Kona Review

The Cree Indians were the first most populous and indigenous people to inhabit the country of Canada, with their territory stretching from Alberta to Quebec. In Cree language, Kona translates to snow, and you’ll see plenty of the white stuff in the eerie and chilling, Kona, a first-person adventure game developed by Parabole and published by Koch Media; out now on the Nintendo Switch.

Set during the turn of the nineteen-seventies, you play the role Carl Faubert, a private investigator hired by William Hamilton, a rich industrialist who owns the majority of assets around Atamipek Lake, a small town located in a remote part of Northern Canada. After a spate of vandalism on his property, the tycoon calls upon your services to investigate who, or what, could be responsible for such an intrusion. The story begins inside Laubert’s Chevy, as you make your along the highway towards a meeting with your newest employer. After a turn of events, you soon find yourself stranded and disorientated within the middle of a strange snowstorm and, armed with a handy map, you begin to investigate your immediate surroundings. Without giving too much of the story away, you soon discover that all is not right within the town and it is now up to you to shed some light upon the mysteries that surround you.

For those not familiar with the game, Kona follows the mechanics of semi-open world full of adventure, mystery and intrigue; along with a light sprinkling of survival. As the private investigator, you trudge and drive through the snow, going from property to property in search of unravelling the clues that hold the keys to the strange events that have befallen you. Although its basic gameplay elements give the feel of a walking simulator, its surprising amount of depth adds a refreshing take on the genre, making it much more akin to the Silent Hill series of games.

The main body of the game involves exploration and investigation, as you search various properties and their surroundings. The importance of being meticulous with your methods of search is vital in order for progression. Thankfully, the majority of places to look, or objects to scrutinize, are often highlighted with spotted pointers to aid you in your quest. As well as these elements of inquiry, it is also vitally important to keep warm due to the extremity of the weather conditions. By lighting fires or stoves, you can combat the elements. However, in order to achieve this, you need to acquire the basic ingredients with which to form the flames. Again, thankfully, the game doesn’t punish you with the need to endlessly search for items, as they are often located within a close proximity of the sources of heat.

The story-telling element of the gameplay comes in the form of an engaging narrative that reminisces, or advises in a calming tone, the tales behind whatever discoveries you make. It’s a nice inclusion and offers something different from reading a multitude of texts or bleeping speech bubbles that fills with the words of other characters that is seen in so many games these days. As well as this narration, Carl’s own personal thoughts can be read though projections that highlight upon the walls or cupboards in a similar style to the mechanics used in Splinter Cell: Conviction. Again, it offers a nice background to the story, as well as add an air of believability with your character in short bursts.

There is a slow pace to Kona with its core elements of investigation and scouting. However, you can’t escape the feeling that the story is building towards a tension and urgency with where it is leading you. Despite this, Kona is a very pleasing game to play, unless you’re looking for a more action-orientated adventure. Graphically, its locations are beautifully set, with its snowy landscapes looking particularly effective. Walk off the beaten track and into the bracken woods, and you’ll soon find your surroundings blending in to the blacks and whites of your foreboding bearings; catching sight of another building, or of your trusty Chevrolet, can truly send a shiver of relief coursing through you. The reason for this is that Kona really, truly immerses you into its world.

The further you progress within the game, the more it begins to restrict the openness of your world, eventually leading you to a claustrophobic feeling as it continually pushes you towards its genuinely heart-thumping conclusion. It all adds to a production level that is simply staggering, giving the game a very triple-A feel to its mechanics. With so many elements, none of which feel laborious or heavy, from using steaks to fend off hungry wolves, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes to reduce your stress levels to taking pills and using medikits to heal any wounds, Kona feels like it has been lovingly crafted with a magical charm that installs a deep motivation in discovering its hidden truths.

Despite its level of accomplishment, the game does, unfortunately, possess a few weaknesses too. Its melee mechanics are particularly weak, often flailing your hatchet around in a hope of connecting a hit, the basicness in the behaviour of wolves’ AI, which often leads to some erratic behaviour and the pauses in-between gameplay as the next section of the landscape is loaded. Although noticeable, they don’t really detract from the overall experience and certainly don’t hamper the enjoyment of the game too much.

Overall, Kona is a very satisfying experience with its deliberately paced story, unnerving atmosphere and polished production values. It really is a showcase in the excellence that some indie games can produce and has so much content and gameplay, that it will have you invested for good few hours before you reach its chilling conclusion. Whether you play docked or in handheld modes, the graphical fidelity on-screen produces a satisfying aesthetic and, along with its very atmospheric audio qualities, produces a game that will consume you. It’s by no means an action-packed adventure, but it’s also not a relaxing jaunt either; if you’re looking for a tense and mysterious thriller, then the snows of Kona will most certainly provide you with a very chilling experience.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@bonusstage.co.uk.

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