Distrust wears its influences on its sleeve. This isn’t bad – John Carpenter’s The Thing is a classic (it’s remake, not so much) – what’s not to love about Kurt Russell wielding a flamethrower? Considering The Thing already has a video game adaptation, it’s impressive how much Distrust feels like the real spiritual successor to Carpenter’s thriller.
Beyond the icy, blue-white tones of its official artwork – a call back to Drew Struzan’s original poster for The Thing – there’s a tension weaved throughout Distrust that provides a similar thrill as its cinematic inspiration. What could be a simple imitation is far more complex; it plays off of instinctual fears through its narrative and gameplay and truly captures a feeling of imposing dread. Distrust is an inspired expansion of the horror genre that takes classic elements and gives them its own frosty spin.
The controls are impressive in the sense that everything seems just right. The isometric gameplay is the best kind of intuitive, and as somebody who isn’t used to this style, I found it easy to dive in even without the tutorials help. In one instance, I double-tapped the 1 key on my keyboard, and it automatically zoomed over to the character for which that key was mapped. I wasn’t prompted to do this, nor did I look at any guide to tell me this was a control option.
It’s a really simple mechanic that is probably obvious to others, but it illustrates just how well the developers understand their medium. This was consistent with just about everything else in terms of gameplay. The controls played off of my natural impulses as a gamer, which makes learning how to play Distrust impressively easy. This isn’t to say the gameplay is overly simple, or that there isn’t any directions for those who might not be used to its isometric style, but the care put into Distrusts overall design effortlessly helps players absorb themselves into its wintry hellscapes.
Getting consumed by your new life in the arctic is deceptively easy, so much so that keeping up with your basic needs requires vigilance. You only have three survival meters to manage: warmth, stamina, and satiety. On regular difficulty, the game is somewhat forgiving in terms of how much you must monitor your gauges, but it’s very easy to get lost in the moment and let them slide into the danger zone. I often found myself suddenly very hungry, very tired, or freezing to death, and these desperate moments grow more frequent as you progress through the games later zones. Any time my meters were low, it was usually due to poor management on my part.
However, Distrust’s random generation does mean it’s possible to draw an unlucky hand in terms of subsistence. In earlier runs, I often found myself with a dearth of food and a surplus of rotten wood or dirty bandages. The luck of the draw influences your survival outcome, and is by far the most frustrating aspect of Distrust. Without that looming concern of what comes from scavenging though, the game simply wouldn’t be as exciting. It’s balanced enough to where it’s enjoyable, but the random generation is something players might want to heed before getting too deep into their adventures.
On my first playthrough, I found a kitchen right off the bat. I found the medical supply room. I found a sack of coal. Wooden planks. Coffee beans. Dirty bandages. There’s a lot of collectibles in Distrust, but none of it is crap; every item has a purpose, even if its utility winds up doing more harm than good. Old bandages and spoiled food can hurt you, but with your satiety meter slowly ticking towards the hunger zone, sometimes you’ve gotta scarf down whatever you can find and hope for the best.
It’s in these desperate moments where Distrust shines. You get so close to a goal that despite being half-frozen and nearly sleepwalking, you’re willing to endure botulism to get where you need to go. Items do eventually break after multiple uses, though with the right supplies you can craft tools that help with breaking down doors or opening boxes. It’s a simple system, but it gets the job done.
Items are easy enough to find, but everything expends energy, so going out to find that one plank of wood or scrap of duct tape is a tactical choice that cannot be made lightly. That said, the map makes it very easy to tell where objects might appear, and even tells you what each structure is (a kitchen, a sick bay, etc.). On regular mode, it goes so far as to tell you which doors are locked. At first glance, this feels a little like the game is holding your hand, but after one or two expeditions to rooms that hold nothing, you’ll find that Distrust’s gentle encouragement toward certain areas has no influence on your overall luck.
Despite how the map and it’s contents are generated, Distrust also utilizes gambling in more controllable ways. Interacting with the world occasionally prompts dialogue, where the character has to make a decision that affects even the simplest situation. For example, unlocking a door with a lockpick once gave me the option to use a ‘master key’ that could either jam the lock or pop it open without a hitch. In that instance, I wussed out and told Olaf to straight up do it the old-fashioned way, but my caution paid off, as the room beyond held an item integral to achieving my objective.
In the long run, Distrust truly lives up to it’s name; after three or four foolish wagers, I didn’t trust a single choice the game prompted me to make. However, the vast majority of these choices are fully optional. You can choose to complete tasks simply, safely, and without the flair of unknown outcomes. Gambling is met with genuine reward or punishment, but even when taking a loss it usually seems worth it. Players willing to wager life and limb will probably get the most fun out of Distrust. After all, bleeding out in the snow just means more colorful snow angels.
On top of all of this, who you play as influences just how well you can survive Distrust’s trials. A cast of fifteen characters makes up the roster, each one with different abilities that make small changes to how your team operates. The initial three you begin the game with have small but noticeable differences from one another. Each character feels generally useful and rarely are they a drag on the team, but picking who you take along on your journey is another tactical choice that shouldn’t be taken lightly. While some characters are balanced, some are more prone to hunger or sleep deprivation, but might have more stamina or a specialized trait that influences their survival.
Each comes with a general ability that changes certain aspects like foraging and cold tolerance. Playing on different difficulty modes unlocks new faces, each with a different personality. The cast’s variability in both personality and team influence greatly adds to Distrust’s replayability, which is already generally good considering its randomized nature.
With four different endings, a good deal of in-game lore to discover, varying difficulty levels, and dynamic changes to how well you’ll survive its frozen horrors, Distrust is a game with many hours worth of potential fun. I’m happy to say that having played a fair deal, I still haven’t unlocked everything. I’m not going to spoil just what makes the game live up to its horror roots, but its scares are sufficiently stressful in the best way. The monstrous anomalies you’ll encounter are just part of what makes Distrust an excellent adventure title. I’m sure even Kurt Russell would agree with me on that.