This intro is a bit of a stretch so bear with me.
Few things are cooler than a film noir detective; their “laissez-faire” attitude mixed with some raw handsomeness is almost the perfect combination. Hell, they’re too busy brooding that they even have to employ someone else to do their narration a lot of the time.
Perhaps, the only thing cooler is a film noir detective in the freezing cold of Northern Canada in 1970. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the weird world of Kona.
After a series of vandalism attacks on his properties, William Hamilton calls private detective Carl Faubert to come and investigate/act as a bit of muscle. Things quickly turn sour though when Carl happens upon a dead body in the village petrol station. Not one to turn around and hightail back to the city, Carl’s interest is piqued and he wants to see this one through to the end. Which is just as well then, as a bad snowstorm has made the village nigh impossible to escape from.
That’s just the opening stanza, as Kona has more mysterious mysteries that need solving. Some of these are of a supernatural substance as well. It won’t be long before Carl finds bodies literally frozen to death, strange crystalline and perhaps even delving into some of the mythological beings of Canadian folklore.
From this point onwards you are free to explore this town as you please. Kona isn’t about holding your hand or presenting a trail of breadcrumbs for you to follow. Armed with a map, you can choose where to explore next. Sometimes, that path is blocked, but there are many more to discover. A first playthrough will likely take five hours or more to fully explore which is a good length, but a rushed ending leaves you wanting a little bit more.
As you will quickly discover, many residents have many reasons and motives for wanting the others dead in their village. As Carl, you need to wander around this village, inspect each person’s home and find the clues. Kona has a chilly atmosphere throughout, not least because of the temperature, but it never goes into full-on horror game. There are times when you feel like you are being watched, times when you are being watched, and times when it is best to just put your head down and run.
Good thing that Carl comes equipped with a journal to keep track of all the goings on. He also carries a camera with him to fill up this journal with pictures as well as words. As the player, you can also review this at any point, and you will need to in order to fully understand the narrative. It isn’t afraid to bombard you with character names in the opening moments.
There may be another reason why you forget these story beats; Kona also doubles as a survival game. Throughout your investigation you will have three bars to keep an eye on: health, heat and stress. Unsurprisingly, in the middle of a snowstorm, keeping warm is a priority, but so is keeping a level head. Almost every home you visit in Kona will have some sort of fire to ignite and keep you warm and calm. Stress is increased naturally when you see wolves in the wild and getting attacked by these can also reduce your health. These survival elements are basic, but they don’t detract from the main narrative which is good. And they don’t cause too many troubles for those unfamiliar with the survival genre.
Carl also isn’t afraid to have a drink and a smoke too; helping keep these bars in check.
You are free to explore the village after an initial opening as you please, though some areas are restricted until you have the right tools. How it does this is via the traditional metroidvania style of progression-blocking, but it also feels very natural. One area plunges the temperature even lower, so an extra thick coat is required before you progress. And in order to access the final area, you need to have discovered four major plot moments. But you don’t want to be skipping areas anyways in order to get the full Kona experience; it is a well-crafted story where a second playthrough can reveal more than you initially discovered. Many areas are optional, or at least, not as easy to access as others.
Kona also comes with a very handy narrator. Doubling down on this noir feel, this narrator will help break down the ongoing story by handily calling back to past moments. He will also advise you upon leaving a certain area if there is something you have missed. And he does this with a great mix of seriousness, light heartedness and a sense of humour drier than the snow surrounding you. He is arguably the main star of the show, as Carl at times feels little more than a conduit to you exploring the village.
With a sequel on the way, and an Xbox Series X|S upgrade now available, there is no better time to play Kona. This supernatural mystery contains just the right amount of walking simulator, survival and creepy elements without any of them dwarfing the others. That means if you are a fan of any of them, Kona is an excellent gateway to trying the others. Not only that, but it’s also a great little game in itself.
Head north and pack a coat in Kona from the Xbox Store
- Brilliant murder-mystery tale
- Survival elements are easy to understand
- Clever implementation of metroidvania elements
- Action moments are a bit basic
- A little on the short side
- Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Purchased by TXH
- Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch, PC
- Version reviewed - Xbox Series X
- Release date - 17 Mar 2017
- Launch price from - £TBC