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Distrust (PC) artwork

Distrust (PC) review

"John Carpenter meets Faster Than Light"

Distrust (PC) image

Developer Cheerdealers' fusion of strategy and horror, Distrust, fondly remembers John Carpenter's 1982 film "The Thing." It drops you in the middle of a frozen research camp, now home to an alien force. Carpenter-esque synthesizers and darkness set the game's chilly mood, creating the impression that an ominous presence lingers in the shadows or behind one of the campus' myriad doors. Paranoia creeps over you as you explore the grounds, and that sensation gradually gives way to fear as you continue to play and adapt to Distrust's cruel demands.

You kick off the affair by staring at a character selection screen and choosing two people to serve as your party. Only three survivors are available from the get-go, each with their own advantages and drawbacks. Additional playable characters become available as you complete various challenges. From there, Distrust refuses to hold your hand, shoving you face-first into the forbidding permafrost. Six procedurally-generated stages stand between you and survival, each one bearing a conflict to resolve. You might have to clear a snowbank blocking an exit, or unlock a door in a room full of noxious fumes. Either way, you'll need to scour the grounds for event items or environmental fixtures that allow you to advance.

You pad from one building to another, breaking down doors and rifling through nightstands, cabinets, desks and lockers for items. Meanwhile, you constantly worry about your party's condition. You might notice Casper starting to freeze and decide to throw some wooden planks into a nearby furnace, not realizing it would be better to conserve them. Olaf also grows hungry, but your only food consists of a cooked can of soup and moldy noodles. He could dine on the former, but it might come in handy later when he's both cold and hungry. On the flip side, the noodles could either sate his appetite or give him food poisoning. Your only current means of treating a digestive illness is a handful of expired pills, which either cure the ailment or exacerbate it.

Distrust (PC) image

Distrust would be a bore without moments where you're skating on the edge or stopping to consider your every move. As with any good survival-horror title, the future is not guaranteed. The can of soup Olaf gulps down could be your last morsel of unspoiled food you ever nab. The constant stress not only bolsters the game's fear factor, but adds to the feeling of triumph when you survive a level.

Fear doesn't set in immediately. It comes after you've completed a stage or two, when you realize that not every building possesses a fully functional furnace to stave off the cold or an operational generator to provide light. The further you progress, the more often you discover quenched fires and dark hallways. You can always spend some fuel to alleviate these issues, but a constant nag in the back of your head tells you that Distrust is about to nail you with steeper constraints and fewer consumables. By about zone four, you realize that you should've been saving those planks rather than heating every house. Every furnace, generator and bed you come across lies in shambles, and you must own the appropriate tools and materials (i.e. wood) to repair them.

The hell of it is that fixing a bed also requires time, and that drains your stamina. Repairing a window to shield you from the cold demands tools, and those break after a while. You could hunt for additional supplies to remedy these problems, but that typically requires you to pick locks or dig out snow-buried doors, further sapping your satiety and strength. Searching also leaves you susceptible to calamity. For instance, you could also cut yourself prying open a locker and require sterile bandages. While tracking them down, you may never find the bandages and end up bleeding out. You might have been better off not exploring at all, in that case. However, in order to thrive you need consumables, and thus must put your duo in danger at some point. Truly, there is no greater menace in Distrust than the needs of the body.

Distrust (PC) image

And there is no greater threat than exhaustion. Your explorers can't slumber just anywhere; they require either a couch or a bed. Napping refills stamina, but it also attracts the game's bestiary: orb-shaped, elemental life-suckers called "anomalies." You can deal with a couple of them by maintaining a fire or keeping the cabin lit and simply waiting. The creatures vanish over time, as existing in our world harms them. However, when the fuel runs dry, you'd better be prepared to flee or fight. Running is risky because the anomalies are swift, but battle requires items that you seldom find, such as bullets or Ghostbuster-like traps.

You could just remain awake, though. Of course, doing that progressively depletes your hit points and randomly slaps status afflictions on our heroes. Mary might begin singing to herself or Irma could go into a fit of rage, causing her to break useful objects. James could hallucinate or go color blind or become doubtful or succumb to any number of hampering conditions that might have been avoided if you'd just snoozed for a bit or drank some coffee.

Distrust doesn't rely entirely on its alien menace to scare you. It occasionally withholds consumables and instills doubt in you. It delights in your nervous tension as you become extremely hungry and realize that all of your food is uncooked. The only stove nearby is broken, and you don't have any remaining wooden planks with which to fix it. It drinks your salty tears as you formulate different strategies and watch them crumble. It revels when you let one of your party members freeze to death so you have one less mouth to feed. It antagonizes you with emptying meters and winnowing sanity, then presents monsters as an alternative to madness.

Distrust (PC) image

You retry, you unlock new characters, you experiment, you groan at misfortune and you try to ignore the fact that winning is somewhat based on luck. Eventually, you make it to zone six and watch as the closing segment unfolds. You prevail and relax because Distrust is no longer tormenting you via hunger, exhaustion, insanity, darkness, betrayal and snow. When the title screen returns, you click "new game" because you enjoy being terrorized.

Distrust's random generation may spoil it a tad, but it's an otherwise terrific homage to Carpenter's classic that joyously blends real-time strategy and survival-horror. It's a tough, bleak title that utilizes a variety of methods to scare or upset you. It leaves you in constant fear that you could drop dead at any moment, but also occasionally throws fresh supplies your way just to give you hope. Of course, the game is only doing that so it can snuff out the remaining light in your heart, and you will thank it for doing so.

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (September 24, 2017)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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