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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

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Review: Distrust (Steam)

Distrust proved to be a pleasant surprise to myself, in more ways than one. It launched just when I was about to lose hope that a new video game inspired by John Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece, The Thing, shall ever release on Steam. After all, the eponymous 2002 third-person shooter which was a far cry from the movie, never managed to convey the struggle for survival or mere understanding of the plot’s metaphors along with the final hopelessness of it all. Without spoiling anything, I strongly recommend you watch the classic film (you can skip the 2011 “prequel”) before playing the game I’m about to review. Distrust is Cheerdealers‘ first Steam project and their debut is a heavy hitter right from the start.

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Simply inspired by, is fortunately true and Distrust cannot be accused of being blatant plagiarism in regards to The Thing. Sure, there are several similarities, such as the remote Arctic research facility whose personnel stumble across extraterrestrial life forms or the ensuing fight for survival and escape. Yet Distrust wishes players to experience this from the perspective of a rescue team which arrives at the outskirts of the base and has to investigate the situation. By “arrive”, I mean crash-land the rescue helicopter. I understand why some folks might consider that The Long Dark also inspired Distrust, yet this game is about team work, first and foremost, and you’ll definitely face far deadlier enemies that a pack of starving wolves. The names of the playable characters, matter less than their mission or skill sets. In fact, you’ll eventually find out that the game’s title is quite eloquent once some of the expedition members start seeming more like liabilities than tangible support. Cutting some of those loose ends shall be enticing at times.

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Insanity and stress shall test players in equal measure to the NPCs own thresholds. The alien entities may not look nearly as fearsome as The Thing, yet they dispatch their prey in a similar fashion. Fight or flight rarely is debatable since the latter option shall prove the only viable one in the long run. You see, the strategy aspects of the game come to life in the form of micromanagement and forethought. The team needs to help each other but division of labor is just as important. The base sections contain numerous buildings which need to be explored fast before proceeding ever closer to center of this mystery. The rescue mission went awry and the objectives quickly shifted towards understanding the new threat and eliminating it before it can spread beyond reach. It won’t be easy, of that much you can be certain.

The game features yet another skilled adaptation of Unity Engine 5. There really isn’t a single sub-genre or topic which Unity can’t render flawlessly, is there? Even if I wanted to, there’s nothing to complain about either graphical details or stability. I managed to run it maxed out at 4K resolution, without ever witnessing a frame rate drop while the fonts have scaled perfectly and the loading times were short and few. It’s a top down viewpoint which reminded me at times of the Commandos series, since Distrust is also relying on fast issuing of commands and switching between multiple characters scattered across a fairly vast level. Of course, we’re having crisp clear 3D assets and the lighting effects aren’t there just for show. Low-tier enemies can be kept at bay with a flashlight.

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The sounds are sadly falling behind the graphical details. Severely limited, from general effects to the soundtrack. And absolutely no voice acting whatsoever, despite the game’s attempts to endear to us, these characters which we’re supposed to protect and support. The text boxes don’t feature any typos, yet they can’t sustain the story as would have been the case of at least a handful of spoken lines. Devs should take a cue from even the most basic RTS out there. Annoyingly repetitive sounds are still a worthy step away from the silence of the (frozen) grave.

I’m not comparing Distrust with RTS titles for no particular reason. It’s true that you can’t really regard it as standard real time since you’ll be pausing the action quite a lot. It’s highly recommended to observe your surroundings and not just the map, which will never show enemy placement, for example. Yet strategy it remains and it is more than just survival of the fittest. It takes both mental resilience and careful planning. There are in total, six zones to explore and the closer you are towards the final one, the higher the chances for a seemingly small but fatal error to occur.

Keep a close eye on the stats of the rescue team members and make sure that their stamina bars never drop beyond the threshold. Why is stamina far more crucial than the warmth or sanity bars? It’s a matter of life and death since the anomalies/aliens are resembling will-o’-wisps which “feast” upon the tired or sleeping targets. Just like Freddy Krueger, these violent entities shall appear only once the characters lay down to rest. But it’s not the nightmares that kill you. It’s the ensuing hunt but fortunately both heat and light sources are powerful deterrents. If all else fails, you can try shooting them. Good luck finding sufficient bullets for that task though.

And that really begs the question. Why aren’t these professional rescuers better equipped? Perhaps all their gear could no longer be recovered from that burning helicopter wreck. The inventory system is efficient and it leaves room for both consumables (even the thoroughly useless cigarettes) and tools that require proper maintenance. The last thing you need is to dig through the snow with your bare hands, so try to repair the items which could break from overuse. There might be 15 playable characters in Distrust, but your initial options are few and most teammates have to be unlocked through either story progression or by accomplishing certain Achievements. Replay value stems from different teams and your potential desire to experience all three endings. The random events and locations will help as well.

For all the difficulty it implies, Distrust has failed at an apparently minor detail. Enemy variety and their own challenge factor don’t even come close to the unhinged horror which was represented by mere glimpses of The Thing. Insanity shall be the main threat along with the titular distrust which creates rifts between squad members. I think the game could be finished with a single survivor, but even MacReady had someone to share his Scotch with, at the journey’s end.

All the screenshots you see above, have been taken by me in-game through the Steam Overlay.

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