The truth is out there
Distraint 2 follows on from 2015 original, which tells the story of a bloke who looks like a Pixel version of Agent Mulder from the X-Files and has about as many facial expressions as he struggles with the actions and consequences of his life. For those who have not played the original I warn you, there may be minor spoilers ahead, but if you do want to bring yourself up to speed then you can read our full review for Distraint: Deluxe Edition on Nintendo Switch before proceeding.
Distraint 2 starts off with a quick recap of the first game to bring players up to speed, which may surprise some with it’s dark and powerful story despite its pixel-based looks. After recent events leave our protagonist “Price” feeling more torn than Natalie Imbruglia, with shame, regret and confliction running through him, he ends his life in the hope of escaping the tormented existence he has created for himself. But his troubles do not end there, he awakens in a strange land and must explore a cryptic and twisting reality full of warped locations and long lost memories.
The game is played in a 2D side-scrolling setup.
The screen being letterboxed like the old school widescreen movies you use to get on VHS that were not formatted for regular TV’s, which helps add an element of claustrophobia to the experience. The artwork is impressively detailed thanks to its hand-drawn style making each environment stand out from each other and gives a deep sense of the afterlife to each location.
As you explore each area you will need to complete a series of puzzles that cleverly form part of the storytelling and range from finding items to aid in interacting with certain objects, like a pipe with which to poke an object out of a fire, or finding a fuse to power an electricity box. These puzzles are not overly taxing but sufficient to keep you engaged though some are less fun than others, like the sliding picture puzzles that should not exist in any way shape or form anywhere ever! But none of them outstays their welcome and all complement the simplistic gameplay.
The locations are laid out well enough to prevent you from walking aimlessly looking for what you need and I was impressed with the range of locations ranging from dark broken down houses to more brightly lit lakes, childhood memories and the downright bizarre.
Agony, Greed & Hope
With Distraint 2 being set in a limbo reality of life and death, you can expect a lot of strange goings-on and not just from the locations. As Price explores he encounters several characters each named after a particular emotion that may look to help or hinder him. “Reason” is the first character you meet who takes the form of a shuffling old man who for some reason reminded me of Grand Maester Pycelle and he will appear to guide you throughout your journey. Other characters such as “Agony” and “Greed” for example, will also make an appearance and look to pester and confuse you on your search for some kind of “Hope”.
Though you will have little to fear in terms of making the right or wrong choices as Distraint 2 is a very story-driven, almost linear experience. Thankfully the story is deeply written and deceptively engrossing considering that you are essentially following the journey of a man who’s life came to a regrettable end due to a course of life decisions that left him conflicted and now he must find a way to make things right with himself while dealing with the emotions that tug and gnaw at his conscience.
Don’t come into Distraint 2 expecting Disney levels of unnecessary levity at every turn, this is a tale of sorrow and that context will not waver.
A modern horror story.
Where many modern horror games, indie and Triple-A alike, like to rely on dark locations, jump scares and gore to spook and scare the player, Distraint 2 ignores all those tropes and focuses on a real element of horror that we can all relate to, that monsters don’t live under your bed, they live inside your head.
This method works really well by channelling feelings of depression, hopelessness and regret through clever dialogue and presenting general paranoia as a physical presence. Though there is no combat or threats, per see, you will at times have to hide from a dark presence that stalks the shadows and often appears as if out the corner of your eye making you stop and consider if it was even there at all. This method, like all horrors, will be subjective to each player as to how they perceive threats in a game or a narrative but I found it to be much more engrossing than many horror titles I have played in recent times.
This is helped by a great sound design that varies from melodic ambience to almost overwhelmingly distorted sounds that instinctively channel the sense of alarm and panic. Sound effects for actions are basic to match the graphic style with amusing talking sounds to accompany the dialogue which plays out in each characters distinctive colour, Red for Agony, Yellow for Greed, Green for Hope etc. Distraint 2 has a blissfully simple control scheme, the majority of your time will be spend walking left and right and you do have the option to sprint. Collected items can be selected by pressing up and down on the D-Pad with actions being taken with a press of the A Button. Loading is quick and I encountered no performance issues to speak of.
Having not played the first Distraint, I went in not really knowing what to expect but came away having thoroughly enjoyed the experience. At its core, Distraint 2 is a sinister tale about restoring hope and finding your purpose. It shouldn’t take you more than two to three hours to get through and isn’t asking top dollar for the pleasure. For players who enjoy some deep narrative and different ways to experience horror, I highly recommend checking out Distraint 2.
Review code provided
Platform: PC, Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo
Release Date: 10/07/2020
No. of Players: 1
Category: Horror, Puzzle, Adventure
Developer: Jesse Makkonen
Publisher: Ratalaika Games
Download link: eShop