Survival games come thick and fast these days. Apocalyptic scenarios of being lost in an unforgiving environment with danger lurking at every turn and limited resources have become such an indie favourite that it has become difficult to stand out from the crowd. My first question when playing Alawar Premium’s Distrust then was what makes this different from all the other survival games out there?
Distrust takes place on an Arctic base where mysterious events have been taking place. A rescue helicopter is called in but crashes leaving only two survivors. Controlling both characters at once, you have to guide them through six zones of the research station to safety.
But all is not what it seems. As you explore the base and look for survivors, you begin to unearth clues about something sinister going on. As your characters tire, you discover strange manifestations every time they rest. Under constant threat of perishing from cold, hunger, or fatigue, the survivors start to teeter on the brink of madness.
The addition of horror to a survival game is not particularly novel of course, so it is the presentation and gameplay that attempt to offer something different on Distrust. You view the game from an isometric angle with simple but effective graphics. The developers stress that as they are from Siberia, they know exactly what an icy wilderness feels like and it shows. The driving snow and howling wind all add to the atmosphere as does the tense background music.
You also take control of two characters at once. Inevitably, you start to split them up to explore each zone more quickly and this adds an interesting challenge. As you direct one character through the rooms of a building, you need to keep a constant eye on the status of the other to check their stats are not dropping and they are not in danger. At exit time, you need to bring both characters together or one of them will remain alone in the zone to perish.
In each zone, you simply need to unlock the exit and get out. This involves searching buildings for a key, pass card, or even materials for a bomb to blast your way through. However, on the way, your survivors will need to stay warm, rest, and eat to keep going. Nearly every building has a furnace and a generator but not all are functioning properly so you soon find yourself scavenging for fuel, repairing generators, and closing open windows. You will also find food items and medical supplies as you go, very handy when one of your characters gets cut while trying to fix a machine.
Tiredness is the big enemy in this game though. You can use sofas and beds to rest but as soon as you close your eyes, balls of light appear nearby. Stay asleep long enough and strange levitating spheres begin to appear, driving your health down if they get too close. Some can be scared away by light, others by heat, and some by gunfire. Other times, you just have to run. If stamina stays depleted for too long, your character will collapse and you will have to send the other one to save them with a shot of adrenaline.
Indeed, if any of your characters’ vital stats drop too low, you start to lose health points, and also run the risk of going crazy. This adds an amusing element to the game as one of your survivors may suddenly start constantly quoting Shakespeare or start humming pop tunes non-stop. Your characters may also start to see hallucinations leaving you to constantly questions whether or not he/she is seeing things or about to be attacked for real by one of the supernatural enemies. The only way to return to sanity is to rest… but, as explained above, that brings its own dangers.
The need to guide two survivors through each zone, carefully manage your resources, keep your characters sane, and search for a way out all make for a good game. There are a few points, however, that stop this from being a great game. Most prominent among these is the rate at which your characters’ stats decrease. They literally need to eat every five (real-world) minutes and rest almost as often. In one case, I sent one of my duo to the nearest bed, only to have them collapse right next to it, which made the challenge more frustrating than fun.
Scarcity of resources is also an issue. Each zone is procedurally-generated and item drops are random, which means at times you simply can’t find what you need. At one stage, for example, one of my characters was feeling ill after close contact with one of the spheres. I immediately sent him into a medical building, searched every cupboard, and only found ‘old pills’ which had no effect. Mistakes made early in the game can also hurt you when it is too late to rectify them. On my first playthrough, I found a set of keys and immediately entered the second zone. Once there, I couldn’t find enough resources to stay warm or well-fed because I had taken hardly anything from the first zone. With no way to go back, my characters were doomed.
One final minor gripe is how the inventory affects the realism of the gameplay. Both characters can access the same items even if they are on opposite sides of the map. At times, this can keep one of them alive but it seems strange that they get the medicine they so desperately need when their partner opens a cupboard several buildings away. There is also the issue of keys. If one person is trying keys in a lock and the other comes to a different door, they have to wait until the other is finished. Two sets of keys or forcing one character to use lock picks or brute force would make for more realistic options in my opinion.
Distrust is a good game. It approaches the genre of survival horror and resource management in a fresh way and offers a high but not impossible level of challenge. The rapid depletion of vital stats and randomness/scarcity of essential items prevent it from being a great game though. Nevertheless, it is worth a look if you fancy a break from the often formulaic first-person survival titles out there. Just make sure you stay warm, keep rested, and remember to eat and drink regularly while you play!
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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