The second game from the one-man development team Jesse Makkonen, Distraint is a 2D psychological horror game in which you control an ambitious young man named Price whose job is to ask people (or obligate them) to leave their house. The title is self-explanatory: according to my good old friend Thesaurus, the noun “distraint” means “the seizure and holding of property as security for payment of a debt or satisfaction of a claim.”
In order to forge a partnership at his firm, Price is asked to expel a few more people from their homes, including an elderly woman. By doing so, he will question the purpose of his job and his own humanity. Distraint has quite an unusual storyline for a video game and is full of not-so-hidden messages about greed, depression and empathy.
From the first few seconds of the game, you’re totally immersed into Price’s mind slowly sinking into madness and fear; thanks to great artistic direction and a creepy soundtrack. It might look like a black and white copy of Lone Survivor or Home but Jesse Makkonen managed to give his game its own graphical touch. Distraint’s universe is very dark (maybe too dark sometimes) and has very little notes of colour. The visuals are taken over by an omnipresent film grain that emphasises the disturbing atmosphere emanating from the game. Dirty and weird, Distraint sometimes reminded me of Silent Hill, especially during the third level in which you have to switch between two realities.
The character design is also quite singular as they all have massive heads that make them look like dolls, which is in complete opposition with the world they evolve in. I am not the biggest fan but I have to admit that it contributes to the surreality of the game’s atmosphere. Talking about surreal, fans will also appreciate a little inside joke about Twin Peaks and its damn good coffee.
If the ambiance of Distraint is its strongest point –you’re literally caught up in this nightmare straight from the beginning – the gameplay is on the contrary lacking of complexity. There isn’t a lot of interaction with the decor and the enigmas are not what I would call difficult as if I was stuck in a room for ages because I couldn’t figure out the solution. In fact, you’re never really stuck. No, most of the enigmas are basic and don’t revolutionise the genre but I think a few of them simply aren’t logical. For example, at some point you have to look at a particular window so that Price will get an idea that will help you figure out what to do next. But how were we supposed to know that?
It is a shame that Jesse Makkonen prioritised the narration over the gameplay but let’s keep in mind that Distraint has been made in only 82 days, which is quite impressive. I would recommend this game for its low price and its atmosphere, especially if you’re looking for a quick fix this weekend. It might lack of few things, but charm is definitely not one of them.