Kona: review

  • Format: PC (version reviewed), Xbox One, PS4
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: Parabole (PC), Ravenscourt (Console)
  • Developer: Parabole
  • Players: 1
  • Site: http://konagame.com/
  • Game code provided by PR

If you had to chance to read our preview of Kona then it’s possible that you might also be suspecting a fairly favorable review of it. We’re quite pleased to say that this is indeed the case and it’s shaped up rather nicely. Just prior to launch we saw a few mentions of it being Firewatch-esque, but that’s not really the case; Firewatch is quite passive in its approach. Kona on the other hand is more active and less picturesque but still beautiful in its own right.

Kona, for the uninitiated, is an adventure game with some light survival mechanics, and an emphasis on exploration and mystery solving. You are Carl Faubert, a PI, called into a remote part of the French Canadian wilderness to assist in tracking down some local vandals. It’s within ten minutes that you’ll see that your duty is no longer to find vandals but uncover who or what is behind the unearthly blue ice that has been left behind like footprints around the various crime scenes in town.

As it’s so heavily focused on story and unraveling the mysteries themselves, we’ll not talk any more of the plot details. However it does do a pretty great job of engulfing you in its story, which is thanks to the gruff and aged tones of the third person narrator. Through the narrator you learn tangential information about Carl’s past and personality in respect to things you find during your investigations. It’s quite good at neither giving you too little nor too much, so when the narration starts it’s almost always something of a treat.

Investigation is part walking around finding objects in the abandoned homes and surrounding areas, and part using items you collect to find even more items and evidence. It’s very much like a first person point and click in that respect, just without hidden pixel puzzles. There are a few puzzles which are a little easy to overlook but, since most objects in the game aren’t actually needed to get to the end, you should be alright.

While most items are nonessential to completing the game, there are a great many items that you will need to find in order to not die. The harshest thing in Canada seems to be its climate, and Carl isn’t one to actively seek freezing to death, so you’d better stock up on logs, firestarters and matches to light those handily placed campfires and stoves that’re scattered about the map. As well as a temperature meter (or circle in this case), you’ve also got Carl’s health and stress meters to deal with.

Health is self explanatory, but stress is much like the temperature. It falls when you’re outside in the cold, as well as when you encounter hostile wildlife – which is less like temperature. And much like the temperature meter again, it rises when you’re in a warm area. You can also relieve stress by popping pills, chugging on a brewski or puffing on a health stick.

Since it’s not a straight up survival game, there’s an abundance of pretty much everything you need to survive. We never felt short of anything unless we purposefully didn’t take something with us, like logs, because they are very heavy. This is one of the only points that we weren’t sure on; in games like Resident Evil, inventory management is there to keep tension up, since you might have to drop a few items to make room for something else.

In Kona, the only things heavy enough to not be taken around with you all the time are logs and a select few luxury items. We were carrying enough pain pills to knock out a horse all the way through the game, as well as a large number of beers and cigarettes. It’s great not to have to worry about health and stress – but surely the tension of not having quite enough to always be in a perfect bill of health is what adds to the atmosphere of a game that relies and draws on that principle for engagement.

It’s very atmospheric too; the blizzard is harsh and moderately blinding, so the sense of isolation is well established and it reminds you of that many times over the course of the story. Empty houses and the nuggets of information the occupants left behind add to that too, especially the rather dark insight into their bleak lives in the middle of nowhere.

There isn’t much to dislike about the game. A few puzzles aren’t great; some items are difficult to find; others, like pills and ciggies, a little too easy; if anything stands out, it’s the UI which is unwieldy and horrific for searching for specific documents. It takes the wheel of items approach, which is great for clearly marked inventory objects, but not so great for pictures of almost identical pieces of paper. We can visually tell the difference between a bottle of beer and a handaxe, one scrap of paper from another, not a clue.

It’s not an overbearingly long game, which is brilliant because there’s a whole lot of cold wilderness you could get lost in and there isn’t an infinite supply of goodies to keep you breathing (or coughing, in the case of cigarettes). We enjoyed the story it told, especially in the manner that it did, and it didn’t leave us feeling cheated knowing that more games in this series will reveal other sides to this already interesting tale.

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Written by Sean P

I enjoy playing games and I enjoy writing things, so I decided to combine the two. I do bits here and there and have a twitter that mainly just announces things I've done as my life revolves around very little that is truly interesting.

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