Distrust, uses the line “inspired by John Carpenter’s The Thing“as its only description on its Steam page. That is a bold tagline! Hearing it conjures up thrilling plot reveals, a mysterious creature, and a bevy of Kurt Russell’s goofiest faces. Reading this short description raised my eyebrow; as it will for any fan of the cult classic 1982 movie. Now that the shoulder of many a cinema geek has been tapped for attention, can Distrust deliver on the wild and varied expectations The Thing fans will imagine? Sadly, if you are looking to play the film (or anything derived from the novella Who Goes There?), you should look elsewhere. If you are looking for a solid game, that succeeds in building frequent alarming and suspenseful moments at a budget price — please, by all means stick around.
Distrust shares few direct similarities with John Carpenter’s classic; those elements being snow, aliens, and dark rooms. At the onset you must chose two survivors. Resistance to cold, walking speed, and running speed are base stats that differ between team members. In addition to that each survivor has a unique trait (such as lowered dietary needs), and unique starting items. There are three initial survivors to chose from, with more that unlock with subsequent playthroughs. Finding survivors that complement each deserves a moment of consideration.
Another key strategy is judging when and how to split up your survivors. Each game zone is made up of 6-8 buildings geared with a theme. For example, there are dormitory buildings, kitchen stations, and laboratories. While each zone and its loot distribution is random, that loot content is on par with its building type. Food is found in kitchen buildings, beds are found in dormitories, and so on. This will aid in deciding which survivor needs to explore which building next.
Astute time management becomes more difficult as resources become scarce. Survivors require sleep, warmth, and food, and not sustaining these needs leads to dire consequences; standing outside will lead to freezing to death, exerting yourself makes you tired, broken windows will prevent a building from warming up, lack of warm wear leads to hypothermia, etc. Most buildings have a furnace for warmth, and a generator for light, but not all are fueled. With a finite amount of raw resources, choosing which areas are essential to survive requires careful consideration.
There are three or four ways to open a locked door. One of the first tools you may come across is the key ring, this tool allows you to open any door but at a very slow pace. Lockpicks are faster, but they are in short supply. You could also bash the door in with a crowbar, or shoot it open with a gun. Either of those latter actions bring consequences with them, in that the building will no longer remain warm, because broken doors let in quite a draft.
Why use the slow key ring to open an exterior door and freeze to death in the process? Save your lockpicks for that task. Perhaps a survivor is dying, and time is of the essence. You may have no choice but to shoot the door open. Yes, that building will become inhabitable but there is enough time to get a first aid kit, then run back to a heated safe building. These random quandaries require constant and evolving strategies (and yes, a bit of luck) to survive.
This multiple risk vs reward approach is applied to each survivor need, for a constant struggle to just keep your team alive. It is beyond a doubt the best aspect of Distrust. Consequences of not fulfilling their basic needs can be just as interesting as keeping them alive. Insomnia leads to madness, and other handicapping conditions like: color blindness, myopia, and hearing voices. These conditions have real in game effects. Your selected survivor displays things in black and white, blurred vision, they become unable to use the maps, or a constant creepy laugh that persists on a loop. It’s a nice touch. But, there are other elements, besides the environment and basic human necessities, attempting to thwart your progress. Alien entities are hunting your survivors down. These life sucking creatures present an all kinds of additional problems.
As mentioned, survivors need to sleep to stave off madness. This is achieved by finding and sleeping on beds (or certain couches). Sleep however, especially prolonged sleep, attracts alien attention. Once the creatures know where you are, getting them to leave can be a hassle. They are harmed by light and heat, but entrapping them or causing them to flee, will require luring them into their ideal environment (darkness and cold) and then flipping the tables on them.
Distrust is not without its flaws. First and foremost, Distrust is not scary, and I would not qualify it as a true horror. The main alien hunters are unimpressive balls of light that patrol the exterior of the building where a survivor is sleeping. It’s a disheartening reveal if you were expecting an alien than can impersonate a myriad of other characters or animals. Had the game had that aspect it could have inspired well … distrust. Game elements at times do not make sense. An exhausted survivor, considering the realism applied to other game aspects, cannot simply curl up on the floor, or in a chair and nod off. Seems absurd, but the game’s design is unforgiving, you must sleep at specific beds and couches creating a hollow survival element.
When the alien entity begins encircling your building, the sleeping survivor feels “sick” being close to the alien — meanwhile the survivor is inside a room with no windows, how do they have superhuman senses? Survivors can brave all kinds of extreme Artic winds, but will become hemophiliacs when they cut themselves opening a crate. In one playthrough, I spent a dozen first aid items hopelessly healing a survivor that cut herself opening a crate. Apparently these experienced survivalists like to open these rudimentary storage devices with their femoral arteries. One survivor finds a can of soup at one end of the map, the other can cook it instantly at the far side of the map. It’s a strange teleportation skill that would be better suited for escaping aliens.
Silly aspects aside, Distrust succeeds in producing tense situations at a surprising rate. There are constant hard decisions to make, especially once you’ve progress beyond the third zone. Thorough exploration is not always rewarded, as you could deplete your supplies with nothing in return. More locked doors, broken furnaces, and other challenges begin to appear as you progress. The extraterrestrial beings prove to be a challenge as they even start to actively sabotage generators and lights. But most of all, overcoming madness drives the experience to unexpected heights. This is a reasonably priced title that provides quite a bit of challenge and entertainment for a modest price (currently on sale for $9.95 on Steam). For survival and RNG fans alike, Distrust deserves at least a spot on your wishlist while awaiting the next big game sale. This game maybe a far cry from comparing to a cult favorite like The Thing, but it is certainly more entertaining than 80% of Kurt Russell’s performances, so take that for what it’s worth.