Kona is the story of Carl Faubert, a detective tasked with heading up to the northern Canadian town of Atamipek Lake to conduct an interview. Upon arrival, a series of strange events begin to unfold and being the curious detective that he is, the strange unveiling begins.
Set in the 1970’s, Kona takes on the running trend set by high-profile titles such as Resident Evil VII and Outlast by isolating the player right from the get-go. The story progressively unfolds but not in the typical sense of NPC interaction or cut-scenes. In fact you only ever interact with 1 or 2 computer controlled characters throughout your entire play through of Kona. Your sense of progress unfolds throughout as an overseeing narrator comments on your every move. Found a key item – the narrator will chime in with it’s significance in the story. Heading in the wrong direction? Again, the narrator calmly states that “Carl should probably be searching the [Location] for more clues”. It’s a beautiful and unique technique that very few games have taken on. The voice acting played by Forrest Rainier (for the English version) fits right in. It’s warm, humbling and in almost every instance, paints a vivid sense of placement of your position within the game’s story. This is probably Kona’s most unique feature.
Besides the narrator, collectables in the form of documents and other various items are scattered throughout the town which shed light onto the strange events taking place. It’s not the first time a game has used collectables to fill in the cracks of a story however in Kona, it’s somewhat essential to find them as skipping right past can leave the player with a sense of unfulfilled storytelling, and an in-game journal full of holes. I personally found these collectables essential to the back story but I can’t help but wonder how many players would spend the time to hunt and read each and every one of them as there are quite a number of them scattered throughout. However, what you will definitely stumble across are the inhabitants of the town who are frozen in their tracks. Encountering each of the four are crucial to the story’s progression and actually take you back in time to when they were alive as you watch on the sidelines as they live out their last moments, giving you that feeling that everybody in the town has a dark secret that they were trying to hide.
Kona for the most part plays exceptionally well although at times it’s gameplay style can feel dated. Simple things such as opening a door or kitchen cupboard can be missed as the game typically prompts the user with a small white dot to indicate that an environmental action can take place. The only problem with this white dot is that it’s VERY small. Countless times I’ve gotten lost only to find later on that a crucial piece of story evidence is sitting in a drawer somewhere. While this may sound trivial to perhaps search every drawer, Kona has an undecided method of which cupboards and doors can be opened an interacted with. Some will work, and some don’t. The in-game map can be quite problematic as well. While they’ve taken on the same approach as Firewatch, Kona’s map can be quite finicky as switching between it and back to the game again becomes quite tiresome, especially when navigating around the second half of the game.
The visuals also feel slightly dated. You notice this from the get-go as you approach the town of Kona because it’s the only time the player really gets to see the sky and some distance of what lays in the road ahead as 10 minutes into the game you’re greeted by the infamous blizzard that continues to blind your path for the remainder of the game. On one hand the blizzard is necessary and provides that feeling of isolation to the player, on the other I couldn’t help feel that the blizzard was a convenient way of masking the dated visuals as it does make everything a lot less detailed with snow particles violently flying around the screen at all times. However that’s only the start of the graphical inconvenience as half way through the game the time of day then turns to night. It’s during the night where navigation is at it’s most frustrating as visibility is reduced even further making it a tiresome chore to even carry on, fortunately the story is gripping enough to make you want to plough through, even with the constant frame-rate drops on the Xbox One version.
Survival is key in Kona, not in the typical sense either. While health packs can be salvaged to restore health, you’ll also have to be mindful of your warmth levels as well as your mental state as failure to do so will result in you freezing to death or having a large enough headache that moving forward becomes almost impossible, so popping painkillers and starting campfires are absolutely essential, and trust me – in some parts of the game where the audio loop becomes extremely annoying you’ll definitely need painkillers! Combat is at a minimal in Kona, as it’s likely that you’ll only ever need to defend yourself against less than 5 wolves in your entire play through. In fact, there’s even an achievement / trophy for never firing a single shot which is easily do’able.
Kona is an intriguing, wholesome game developed by Parabole that offers a unique experience and is the first of four titles being developed. Even with all of it’s quirks, it still does enough to pull you in through your 5-8 hour journey and is well worth the £15 asking price. Don’t just take our word for it, check out the gripping trailer below: