Jesse Makonen and Ratalaika games return with a follow-up to their dank psychological horror about finding one’s purpose in life, vanquishing mental illness by holing up in closets to avoid lurking demons and solving an array of puzzles to make progress. Inspired by a compendium of classic videogames like The Legend of Zelda and Silent Hill, Distraint 2 is short but it’s certainly sweet with narrative richness and absorbing characters who make your adventure feel simultaneously comforted and disturbed – especially with the visual artistry that complements the game’s morbidity and gives credence to the horror that dwells within, making for an adventure that paints a distorted picture of one man’s accursed mind.
As the titular Price, you start out attempting to evict an elderly woman from her home as part of your day job at McDade, Bruton & Morse. The firm Price works for specialising in jettisoning out the old folks when they can’t pony up the dough, and along with Price’s obsession to make partner and thus make a hodge of money, greed finally forces Price into a lurid despair whereby he resides to taste the business end of a shotgun – and so this is where the adventure truly begins. The themes of Distraint are never easygoing nor cheery and optimistic, Distraint pulls you into the murky and dreary mental state of Price as he tries to untangle his contorted mind and find solace with himself.
Distraint 2 plays in a side-scrolling adventure style where you move across the screen to interact with characters and objects. Be prepared to venture along corridors and from room to room to find the next denizen to interact with and head-scratcher to decipher. At times you will be required to pick up items and use them to make objects function or bring them back to a character to further progress through the story.
Sometimes finding what you need to do and constantly walking into and out of rooms gets rather old, but the ease and simplicity of the puzzles you encounter offset annoyances. Be prepared to adjust parts of a picture and solve a series of puzzles so that a door can be successfully unlocked – yes menial as these tasks may appear, they fit in nicely with the strange vibes Distraint 2 is going for.
When you start talking to one of your fellow dank dwellers, text will roll across the screen. Every room you enter comes with the foreboding screeching sound of door metal scraping across the ground-an eerie and unnerving sound effect that adds juicily to the psycho-horror experience-although it can grate on the ears when it reoccurs over and over again every time you enter and exit.
The art style itself is bold and handcrafted eloquently. You may think the cartoon-ish bent would aesthetically detach itself from the horror, but the brooding colours meld nicely into the low res/pixel art fusion. The result gives off a surreal nightmarish touch that subtly sensualises the experience in a pleasant and evocative way. There’s no ostentatiousness going on here, but even so there is a slight demented charm to Distraint 2 that plants it nicely into a middle-ground between psycho-horror and adventure.
Aspects of adventure are minor but evident, such as when Price goes for spot of fishing with his pooch, or when he’s drinking beer with an old pal at a festival. Distraint 2 does a good job showing you a diverse array of settings, though too much time is reserved for the hotel and its rooms to fully appreciate the other areas you visit on your journey.
Distraint 2‘s soundtrack shows a deft level of craft as well, stringing together an ensemble of unassuming music that balances out moments of dread with terrifying strings featuring low-key melodies that underpin the different segments of the game. Sometimes the distortion inherent in the game’s focus on psychological unease meshes succinctly with the tempo, so you get a selection that sways meticulously between the torment of the evils that stalk you and the light-hearted gentle musings Price has of his childhood.
Horror videogames often lean too heavily on the obsession to shock, scare and intimidate players – yet Distraint 2 stands apart from these constraints by placing the psychological malaise of the protagonist at the forefront, which in-turn opens up avenues for deeper connection with Price and his plight. Distraint might be too simple to a fault at times, but it’s clear that love and attention has been made to make an impactful game where players are positioned to think and relate to its characters rather than soullessly using them as mere portals for spooks and scares. The visuals and soundtrack do a magnificent job of evoking themes and the general ambience is dense and strange, which helps make Distraint 2 stand out from its contemporaries. An impressive effort and a wonderful little indie slice of psycho-horror.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by the publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.