Review: DISTRAINT 2

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Given how the original DISTRAINT ended, I wasn’t sure how exactly DISTRAINT 2 would manage to be a direct sequel. I wanted it to find a way, because I did so enjoy my grim little journey as the tortured, conflicted Price the first time through. Ultimately this one did manage to keep the tale going, just in a way I didn’t really expect. I wasn’t even all that thrilled with it at first, but the lush pixel art and deepening mystery kept me going. And in the end it all tied together into a tale that lifted me up more than any other horror yarn I can think of.

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I won’t spoil how the first DISTRAINT ended, but I will assure you that you are once again Price, fresh off his many traumas in the original game. He’s found himself in a dark place, quite literally, and is going to need some help getting out. Fortunately there’s a whole cast of questionable characters lurking in the shadows, and more than a few of them have plans for our dear protagonist. Escaping this particular prison is going to mean facing some memories and demons Price would rather not deal with, though, and revisiting places he surely never thought he’d have to see again. If you and he can weather these trials, you’ll see him off on the long road of redemption, and learn a little about how all this came to be in the first place.

Let me start by saying that DISTRAINT 2 is built around a narrative conceit that I really don’t care for. The original had a tight narrative with clear objectives for the player and moments where Price’s misgivings and struggles would break in on his real-world activities. This one eschews a lot of that for more metaphorical settings and goals, which initially left me pining more for the first. While the gameplay is the same, examining objects and collecting items to use on simple puzzles, it’s not nearly as grounded as before which made it harder for me to invest in the story at first. There’s also some funky details like most rooms not having proper walls, and instead having an inky darkness that you can get momentarily lost in. Thematically it’s great for what’s going on, but gameplay-wise it just made me miss the discrete apartments and halls of the first.

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These misgivings didn’t last, though. I might not have been a fan of the story up front but I was absolutely in love with the art and atmosphere. As good as the first game looked with its charming characters and ominous backdrops, this one just blows it away in terms of spectacle. There are plenty of dingy halls and flickering lightbulbs hiding dark figures, but also sun-touched fields and colorful cafes. The colors burst with life, from verdant trees swaying in the breeze to party lanterns glowing against the cold night. Scenes often whip back and forth between welcoming and threatening, an effective way to keep the player on their guard even as they enjoy a beer or pet a dog. The moments of comfort make the more intense sequences that much more effective, and while there aren’t any scares quite as good as the ones in the original, emotionally this is a much more affecting game.

I think that’s what really makes me love DISTRAINT 2 in the end, how much of a personal and emotional journey it is. The first DISTRAINT was as well, don’t get me wrong, but both the themes and how they are presented have matured so much since then. By the end of the game, those aspects of the story I said I didn’t care for at the start became its greatest assets, charting a character arc for Price through so many feelings and challenges that everyone’s faced at some point. It ends up being a story of hope and perseverance, one so effective that it lifted my mood out of a funk I was feeling and kept it there.

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If you were a fan of the first DISTRAINT, you have absolutely no reason not to pick this one up. It’s a wonderful continuation of Price’s journey, and it offers some fascinating insight and expansion upon elements seen in the first game. I wouldn’t suggest anyone come to this one without playing the first, though, so it does bear that one caveat. Still, even beyond the story, this one needs to be seen for the masterful art and animation. Few titles large or small can boast such impressive graphics, or such an effective, emotional story, and for that you won’t want to miss this journey.

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