Impressions: Distrust

I will admit to not having heard of this game until around its release date. I discovered it because it was published by Alawar Premium, who also published Beholder. Because I owned Beholder, I got a coupon for Distrust, and upon reading about it, I was intrigued. It is a survival/strategy game which was inspired by The Thing.

The game has you take control of a number of members (2 or 3) of a team that goes to help out another base in the Arctic. On the way to the rescue the copter crashes, and you take control of the survivors. You work your way through 6 areas of the base with your characters trying to survive and piece out what has happened. The gameplay has you picking the location to send your characters to, and then clicking various actions for them to do.

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While wandering the areas, you must keep track of your hunger, exhaustion level, and energy. All of these factor in together for your health. So if your hunger goes low enough, you will start to lose health. The more stats that drop, the faster you lose health. To keep up with these stats, you do various things around the maps. Warmth is simple enough, find a building, make sure the doors and windows are closed, and the furnace is on. As you progress furnaces are harder to keep on and supplies to keep them running become more limited. Food requires you to scavenge for food, and then, more importantly, a way to cook it. Most food in the game can be eaten raw, but it is a waste to do so as the returns are not nearly as high as if it’s cooked. By far the most difficult stat to maintain is your stamina. It is easy enough to raise, simply find a place to sleep. However, if you sleep you call the enemies to the map, and the longer you sleep, the more you call. All of this means you are forced to balance keeping your characters healthy and keeping yourself safe. In the early stages of the game, you may very well choose to simply go cold to avoid using precious wood/coal to make a fire. You may decide to push your character to the limits of their exhaustion to keep the map clear of enemies. Even gathering food presents a challenge. As you may go to multiple zones without a way to cook food, and eventually force yourself to “waste” raw ingredients. In short, it’s a risk reward system that is applied to many similar games but keeps gameplay challenging and interesting.

The enemies are various anomalies that show up on the map as spheres. They each have different powers and weaknesses. They almost always require that a character sleep to come (there are exceptions), and once they are there you have to either wait them out or destroy them. In the earlier zones of the game getting rest isn’t that large of a risk. You have a good 10 seconds on average before they show up and they are relatively easy to deal with. By the later zones sleeping becomes an extreme risk, but still something you are forced to do.

Each zone is made up of various buildings that you must search for supplies and the key to open the door to the next zone. The game randomly generates the zones, but there is some pattern. There are only so many different “puzzles” to unlock the door for the next zone. For instance, one might have you look for special suits to pass through a room with toxic fumes. Another might have you hit switches in a different order or in a certain amount of time. You can learn by the general layout of the map what “puzzle” you are most likely attempting to solve to move on. What is truly random is the rest of the buildings in each zone. In the early stages, you will get used to finding generators and furnaces not only in working order but with fuel. By the fourth stage, you will need to not only fuel them but sometimes repair them. You may go multiple zones without ever finding a stove to cook, or may find one in every zone (though it’s state might be questionable). Each zone just requires exploration and then balancing the need to search for everything vs. the need to save your supplies and move on quickly. If you can tell the moment you enter a zone how to move on to the next do you search that full zone or just speed through it?

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To help you with this you have a decent cast of characters to choose from. Until you unlock a particular achievement you can only start with two (but usually find a third on the way). Each comes with their pros and cons. Casper, for instance, starts with a tool box and is handier than most characters. He is also loses warmth faster than most characters. Irma is fairly balanced and doesn’t need to eat as much, but she doesn’t have any skill that helps to move things faster. Picking the right team at the start can make a huge difference. However, RNG with the zones can always trump your planning.

The story of the game takes a rather significant backseat. It’s one of the few things not RNG based. You will find various things you can read to help you piece together the puzzles of what happened at this base. However, what zone you can find them in is pretty much set in stone. So if you keep dying, at say zone 3, there is no chance of discovering the story beyond that. Now, this seems obvious, but with how random the game was in general it felt… odd? It’s not that I wanted writings from zone 5 to show up earlier in the game, and more that I wish there were a larger variety of writings, you could discover. The game will likely take most gamers many playthroughs. So, I found myself just skipping over many of the notes because I had found them in other playthroughs.

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Which brings us to difficulty. I get a lot of hell for admitting that I am not great at games. I enjoy a challenge, but I am the type that tends to get frustrated by them. Now Distrust is challenging, but it belongs in a different category than say Dark Souls. In the Souls games, you can eventually learn patterns (or are supposed to be able to). Games like Distrust and another game I love/hate, Darkest Dungeon, don’t have that benefit. I did various playthroughs where I couldn’t even get passed the second zone because RNG just did not love me. This game is hard. It’s not the most challenging game that many people will play, but it’s hard and has a steep learning curve. Zone 1 is pretty much a gimme whereas after that you will just keep struggling. The further in the game you get the more you are likely faced with asking, “What is just enough to barely keep my characters alive?”. I don’t hate that. It requires some thought, and I appreciate that. What I dislike is getting completely RNG screwed. I will likely always rant about this, but in my opinion, it’s a valid complaint. If you do everything right but still get stuck thanks to luck, you feel a bit cheated. However, unlike Darkest Dungeon this game is not meant to take a long time to complete. Again it’s 6 zones, and there is only a limited amount of time you can spend in each zone. So dying is frustrating, but you won’t lose nearly as much.

There are technically two difficulties in this game, but I don’t see why. There is adventurer difficulty, and it’s just not that much easier to me. You can’t get access to as many characters, almost all achievements are locked (which as mentioned does matter in this game for at least one), and while your stats drop slower it’s not by much. Also, the random puzzles still play into it. So for instance, my first game had a bit of a tricky puzzle for my very first zone. Even though I was playing on an easier difficulty, I was more stuck than my first time on challenge. The lighter difficulty is good for getting a feel for the game but otherwise, doesn’t feel needed. In fact, they could have skipped it and expanded the tutorial, and I would have felt better.

The setting and atmosphere nails “The Thing” feel the game is going for. It feels cold and gets the sense of isolation and helplessness down perfectly. Every time you try to get your characters ahead in stats you know that something will suffer, you know the enemies are just waiting, and the cold is constantly there. There is not much as far as level and sound design, but what is there is solid. The game is dark, sounds windy, and has a subtle yet effective main score (much like The Thing). The anomalies leave a little to be desired, however. I found myself more frustrated by the adverse effects you can get through things like exhaustion than I did by them. They can also be a bit difficult to discover exactly how to deal with. I will admit that part of the problem is, I truly wanted a horror game. Which this game toes the line, but never seems to truly cross over into that genre.

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My biggest complaint would not be the limited look of the game, the unneeded second difficulty, how hard the game is. No, my biggest issue is that you can’t stack tasks. As you play, there will be many times where separating your characters is beneficial. In fact, there is even a character that does better when he is alone. It can become incredibly tedious to click through each one for a single action over and over while playing a map. It’s just such a small thing that makes a massive difference. Being able to set up multiple actions would have made a huge difference.

When it comes down to a bottom line, I just have to say it’s a good game. There are things I would have liked to see different, things that I did not expect that were brilliant, and it all boils down to something challenging but fun. It’s not a game for everyone, but I would highly recommend it to most people. And I look forward to continuing to enjoy it (as I have far from “completed” it).

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