Baby it's cold outside: Kona early access review
What does a private detective, a doctor, and a blizzard have in common? The game Kona. It may have an odd name for a game, but it also has one of the most powerful stories in gaming.
You play as Carl, a private detective who is investigating the disappearance of W. Hamilton in northern Québéc. This rich titan of the copper mine has destroyed the native land of the Cree people. As you investigate, you find that the local population has vanished as well. I won't go any further in the story, but there are some fun elements that pop up.
The best way to think of this game is a mixture of Don't Starve, Firewatch, and Layers of Fear. You have to survive in this blizzard, but also figure out the mystery. One of your first destinations is a gas station. There are so many avenues of exploration in this place alone. You could speed on ahead in your truck, but this place gives your first clues as to what happened.
There are only two vehicles in this game, but that is all you need. I find myself using Carl’s truck more than the snowmobile due to the heat. This goes without saying, but the game is about survival. Heat sources warm your body, save your game and also keep the mysterious threats at bay.
By collecting resources, you can combine them into useful items like fuel or weapons. At times I would panic because I could not find logs to start a fire. I could see my cold meter rise as my health meter fell. My vision would slowly blur as I tried desperately to find this fuel.
One other interesting piece of this game is the omniscient narration. It is a dynamic, third-person conversation. I took it as Carl narrating his own adventure. While walking to a cabin, for instance, the narrator would give the needed background information to the player. He has a gruffness to his voice that made me assume Carl had made some tough choices.
In this game, you occupy two planes of existence -- the real world and the spirit world. This “spirit world” gives you a different point of view. Strange ice forms appear where you least expect them. These are the gateway to this world and its inhabitants. As the spirit world guides you, it mutes the white tones of the snow so you can the unseen. A ball with unknown languages floats in the air. At times you are forced to solve a puzzle to escape.
The combat is there, but you can rarely find it. In some cases, entering combat at all was difficult due to the conditions I was stuck in. Sometimes the snow-blurred my vision to the point where I could not fight. Other times there was no enemy to be found in the wilderness when you would think one would be available.
Kona is a frigid game. I mean this literally. As I was playing, layers of blankets were heaped on me to keep me warm. There is snow everywhere in Kôna. The sound of the wind blowing and howls of a wolf pack echo through the forest. While driving any vehicle, snow pummels your vision. This forces you to slow your pace down and to search your surroundings.
There are times where you have total snow blindness. All you can hear are your footsteps in the snow, that crunch, and slight squeak sound when you wade through. Even the lack of sound becomes eerie at times. You expect something to happen or to give chase. but it doesn't. It defies the norms of modern video games, where the sounds or music usually give you a clue of what is happening.
This game is perfectly suited for VR because you have to look around and interact with your environment. When I played it on PC, my mouse was too loose. I had to turn down the sensitivity or else everything moved way to fast. Even then, it was too loose. For instance, when you drive a vehicle it swerves too much. You can't keep it on the road and you spend most of your time backing up or making U-turns.
If this is what the next generation of games are about, with exploration and stunning landscapes, then we are in for a treat! Kona combines the best of both survival games and a mysterious story to weave a masterful game. It is now available on GOG and Steam Early Access. Also, it is coming soon to consoles.