Distrust (PC Review)
Inspired by John Carpenter’s The Thing, Distrust is the debut title of Cheerdealers, a company that seems to only have around 18 employees. I know that because the Distrust credits only take about 15 seconds to run through. The Thing stands as one of the greatest sci-fi horror movies of all time, so can Distrust live up to it’s inspiration, or have they set themselves an impossibly high first hurdle?
Loading into the tutorial, my immediate comparison was to Fallout. Not the huge AAA titles of recent days, but the Fallout games of yesteryear, sporting an isometric viewpoint that lends itself to more in-depth exploration than side-on can itself. Even better, you can rotate the camera to get a better view of the surroundings of each of your explorers.
In Distrust, you take control of a small group of polar survivors. Stranded near a mysterious base somewhere in the Arctic due to a helicopter crash, you begin the game with two survivors, chosen from a pool of three. While you can discover more playable characters by unlocking achievements, the characters given to you at the start boast a useful variety of skills for beginning to learn the game.
Every character has not only different statistics, but an individual trait that sets them apart from the others. For example, Irma needs less food than the other survivors, James can better withstand the cold and Olaf comes equipped with a full gas canister for powering generators. Unlockable characters continue the trend, including Mary the cook and Casper the handyman. It’s an interesting way to make each game unique, especially when you unlock the third party member slot, and reminded me a lot of This War of Mine.
The comparison to This War of Mine was the strongest one that lingered in my mind. I adored that game, so just having the impression that the two would be similar got me interested in Distrust very quickly. The two games play similarly, just with different camera angles; you spend the majority of your time micro-managing your explorers to explore buildings, collect materials and work together to make through the various stages of the ominous arctic base.
Just like in This War of Mine, your main enemies are starvation and exhaustion. Food is a relatively scarce commodity at the Arctic base, though it often serves a dual purpose. A cooked tin of soup, for example, not only fills your explorers belly, but also heats them up, while a protein bar helps to stave off the real enemy: sleep. When any character lies down for a nap, a necessity to recoup their stamina, there’s a chance of one of the game’s only physical enemies spawning: an Anomaly.
Anomalies are odd, alien masses of pure energy, and the reason for the base’s very existence. The scientists at the polar base were seemingly studying the anomalies before their mysterious disappearance, as you can find notes detailing the different types of Anomalies, as well as their characteristics and weaknesses. An Anomaly will appear if an explorer spends too long sleeping, and while they can be killed, they steadily damage the explorers if they stay too close.
Learning about the Anomalies is important, and also very difficult. While Distrust isn’t quite a rogue-like game itself, it has that rogue-like quality that means it will take you several tries to finish the game. On top of that, there are two difficulties, the easier Adventure mode and the full-on Challenge mode, which is the harder, but more enjoyable experience. Indeed, there’s a secret ending you can only unlock in Challenge mode, and many of the achievements, and thus the extra characters, are only attainable at the harder difficulty setting.
Exploring as much as possible while keeping your stats up is difficult, especially as you traverse through the game’s six zones, randomly generated every time you play. As resources begin to wear thin, you’re faced with difficult choices. Can you afford to spend the time standing in the blizzard, searching for the right key to open the door? Or is it worth breaking the door open with a crowbar, even though that will drain the heat from the whole building? Juggling decisions like these are enough to drive you mad. And they will.
There are several Madnesses that can afflict your survivors, from Gluttony, where your explorers will feel an insatiable hunger, to Hallucinations, causing your survivors to see enemies and threats that don’t exist. When it all gets too difficult to manage a team of explorers, there’s even the option to abandon your allies and advance with just a single explorer. Easier to keep a single survivor fed and warm, but the huge cost in utility makes it a difficult choice.
And really, Distrust is all about difficult choices. It’s not necessarily about battling an alien threat, but a constant struggle to survive as you fend off starvation, exhaustion and frostbite. The explorers can slip into a coma if they go afflicted for too long, not to mention the random acts that can make the game harder for you, like a survivor cutting their hand on a box or getting food poisoning from an unprepared meal. While it’s possible to recover from all of these afflictions, as an adrenaline shot to the heart can even bring a comatose survivor back from the brink, Distrust slowly wears away at your resources, making it as difficult for you to play as it is for the explorers to survive.
That’s what makes it such an effective horror game. You slowly learn enough about the Anomalies to no longer fear their appearance, but the ever present threat of dying through simply running out of resources constantly weighs at the back of your mind. It’s maybe not horror in the classic sense, and I’d go so far as to say that it’s definitely not in the same style of horror as The Thing, but it’s something entirely different and, arguably, more pure.
Put it all together, and not only is Distrust an incredible first outing from Cheerdealers, it’s also a damn fine horror game. And for £8.99 on Steam, it’s well worth looking into