Kôna: Day One is an interesting game; it’s an Early Access (Games in Development) title on GOG (which is curated, unlike Steam!), it’s narrative heavy, it’s a bit of a survival game, and I like what I’ve played so far. I’m not anti-survival game per se, but I do find that they don’t generally hold my attention – especially when in Early Access. This however has held me for far longer than the actual press preview was actually meant to show – but I’ll get to that later on.
Kôna is a planned four episode series with each “day” being its own self-contained story. Day One has you playing as Carl, a private detective who’s taken a case from a wealthy English businessman who has taken to industrialising the Canadian wilderness you’re headed to. It mixes elements of walk-em-ups like Gone Home with survival elements, including combat, and there does seem to be a little bit of a horror vibe coming from certain aspects of it as well.
It’s a game about exploration and solving a mystery; it does this through environmental storytelling and narration. It does both of these very well in the build I played. The narration is much like that of a trope-y detective film, drenching you in backstory and critical information but – thankfully– lacking the hyperbole. It actually works very well, but I ended up missing it when it wasn’t used with all the interactions; some things you interact with have writing appear in the environment instead of subtitles or popups. I do really like the aesthetic of it, but I miss the extra insight that the narration tends to give things.
It is also very, very pretty. The snowy environment is lovely but when the snow starts to pick up and cloud your view, it looks gorgeous and sets the mood brilliantly. While I didn’t starve Carl to death, I did manage to freeze him close to it with my prolonged treks through the countryside. It does a really good job of portraying how cold he is through vision; with everything freezing up around the edges of the screen the colder he gets. It also doesn’t take long to heat up in a house or by the fire, so that aspect of survival isn’t a huge pain.
After passing the intro section and almost hitting a car because I was driving on the wrong side of the road, I managed to get to the General Store that I was meant to meet the client at. This is where the mystery (and the slight horror inkling) begins. The door was ajar; the lights were on; no one was there; some sort of fight or scuffle had occurred; and there was an unnatural-looking ice buildup near the back door. Oh and there was also some rifle ammo on the store counter which set me in “watch your back mode” almost immediately.
After following the tracks outside, finding the owner of the store, and briefly inhabiting a dream/spirit world; I was hooked. I’m a sucker for anything with even remote detective trappings and it definitely piqued my curiosity. What helps is that wandering around the fairly open map leads to many interesting things (or at least things that vaguely promise interesting things but just end up being red herrings). But that’s totally okay, and I didn’t feel like I was getting the runaround as in standard adventure games.
I’m not too proud to admit that I was overly jumpy. Finding the bullets but no gun made me a little worried, and finding a fire axe which could seemingly be used as a weapon made me even more so. There are wolves scrounging around some areas but, other than growling loudly just as I turn the corner to meet them, they don’t actually do anything other than run away. I still jumped out of my skin a few times because of it but the creeping sense of impending doom overtook me whenever I braved any dead-ends. This is because of a few scattered notes left around that make reference to a thing; a thing that I completely expected to prey on me during my half-blind wanderings through the snowstorm.
My tendency for cowardice seems to have been matched only by my ability to overlook important items in obvious places. Keys left hanging next to doors, large holes with stuff hidden in them, hammers, pliers, and a whole host of other items that are important for one reason or another. These were all things I missed on my first pass at the game. The preview build doesn’t make it completely clear what you can and can’t do, so I ended up trudging through the snow re-treading ground and finding loads of stuff that I’d missed including some fairly interesting story bits.
So far I’m really impressed; I was able to enjoy the extra hour and a half of backtracking without lethargy kicking in and I felt almost completely ready to be pounced upon by some otherworldly creature – which is genuinely a treat for me. So far it’s well written, atmospheric, visually engrossing, not too heavy on the survival aspects, and it shows promise.