One-Eye I had the game on the venerable Commodore64 and it was shit. I could just never figure out how to play it and I got killed every time.
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