Nobody trusts anybody anymore, they’re all very tired and that’s especially deadly. Our Distrust review finds out if the game channels the spirit of a John Carpenter classic.
Given its reputation as a stone-cold horror classic, there’s a surprising lack of video games that have tried to ape John Carpenter’s The Thing. Of course, that’s discounting the 2002 squad shooter from the now-defunct Computer Artworks – a multiplatform title which picks up after the events of the 1982 film.
That’s not to say that The Thing’s influence isn’t felt in other video games – Visceral’s Dead Space may have more of an Event Horizon vibe though its necromorph aliens and the way they turn their victims into terrifying flesh puppets are a definite nod to Carpenter’s chilling masterpiece.
Although it isn’t a complete copycat, Distrust is a game that also borrows heavily from The Thing without reaching for its iconic shapeshifting monster. You don’t need to be a wisened film scholar to watch The Thing and strip back that surface layer to reveal the true enemy lurking within Outpost 31: paranoia.
Given the game’s title, you’d think that the fracturing relationships between characters play a key role in Distrust. Instead, your main priority is to survive through a combination of micromanagement and good decision making, guiding a small band of survivors from one sector of their abandoned outpost to the next, battling hunger, fatigue, and subzero temperatures as well as… something else.
It actually ends up playing somewhat like The Sims, funnily enough. After crawling from their downed helicopter, you assume direct control over each of your crew members, moving them around the map to explore various buildings and facilities in search of useful supplies. There’s a decent, manageable number of resources to keep track of such as crafting components, medical supplies, tools, clothing, and fuel (which you’ll need plenty of).
You don’t get to kick back and watch your survivors go about their day-to-day lives, however. Distrust doesn’t throw a timer up on-screen though your squaddies will expire if they aren’t being taken care of. You’ll need them to find and cook food, operate furnaces to stay warm, and occasionally grab some shut-eye. This plate-spinning act is fairly easy to keep going for the first twenty or so minutes, especially as you start to amass a bounty of supplies.
However, after progressing to new zones, the maps get bigger and Distrust starts to layer on some extra challenges. There’s a chance survivors will fail certain actions which can result in misfortunes such as spoiling food, cutting themselves, and falling to certain ailments that must be remedied to get them back to full strength.
Sadly, Distrust doesn’t throw a body-snatching mutant into the mix. Instead, you’ll have to watch out for Anomalies – a bizarre breed of alien that seem to materialize whenever survivors fall asleep. Unable to engage them directly, you’ll need to hunker down and keep the outpost’s generators running (most Anomalies shy away from light) though you get additional options the more you progress.
It’s only when the pressure mounts to a certain level that you’ll know whether Distrust is the right game for you. There comes a point in each playthrough where you’re juggling slightly more than you can manage, sometimes willfully placing a party member at risk in order to complete a task or retrieve an item that will ensure the group has a better shot at survival. While some players thrive in these situations, this constant battle against the unknown will prove too frustrating and bewildering for others. Due to there being randomly generated maps, a rough roll of the dice can lump you with an undesirable scenario which can definitely put a downer on your playthrough.
You won’t be recreating memorable moments from The Thing, though the way Distrust has you dealing with some of the more menial (yet essential) survival tasks draws on some of those quieter filler sections of the film. The way it looks and sounds are evocative too, especially the synth-layered soundtrack. Overall, the presentation is decent and despite many of the gameplay systems being suited towards the mouse and keyboard, Distrust works surprisingly well on a console using a gamepad.
It’s definitely more of a management sim than a true survival horror game and, in truth, that makes for an interesting premise. However, the inherent unpredictability, lack of direct combat, and some gameplay mechanics that don’t gel ultimately hold Distrust back from being more than an experimental blending of genres.
Distrust review code provided by the publisher for PS4.
Distrust is out now on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.