It could be rather easy to call Kona a jack of all trades, master of none. Personally, I don’t believe this to be true. Kona is a 1970’s based detective story clearly inspired by the likes of Fargo, Twin Peaks and The X-Files. Taking inspiration from a number of ‘walking simulators’ over the past few years, much of Kona’s plot is told through the narration of private detective Carl Faubert. Hired by a wealthy businessman, Carl arrives in the snowy, abandoned town in Canada and begins his investigation.
Quickly after arriving at the town we find the place abandoned and your employer dead. Bad start all round, eh? We explore around the general store and Carl narrates on what we find, and his own personal thoughts through the wonderfully textured tones of voiceover artist Forrest Rainier. his voice is one of the highlights of Kona, a wonderful performance that manages to capture the mystery and wonder of this empty landscape. Searching around, we find out that we are not fully alone.
When a generator explosion leads us out of the rear of the building, we stumble upon some wolves, who quickly abandon their plans to go through the stores’ bins, before discovering some strange ice in the ground. We document it and find more, leading us on one of many trips into Kona’s intimidating woods. We follow the ice for some time and discover a man, frozen upright in a block of ice; odd. Touching it leads us into a dream, which is a lovely artistic touch, and in turn tells us who this man is.
I won’t go into any more of Kona’s story as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. In terms of the game, I have been following it since it was in early access, and actually wrote about it last year. Naturally, there have been changes since the early access, and I am sad to say one of my favourite parts has been changed slightly. The game starts with learning the mechanics at a checkpoint before driving onward toward the town.
In the early access, you drove the car for quite a distance, perhaps five minutes or so. This may have put off some players as there was nothing to do in this section, just drive a car. But for me, I felt it was very similar to the opening to Half-Life, the long metro ride into Black Mesa really gave you the feeling of heading deep into the Earth, making the prospect of you escaping Black Mesa a challenge indeed.
Kona also gave the impression similar to this, driving high into the hills. The weather turning snowy, it really felt like we were driving away from civilisation. In the full release, we are only driving for a minute or so when we are involved in a car crash, a brief segment where we look for clues, then onto a shorter version of the drive. While the section is still there to an extent, it doesn’t have the impact it did before and the clue segment seems to throw Kona’s momentum off. It doesn’t ruin the game or anything, but it was a change I felt was totally unneeded.
Kona’s graphics aren’t amazing, but nor are they awful. But they’re very good, solid graphics. The best part is that they are used perfectly, with the snowy landscape looking wonderful and the town feeling believable. The abandoned town feels creepy, and there’s certainly a very uneasy feeling about exploring the houses of the townsfolk, looking for clues and trying to unravel the mystery. The woods also have an unnerving quality, with the feeling that you could run into all sorts of unnatural things in the wilderness.
The town is nicely designed and for the most part must be navigated by using your pickup truck due to the cold weather. You have a map which help you navigate the town, but it is very much just that, a map. No way points or guides, the only help you have is a pointer which tells you where you are. But if you need to get somewhere you need to find your own way. It’s not hard however, and it really helps draw you into the world of Kona.
What ruins it, however, is the loading screens. The early access presented the game as a complete open world, with no loading screens whatsoever. Sadly, in the finished game, the world isn’t seamless. At certain intervals the game will freeze and a ‘buffering’ style loading wheel will appear in the middle of the screen. The game also takes a little too long to load for an open world adventure, even if it does last only 15 seconds at most. It can be very distracting when the rest of the world is so well realised.
Kona is a mix of genres. Largely it’s a mix of first person adventure-mystery and survival. The survival aspect is not as heavy in Kona as it is in other survival games, although that is not unexpected. Most survival games pit you against your environment and/or enemies. This is not the point of Kona. Kona’s main objective is to tell a story, the survival aspect is just a obstacle that needs to be overcome in order to continue the story. If Carl gets too cold, stressed or injured then it makes things harder, less accurate, or making it harder to run.
It’s also a first person adventure title, and rather an open one at that follows a linear path, it gives the player the option to explore at their leisure. The world is well filled out, with diary entries and fleshed out houses, some of which don’t actually have anything to do with the main plot, they’re just there to make the empty world feel more alive.
Kona is a nice first person adventure-survival title. The blend of genres doesn’t exactly show the best of each genre, but mixes them together into a different sort of title. It’s well made and has been crafted with a lot of care and attention. Kona isn’t a massive game, but has substance. If you’re looking for a heavily story driven title with some meat on its bones then this could be the game for you.
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A solid detective adventure which manages to blend two gaming genres effectively.
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