There is an elephant in the room, literally? – Distraint Deluxe Review

Distraint – which was given away for free on GOG a couple days ago – is actually an interesting psychological horror game if not entirely good with its limited gameplay that can send you in circles. Developed by Jesse Makkonen, the game deals with exploitative greed in a fast-paced world where companies want to get things done as fast as possible regardless of what costs they take. The whole game can be finished in two hours. This is a review of the Deluxe Edition, which is different than the original.

Plot

In order to get a partnership with McDade, Bruton & Moore, the protagonist, Price, has to work his way to expropriate people out of their properties. When he seizes an elderly lady’s property, he begins to feel guilty for his actions as his mind begins to tear himself out with hallucinations. Yet, a better lifestyle awaits Price should he succeed in obtaining the partnership – maybe he could get a better apartment that doesn’t leak when it rains or a luxury coffee brewer for his mornings. Should he keep going even as his guilt eats him alive?

Just the coffee brewer Price needed.
Just the coffee brewer Price needed.

After all, the people Price expropriates are living nearly the same life as him: with poor standards of living and without much to enjoy in their life, and yet here you are, trying to rob them of the one thing they still had. It’s no surprise why Price’s guilt is driving him insane. You will go to different places to do your job (or try to make it up to the elderly lady from earlier), from old decrepit buildings to nursing homes with messed up management.

Gameplay

The gameplay in Distraint is simplistic without much going for it except for puzzles. You move Price left and right through rooms, interact with objects when an exclamation mark hovers over his head, and cycle through your inventory (by holding the inventory button and then hitting the interact button).

There really IS a literal elephant in the room!
There really IS a literal elephant in the room!

With the exception of one chase and a certain time-limited mechanic, there isn’t much to Distraint when it comes to failing, and assuming enough time and experimentation, you’ll solve the puzzles.

Speaking of the puzzles, either they are clear as daylight (such as placing a horror book you find in a bookshelf with horror books, which then pops up a finance book which you place in another bookshelf with finance books), or they’re out there – nearly all the puzzles when you’re expropriating your third target are guilty of this. In addition, the nursing home puzzles are just as bad mainly because of their “fetch-quest” like nature, but I have to admit the portrayal of the nursing home and its insane decay is brilliant as a setting, and insofar, I’m still not sure if it’s really this way or if poor Price’s head is playing tricks on him. That said, at least with some items, you are given subtle hints on how to use them.

Not pictured: the TV Price is obscuring with his head
Not pictured: the TV Price is obscuring with his head.

Art and Everything Else

If there is one thing Distraint did nearly perfectly, it’s both the graphics and the music, delivering an atmospheric experience for the places you’ll be seeing. You’ll be shown the decay of the places you go, through little details such as the cracks in the wall, or the leaking in Price’s apartment. You’ll also hear the sound of everything you come upon, like the rain, the grass you walk on, or the elephant in the room.

Distraint also excels at letting you edit the dialogue, at least on PC. Just go to the game’s folder, go to either the “deluxe” or “legacy” folder depending on the version of the game that you play, and edit any of the translations you use there. Do back up the file you’re going to edit and make sure you’re not using the regular Notepad on Windows, but another text editor like Notepad++. This is a saving grace because there are errors in the English translation that appear more often in the later stages of the game, which can ruin the immersion.

I edited the main menu to display a little message instead of the usual buttons.
I edited the main menu to display a little message instead of the usual buttons.

Conclusion

Distraint is a nice take on psychological horror, where the protagonist feels guilt for his actions as he does his job of expropriating residences, and while the gameplay may not be intuitive thanks to how screwy the puzzles can get, it’s a two-hour experience which feels just right.

You can get the game on GOG for PC here.

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