Is it too much to hope that, in a survival setting, you’ll just need to worry about the basic components of food, shelter, and sleep, without also incurring the wrath of alien beings that sense you primarily when you’re unconscious?
The indie horror strategy game Distrust says “yes.”
Developed by Russian indie dev Cheerdealers and published in August of 2017 by Alawar Premium, Distrust is a challenging game of Antarctic survival against the elements, alien forces, and your own flawed, impermanent meat suit. Essentially you have to traverse various procedurally generated levels of tundra and abandoned buildings, scouring the shelves and collecting tools that will help get you closer to an escape helicopter that’ll transport you away from this frozen hell.
It seems abundantly simple, and maybe it is. But the constantly changing nature of Distrust will throw more than a few curveballs your way on the road to freedom, and I found it genuinely alarming at how fast the tide can turn against you with just one or two little issues.
As you make your way through levels, you essentially have three goals: find the way to open the gate to the next area, collect as many resources as you can, and survive by staving off hunger, sleep, and the cold.
The hunger and cold parts are fairly straightforward: you can find different items of food in lockers and cabinets, and if you’re lucky, there might even be a nearby stove to heat up those items and make them even more effective. To fight off the ever-present cold, you’ll be able to find different jackets along the way, and filling up an empty wood-burning stove with coal or boards will help keep your fingers from turning black with frostbite.
That only leaves sleep to worry about: and that’s where Distrust gets really interesting.
It only takes a cursory glance at Distrust to realize that they’re paying tribute to John Carpenter’s classic sci-fi paranoiafest The Thing. And like The Thing, Distrust throws a handful of weird aliens at you just in case you were finding our frigid seventh continent a little too survivable.
Distrust’s alien creatures manifest when you fall asleep, making one of the most important aspects of the games even more dangerous by comparison. The way to defeat the alien depends on the type of creature that’s coming for you: some of them are afraid of light, while others will only disappear when they’ve drained a nearby electrical source. You can avoid them, or you can do your best to trap and destroy them. But one thing’s for sure: sleep is to be taken in smaller doses in this game.
Ironically enough, that very interesting gameplay mechanic was part of my only criticism of this game. Distrust doesn’t seem to have a lot of… well, distrust. In The Thing, the alien could take the shape of living creatures, going so far as to be able to imitate their actions and speech patterns in an effort to blend in. It’s part of what makes The Thing so damn good: who’s real, who’s reliable, and who’s an alien parasite looking to take over the entire planet.
In style and aesthetic, Distrust does a terrific job replicating the feeling you’d get from Carpenter’s 80’s sci-fi classic. Even the music feels perfectly in sync. But in Distrust, the aliens are pretty clearly aliens. Which is fine. But, that begs the question: why did they name this game Distrust? If anything, you find yourself needing to trust your allies on a fairly regular basis. I know it isn’t a major griping point, but I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. I suppose “Distrust” is a better title than “Dat Snow”, though. Or maybe it isn’t…
But you know you’ve found a solid indie experience when your biggest question comes from the whys and hows of the game’s title. While it’s true that you won’t find a ton of the paranoia of John Carpenter’s The Thing in Distrust, what you will find is a tough as nails challenging survival game with multiple endings, unlockable characters, co-op play, and a ton of replay value.