(Review) Distrust


Distrust is a PC (and soon, as of this writing, Mac) game from Cheerdealers and published by Alawar. It describes itself as a The Thing influenced adventure/strategy game with randomly generated levels, multiple characters with unique abilities and quests, plot twists and everyone’s favorite element, insanity. The idea holds up, but how does it actually play?

Running, Hiding and Freezing

The game is a series of generated maps that have a win condition to unlock the next location. Get through six of them, and you get to an ending. It sounds awfully simple, but getting there is the hardest part.

You get to pick two characters at the start, and can unlock more characters by fulfilling requirements through a previous playthrough (and more on that in a bit). These characters get hungry, they get cold and they get sleepy. To fix this, you need to find food (that you have to find, some of which is going to be Very Bad for you), buildings that have stoves in them (that you need to find fuel for) and beds or couches (that thankfully you don’t need to find a blanket for). If you get too hungry, tired or cold, your health starts degenerating and the poor character in question gets a shot at going insane. And those bars? They go down awful quick.

To get from map to map, you need to first get to the exit point of the map and figure out what they want you to do to get out. It is something found on the map – either a card or assembling of some item – and requires a lot of time (that you don’t have, also discussed below).

Buildings are pretty important here – they have all the good stuff you need in them. They are also randomized, so there is a good chance that your characters are going to have a tough time finding all the things they need when they need them. For heat to work, the building also needs to be completely sealed – one open window or one errant door stuck open with snow means the entire building gets no heat. Electricity is also important in here – the light scares away the supernatural phenomena.

Yes, there are scary supernatural things, and by “scary” I mean “the light can keep most of them at bay”. This is important because certain things you have to do ingame (trying to not spoil it) can attract them. You can find guns and ammo, but they are super, super scarce and aren’t nearly as useful as you would think.

The insanity system is integral to pay attention to. Random events or letting a character go hungry, tired or super cold will cause a character to snap. There are a number of insanity effects that only affect that one character – sometimes it’s hearing constant laughter, or humming to themselves, or only seeing in black and white, or in some instances characters will take actions on their own (like eating, or breaking stuff in a fit of rage).

Randomness is Bone-Worthy

The game’s reward system is designed for multiple playthroughs so you can unlock new characters and a third character slot. The problem here is that it is very, very easy to die due to the randomness of item placement. Like I said above, the three bars for each character go down really quickly, so if you pop in a new map, hungry and tired, and you can’t find a bed, coffee or food that won’t make you sick then you get the joy of watching your character die in a mad dash to open random doors and hope that RNJesus smiles upon you. But he won’t.

Random events can cause insanity. You can cut yourself while trying to loot a box or a shelf, and if you don’t have a bandage, you get to watch your character bleed to death.

But The Thing, Tho

I noted earlier that the game is inspired by The Thing. This is true in thematics only – it is a very cold base, and you’ve got weird alien things going on, but that’s about it. Yes, I am taking them to task for this description, as it’s the first thing you read when you go to their Steam page. I’d describe the game as having a lot more in common with Dungeon of the Endless or FTL. In the end, the game is about dragging characters from map to map, fulfilling the thing to open the door, and to try to not die or go insane on the way.

The Verdict

Does the game hold up, though? For $12, it’s still hard to recommend this game. The thing about games with random map generation is that it still needs to be fun, and the randomness has far too many ways it can destroy the characters “just because”. Sadly, the randomness is a detriment in two ways – it puts the player in near-unwinnable situations and removes the tension because there’s no way to avoid most of the ways the bad parts, so it’s just a matter of plowing through it and hoping for the best.

Still, if you really like the The Thing-like ambiance and want to explore the storyline there, it’d be worth grabbing on sale.

The reviewer was supplied a key by the publisher. He supplied his own insanity, and would suggest playing the game during a heat wave because at that point, freezing to death sounds like a great idea.

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