With exploration horror adventure games enjoying a current rich vein of form, along comes Kholat, a compelling narrative horror adventure game developed by IMGN.PRO. Kholat is narrated by Sean Bean and is inspired by the tragic true events of the Dyatlov Pass incident of 1959. The event back in 1959 led to the deaths of nine hikers deep in the northern Ural Mountains and if the game needed more drama, the very definition of the place the game takes place, Kholat Syakhl literally means ‘Dead Mountain’.
Kholat is narrated by renowned British Actor Sean Bean of Game Of Thrones and Lord Of The Rings fame, this alone peaked my interest greatly and quickly helped to add some weight to the game. I then discovered that Kholat is based on a tragic yet eerie true story. Place these two dynamics together and you have all of the correct ingredients for a very special, if not sad game.
The Dyatlov tragedy has been shrouded in mystery for centuries, with many theories as to what actually happened to the nine hikers during that bitterly cold winters night in ‘59. Upon the discovery of the hikers empty tent it appeared as if they had ripped at the tent in an apparent attempt to escape something, fleeing into the chilly night barefooted without their belongings. What they were so quick to get away from is unclear with an incoming avalanche, wild animal or something more terrifying bandied about as the cause.
Some camp sites are discretely hidden
Four of the hikers bodies were not discovered until two months after the incident and once found had suffered from powerful blows, likened to that of a car crash victim. The conspiracy theories surrounding that night range from radiation poisoning to a military cover up, another group of hikers quoted seeing orange spheres hovering over the woods of Kholat at the time. It is safe to say, whatever happened to the poor nine hikers, it wasn’t a pleasant experience.
Kholat is played from a first person perspective with major elements of exploration and discovering throughout. The story begins with the protagonist outside the town. From the get go you are free to venture forward and begin exploring at will. The Town which isn’t overly large has moderate colour to it and this is made all the more subtle by the carpet of snow at your feet. Winter is clearly upon Kholat and a storm is coming in the form of a blizzard.
The games mechanics are not too complex with movement pretty free throughout, the ability to sprint in short controlled bursts can take a little time getting used to with the protagonist eventually running out of breath with ice quickly forming on the screen after a short sprint. After a brief fall I came across an empty tent, inside a compass,map and journal along with a flashlight lay on the floor. The tent itself is significant to the game as it serves as a save point and the various other tents scattered around the hazardous landscape in the game act as a form of fast travel between each individual camp, I gathered my new found tools and set about exploring the vast wilderness.
Some of the games key areas are gloriously eerie
Reading the map proved tricky at times, mysterious coordinates can be found in the top left hand corner and if located open up to clues within the game such as an altar or church, however knowing where they lie and actually getting to them is an altogether different matter. The labyrinth of ice and snow trails can lead you to frustration and in the end nowhere, with many paths blocked off and inaccessible. Navigation through Kholat can be quite an arduous task and takes some getting used to. Along with the map there is a compass which much like the map can trick you into going the wrong way, hours could be spent travelling in the wrong direction, I felt at times throughout Kholat that a waypoint system would have helped to avoid this. Another issue for me was while walking I did not appear on the map at all leaving me to not have a clue where I was at times and certainly no idea of how to get to an objective.
These slight issues aside the game isn’t enough to discourage me from wanting to explore and the landscape is immersed in mystery. The items and areas you discover along your path help to build a great compelling storyline. Notes collected while exploring the vast landscape help to tell a strong story and some of the areas that lay hidden are out of this world such as frozen rivers and waterfalls.
There are various ways to perish in Kholat, natural and unnatural. Firstly, you can be casually walking along when suddenly the floor beneath you breaks and you find yourself plummeting through a gaping crevasse below, straight to your previous save point. Then there are the unnatural ways to die, these come in the form of the enemies found in the game. There are two different types of enemies in Kholat, you have the light yellow enemies which appear to be nothing more then trapped souls frantically wandering the plains and then you have the not so friendly fiery coloured enemies, who appear more skeletal in form. These can be avoided quite easily but can also instantly kill you if you get too close.
The supernatural elements in Kholat add to the mystery of the story
Unlike titles such as Slender The Arrival, the enemies in Kholat are not actively stalking the protagonist but are merely just ‘there’, you can tell when you are close to one because the screen will begin to distort shortly before they attack you. As there is no form of defence in Kholat any hands on contact means instant death and a trip back to the main menu, if you haven’t saved in a while this can be very problematic and time consuming.
Taking on Sean Bean to narrate Kholat was a master stroke by IMGN.PRO and it has certainly paid off. By bringing in an actor with such a charismatic, yet eerily soothing voice really added to the gloss of the game, at times while Bean narrates certain extracts in the game it can make the hairs on your arm stand up and leave you with shivers running down your spine. Actors and video games have gone hand in hand for many years now and tend to add more appeal with gamers. Sean Bean and Kholat were made for each other and the collaboration has proved a great success.
Kholat visually is incredible to look at and although many dangers lay ahead, one would be a fool not to take a few moments to stop and glare at the ice cold atmosphere surrounding you, breathing it all in..the bitterly cold environment, the blizzard like snow that falls at pace all around you, the jagged mountains and icy terrain are quite spectacular. Kholat is a breathtaking piece of visual art and really shows the Unreal Engine 4 in all of it’s glory.
Spirits appear to be trapped and are looking to escape something
Overall Kholat is an adventure game driven by tragedy, no-one will ever truly know what happened to Igor Dyatlov and his eight fellow hikers up the Ural Mountain in 1959 but one thing is for sure, the place is mysterious and IMGN.PRO have developed a compelling story with this tragedy in mind. The vast wilderness is beautifully amazing and can make you feel as if you are actually walking through a snow blizzard. If the graphics were any more realistic you would have frostbite hanging from your bright red nose.
It’s great to see a developer making full use of the environment and surroundings and taking real advantage of them. The map system may have it’s flaws but it is also a great way of working out where certain key areas of the game are and if you can figure it out then Kholat will open up for you. The soundtrack is subtle but very powerful and is a perfect fit for the game, it adds drama and suspense when required and adds to what already is a brilliant game.