Recently released on Steam Early Access and coming soon to Xbox One, Kona is a first-person adventure game set within an icy Canadian wilderness in 1970. Players take on the role of a private investigator who must uncover the cause of the unnatural blizzard assaulting the region while struggling to survive the harsh temperatures. Read on for full impressions and our interview video with gameplay!
Welcome to Canada
Kona begins with Carl Faubert, a private investigator, taking a break at a roadside rest stop on the way to his next job. Cark has been hired by W. Hamilton, an industrialist who recently purchased all of the land surrounding the fictional Atamipek Lake in Northern Canada. Hamilton's land grab has offended the local residents, who have reportedly committed acts of vandalism against a number of his properties. Carl sets out to find the perpetrators, but things soon become more sinister.
The reason for Carl's break is because the gate to the bridge beside the rest stop has been left chained and locked. A quick search of the nearby tower reveals a set of wire cutters and a first aid kit within a chest. With the cutters in hand, Carl can slice through the chain, open the gate, and return to his pickup truck.
Kona features something you don't see in many adventure games: a driving system. Players will drive from location to location in a first-person cockpit view. The viewpoint shows way too much of the truck interior and Carl's hands for my liking. Still, driving through remote roads in the wilderness lends the game some scale and provides a welcome break from all the walking you do in these games.
As Carl approaches his destination – a general store – snow begins to fall in blankets. The game doesn't place during the winter, making this a rather unseasonable blizzard. Our hero reaches the store and finds it abandoned, but not without clues. Mysterious clumps of blue ice litter the surrounding area. They also lead to a path behind the store, one filled with canine footprints.
Visions in the snow
The trail leads to the body of a hunter completely encased in ice, his gun smashed on the ground below. The mysteries of what did this to him and the source of the blizzard propel the game's narrative. And players will get some hints behind the hunter's fate when Carl touches the frozen body and experiences a vision…
Each time Carl encounters a victim of the mysterious blue ice, he'll experience their last moments as if frozen in time. By following the vision trail leading to the hunter's body, players will see moments of his battle with an unknown assailant. The man's journal and ID card reveal some more background details as well. Once the vision ends, Carl must continue his investigation by searching other locations around the lake.
Kona mixes exploration, puzzle solving, and story to create a compelling narrative. I haven't had to engage in combat yet, but apparently Cark will have to fight off wolves and other bad things during his investigation. He'll also be able to avoid combat by distracting the wolves with food or simply retreating to the safety of the truck.
The only less-than-compelling elements in the current Steam Early Access build of Kona are the writing and narration. Developer Parabole hails from Quebec, so the script started its life in French before being translated to English. As a result, there are some translation idiosyncrasies, much like the recently released Layers of Fear.
The game's narrator doesn't do the script any favors, either. He goes on and on about the area, Carl's thoughts, etc. – all in a grandfatherly voice with awkward line readings. Hopefully the sequels ditch this particular narrator.
More Kona to come
Kona is the first in a planned series of games. Each will tell a complete story centered around a different protagonist, but the games will also build on each other in order to flesh out their world. The first game costs $9.99 on Steam right now, with the price set to increase to $14.99 when it fully launches. The Xbox One version should follow in a few months.
After playing a small portion of Kona, I'm really intrigued by the story. Hopefully the narrative remains as compelling throughout the entire adventure!