The word itself “distraint”, inspires dread in most people. It details the seizure of a person’s property by an agent of the same letting agency, and isn’t a generally pleasant experience. True to the word from which the game takes the same name, this isn’t a pleasant experience to play either. As a psychological, point-and-click title, DISTRAINT aims to mess with your head, and asks several poignant questions that’ll likely stick with you even after you’ve finished playing it.
The first act opens with a young man named Price knocking on doors, looking for a specific property. Even before you reach the correct door, the distinct visual style grabs you (for better or worse). It’s a mixture between 16-bit pixel art, and 2D rendering, making everything look simultaneously fluid, and still. After marvelling at the fairly unique look of DISTRAINT, the player can get back to pacing down an awkwardly long corridor filled with tenants who are less than friendly. Price meets the lovely old woman, Miss Goodwin, and you unfortunately have to eject her from the apartment.
Of course, this is where things turn crooked. While thinking about the moral implications of the nature of his business, Price looks down the corridor to see a massive, bloodied elephant charging at him. This hallucination marks the turn from a simply creepy atmosphere, to one that feels almost hostile, and terrifying. Turning tail from the elephant means passing multiple people, including a gurgling corpse with no head. Price manages to reach a ringing telephone, and his benefactors somehow appear. The dancing, hip-thrusting trio that are Price’s employers, ask whether the job is complete. Once they’re done questioning Price, the screen fades to black, and you awaken the next morning in your apartment.
Even in the opening five minutes, DISTRAINT establishes itself as a fairly intense game. It leaves few moments that aren’t charged with a vivid scene of something fairly brutal (see also, a corpse being pushed into a wood chipper, a beagle chewing a fox in half) happening in them. Worst part is, you get to watch as Price struggles to handle the nature of his work. The guilt he feels is so insurmountable that his dead parents even try to talk him out of doing it. Managing to balance that line between what’s real, and what’s clearly fake isn’t easy, but DISTRAINT handles it with flair. Naturally blurring this line later in the game as Price becomes more, and more unstable.
The puzzles aren’t too hard, and won’t likely hold players up for long. This creative choice to focus more directly on the horror aspect comes with a (no pun intended) price however. The game is pitifully short. A dedicated player could easily beat the entire game in under three hours; less so if you include the dialogue time wasted.
But all in all, DISTRAINT stands out as an authentic horror experience. While clearly influenced by Jasper Byrne’s Lone Survivor, it manages to take a new look at a protagonist who’s losing grip on reality itself.
DISTRAINT – 77/100
Written by Matt Dawson
Developer – Jesse Makkonen
Publisher – Jesse Makkonen
Genre – Indie, Casual, Horror, 2D
Release date – 21st October 2015
Website – http://www.distraintgame.com