When we think of the horror genre we imagine the likes of Resident Evil, full of huge monsters charging at us and hordes of zombies biting and munching their way through the human race. But we may also imagine haunted houses, or ghost trains that never stop. Sometimes though it’s the madness of our own minds and our most prominent memories that provide the true horror, exploited by the game, the film, or the book that is being taken in. In DISTRAINT 2, the inner working of the mind is exactly what the game fully explores. What happens when terror, compassion, hope, love, and reason all embody personifications that can guide – or can kill – you?
DISTRAINT 2 is a 2D psychological horror experience presented in a letterbox format that intrigues from the very start. The game begins with a very quick cutscene that explains that you play as Price, who works for a company that evicts people for a living. You are tasked with getting rid of an old lady from her home, but Price is conflicted as greed and power take over from compassion. The old lady dies and Price is so absorbed by guilt that he decides to take his life by shotgun. That’s where the game begins…
From there you enter a sort of purgatory, an in-between realm employing Price’s mind and memories. There are rooms and strange places where other people are dwelling, waiting between life and death. Price is also aided by guides who are representatives of reason, love, and other emotions. These characters will guide Price through the dark realms. Price is also haunted; stalked by other not so nice manifestations – mostly those of terror, guilt and fear who look to destroy him. The story is a very good one, examining what makes us humans who we are and the complex emotions that we deal with daily. It’s not afraid to tell a tale filled with darkness and sadness, but in the same breath it is ultimately a narrative filled with hope and survival. Whatever it’s doing, it’s very well-told throughout.
Gameplay consists of a mixture of the old “point and click” adventure, some hiding in closets from the big bad, and some enjoyable but familiar puzzles. The point and click sections work as a mixture of walking around and examining and grabbing objects. You can then use these objects with something, or someone, else. This is done by chatting to multiple individuals you meet, progressing the story forward and allowing you to find clues about where to go next. The items you find are quite easy to work with, and there is never a section in the game that is too oblique or tricky to progress.
There are points in DISTRAINT 2 when a shadowy creature will appear from the darkness; your only way of escaping is to run away or hide in a cupboard until it passes. There isn’t any combat or stealth to be had, but that’s not an issue as it’s not particularly something that is needed in a game like this. And then in terms of the puzzles found and we’re looking at a mixture of very familiar ones used in games before; the good old sliding tile puzzle, a moving circular test, and other ones that will challenge the brain for a while. Thankfully they won’t ever leave you stumped completely. It’s nice that there are save points to help you out – coming in the form of green orbs that you need to use – and the whole UI is cleverly designed, utilising minimal buttons. There are however the occasional pacing issues, but overall it is nothing to stop the enjoyment of the overall experience.
Visually and DISTRAINT 2 has a beautiful design to it, creating a simple but stunning design that has a wonderful arrangement of colour and depth. There is some very original artwork whereby the characters are designed in an unusual manner; heads are larger than the bodies and the backgrounds are almost hyper-real. The visual letterbox effect works extremely well too, as do all the cutscenes and the amazing feeling of unease it creates throughout. You can add to that the fact that the soundtrack does a grand job in creating this oppressive and scary atmosphere that essentially describes an insight into the human psyche – it is beautifully haunting.
For the cheap asking price, DISTRAINT 2 on Xbox One provides a great experience – it is brilliant value for money. The game is so cleverly designed, with a brilliant story and a hugely interesting premise. The gameplay is good too, hosting several puzzles and point and click adventure tropes that don’t tax the brain but still manage to keep the player hooked. It’s not going to be a game that is for everyone and the style and pacing might put some off, but if you like a narrative or an adventure that delivers an intelligent dose of darkness then a purchase of DISTRAINT 2 might be a very good choice to make.