In Distrust, Grapple with the Cold and Frustration in Equal Measure

“Our food lies ahead, and death stalks us from behind,” Ernest Shackleton wrote as he led an expedition in the Antarctic. In many ways, that quote perfectly describes Distrust—a difficult, unforgiving trek through a frozen wasteland.

Developed by Russia-based indie developer Cheerdealers, and strongly influenced by John Carpenter’s 1982 horror film The Thing, Distrust sets you in control of a rescue team following the crash of your helicopter; struggling to survive in the brutal cold as you investigate what happened to the inhabitants of an Arctic research base.

Your overall goal is to make it through six zones of the base. In order to escape each zone, you’ll need to complete an objective, such as finding and flipping switches in a certain order, or finding supplies to assemble a bomb to blast open an exit. Each zone of the base has a randomly generated layout of buildings to explore, and each room is obscured until you enter. Only one character can be controlled at a timemoved via clicking where you want them to go or by clicking on icons over the various objects they can interact with.

Screenshot from Distrust

You’ll spend most of your time scavenging for supplies in the bases abandoned buildings.

You’ll begin with a team of two survivors with the potential to unlock a third slot. There are initially only three characters to choose from, but as you progress through the game and complete achievements you’ll unlock the remaining 12 characters. Each has their own starting inventory and advantages, such as being able to subsist on less food, or being able to better tolerate the cold.

Each character has three stats: warmth, stamina, and hunger. As you explore, you’ll need to keep these in check and scavenge for supplies to keep your status bars filled. Coats will keep them warm during the treks across the snow, and wood and coal will fuel furnaces to temporarily heat buildings. You’ll find other supplies to make your life easier, such as lock picks and crowbars to open doors in a hurry, or medical supplies to heal wounds—but the deeper you get into the base, the scarcer supplies will become.

You’ll often be forced to push your explorers past their limits—at a price. Once they’ve been sapped of their stamina, your explorers will begin to experience auditory or visual hallucinations, such as everything turning black and white, or all audio being replaced by white noise. Hallucinations are added at random intervals until you can find a place to rest.

Screenshot from Distrust

In one of the more bizarre illnesses your explorers can suffer from, they will randomly quote lines from Shakespeare’s sonnets.

The gameplay is also clearly influenced by the Metro and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. video games (which themselves were influenced by the Soviet novel Roadside Picnicwith the inclusion of anomalies. When your characters inevitably have to sleep to recover stamina, anomalies emerge; first appearing as wandering balls of energy that get progressively more dangerous and aggressive as you get deeper into the base. Running for your life is usually the best course of action, as weapons and ammunition are in very short supply, although the clumsiness of the controls comes out when confronted with an anomaly. While the controls are fine when exploring, performing simultaneous actions in a hurry—like trying to heal one character while using the other to lure an anomaly away—can quickly became an exercise in frustration.

The learning curve of Distrust is brutal, and I didn’t come anywhere close to getting to the final zone in my first several play-throughs. You’ll learn the hard way how to balance completing the objective to escape the zone with scavenging for more supplies, which can potentially waste more resources in the process than you’ll recoup. You’re at the mercy of the random number generator; at times the spawn rates for items such as beds and food border on unfair, and I think the game could use some further tweaking in this regard. If you don’t have a solid inventory when you’re ready to leave the first zone, you’re essentially dead in the water and might as well restart the game.

The game is not very heavy on story, and what narrative there is is told through notes found scattered throughout the levels. There are beginning and ending sequences, which are voiced drawings rather than fully animated scenes. The art style is quite good, though the same cannot be said for the voice acting—which is thankfully brief.

Distrust appears to be Cheerdealers’ first game, and I found surprisingly little about the company online—in either my English or Russian language searches. With a bit more polishing and balancing, it has the potential to be a great game from a young studio. As it currently stands, Distrust is entertaining and somewhat flawed, but still worth the time for anyone looking for a game to give them a challenge for a low entry fee.

Distrust is available on Steam for $11.99.

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