This roguelike is inspired by John Carpenter's The Thing

March 23, 2017 by Kris Ligman

It is as yet unknown if Kurt Russell's hat appears as DLC.

Distrust is an upcoming isometric roguelike survival game fro-- Wait, where are you going? Listen to me for a second, I know what it sounds like, but bear with me. Distrust is the product of small Russian studio Alawar Entertainment, part of a trifecta of grim survival/management games the studio is in the process of putting out. It is sprawling, snow-blanketed, and hostile. It is the only thing I played at this year's Game Developers Conference that I cannot wait to play again.

This isn't because it plays a bit like XCOM or other isometric tactical games. OK, maybe a little. But 90% of it is the premise: you and a team of would-be rescuers are stranded at a seemingly deserted Antarctic station in the midst of a snowstorm. If that sounds familiar to you, yes, it's because that's the same general setting as Near Death, which we spent some time on last year. More specifically, Near Death and Distrust both draw inspiration from John Carpenter's The Thing, the seminal 1982 horror film about all your favorite tropes: Antarctica, aliens, Cold War paranoia, good dogs, and Kurt Russell.

In the spirit of many roguelikes, Distrust features randomly generated, modular levels with different objectives. You need to get out of a snowed-in compound, for example, but first you need to find a snow plow. You find the snow plow, but you discover it needs a new battery, so now you have to cart the dead one through a blizzard to find a charging station. While all of this is going on, the debilitating cold is eating away at your stamina. Go too long exposed to the elements without adequate gear, or without eating or sleeping, and you start to hallucinate. And as you might expect, some of your hallucinations are anything but benign.

You know Sphere, that much-maligned Michael Crichton film from the 1990s, where you touch this floating alien gold ball and then your nightmares come to life? Yeah, the trailer for Distrust is literally that.

(Curiously, the Sphere part is missing from the English trailer.)

I must admit, I'm a sucker for "trapped in a remote, self-contained, and extremely lethal location" stories, be they improbably locked-down murder schools like Dangan Ronpa or the thousand deep sea sci-fi/horror films which came out in the 1980s. What Distrust might lack in an original story premise, it makes up for by successfully replicating the tone of its predecessors. In my playthrough I didn't run into any monsters, but I hardly needed to: after enough time out in the cold without protection from the elements, my poor human survivors could barely see and their movement had slowed to a crawl, preventing me from doing anything but click helplessly as the last of their life ebbed away in a freezing snowstorm. 

Like I mentioned above, Distrust is only one of a trio of grim survival games developer-publisher Alawar is putting out. The first of these, Beholder, released this past November. It casts players in the role of a building superintendent who must spy on his tenants and report on them to a totalitarian government. Part building management sim, part indictment of player voyeurism, Beholder presently holds a "Very Positive" rating on Steam, and it's fun enough -- but its cartoony style and absurdist take on authoritarianism leaves it feeling weirdly defanged, whereas Distrust and Alawar's other upcoming title, Displaced, both opt for a starker, more realistic aesthetic. Incidentally, Displaced is about refugees fleeing a war zone, so yeah. You might want to keep an eye on that one too.

When I spoke with Alawar team members at GDC, they said to expect a beta for Distrust in about a month. You can follow updates (and sign up for a Steam key) on the game's website.