“Spanning several hectares of virgin forest blanketed in eternal snow, the Manastan region, comprised mostly of bellowing caribous and inviolate lakes, wasn’t exactly touristic.” This sentence itself embodies early on the atmosphere you can expect in Kôna, a whited-out wasteland of log cabin homes, forests, and mountains. The game’s wintery air instantly reminded me of my time spent in The Long Dark, isolated in a harsh environment that only the most prepared and acclimated could hope to survive in long.
And like The Long Dark, this game takes on a couple survival elements that you need to keep track of. You can’t stand out in the frigid weather for very long before your character begins voicing his concerns about his body, how the frost is beginning to bite at his hands and how he can barely move on. Your most ideal way to travel is given to you right from the start of the Beta, and that is your reliable pick-up truck. At the start, you’ll hop into the leather seats and drive head-on into the oncoming snow, watching as the once clear roads become completely obscured. You might think it’s crazy, but Carl Faubert has been called in to investigate, and as the narrator states, “Carl Faubert, private detective, had just traveled thousands of kilometers from Montreal to reach this remote, middle-of-nowhere area, situated near the far northern, Lake Atamipek. Granted, that was a great distance to cover for a sole client, but word had it that he was a particularly wealthy one.”
After this brief intro where you drive deeper into the cold, you’ll be greeted by your first destination. A lone general store, of which you’ll quickly find is missing any inhabitants, just the buzzing of the lights and the products on the shelves. It’s here that I found the bulk of the gameplay, a first person mystery game in which you interact with various items to achieve your goals. You can open drawers and cabinets, and take their contents into your inventory, as well as interact with various switches and objects. There are notes to be read, often helped by the voice of the narrator usually giving an overview of what was written, and they often provide exactly enough information for you to figure out what you need to do next.
What I found out pretty fast is that this game so far does an excellent job of guiding you to what you need to do, without necessarily holding your hand. You do need to figure out what to do for yourself, but the game is so well laid out, even in Beta, that I found myself instinctively knowing what to do and where to go. At this point, the game’s puzzles aren’t particularly that hard to solve, but they’re enjoyable enough to figure out. The developers claim that each of Kôna’s episodes will take about 2 hours to complete, but I found that I was capable of getting more if I explored. It’s a good sign that the game is detailed and interesting enough that I actually wanted to explore although the harsh climate does hinder your progress without the right vehicle or equipment. So far, it’s a very immersive game, with great visuals and fantastic sound, and the only real issues I came across in the Beta were a few performance drops, which I expect will be fixed as the game is finished.
Again, the bulk of the gameplay is finding out what to do next, such as restarting a generator or trying to get a key from a deep hole in the ground, achieved by combining items you find through your inventory. Item combining is pretty simple though. Items you don’t have or haven’t tried to combine will show up as “?”, while combinations that the game accepts will be explicitly written out so you know that it worked. This does mean it’s just a game of trial and error, where the main challenge is to simply explore some more until you find the missing item. Luckily, it’s pretty self-explanatory stuff, such as needing duct tape to fix wires.
One thing I couldn’t quite find a use for right now was the game’s camera. I suppose it’s to be used as a way to help you locate items and areas at a later date, or it might play into the game’s mechanics somehow, but I honestly couldn’t find out since I had minimal problem finding my way around, and there was little touching on the subject aside from when you pick it up.
As I played, there was a well-written narration explaining my characters thoughts and actions, the voice of which I found rather pleasing. The narrator read clearly, and some of the writing very well executed, I didn’t find myself bored or tuning the voice out. However, I didn’t find myself overly enthralled about the story. While it’s certainly an interesting concept, the Beta seems to begin abruptly, diving straight into supernatural territory. I feel there should have been more directed build up. The story could be lavishly expanded upon in the future, but right now it was the atmosphere itself rather than the narrative that kept my interest.
Overall, I was quite happy with my time in Kôna. It was a climatic experience that shows a lot of promise for the full game. You can preorder the game yourself and gain access to the closed beta on February 8th, and get a slight discount on the full game’s price in the process. So I say keep an eye on this game and figure the mystery out for yourself.