I had grown accustomed to surviving the harsh winter storm. Going outside had lost it’s sense of peril. With this mindset, I decided to leave the safety of the general store to track down what an “X” denotes on a homemade treasure map I found. Only later would I realize the mistake I had made by letting my curiosity drive my decision making. Walking aimlessly, I scour the area I think the “X” should be finding nothing. Determined, I push further into the wilderness thinking I must be in the wrong place. My vision starts to ice over, a clear indication I’m going to freeze to death. Panicked I look around, there seems to be some structure at the top of the hill. I run up the hill, hoping my salvation is near. I’m in luck as I’ve stumbled across a house. Hurriedly, I burst into the home to find it cold and abandoned, and curse at my bad luck. I won’t survive the trek back to the general store. I have no option but to find a heat source. Fortunately, I spy a wood stove which just happens to have a pile of wood next to it. I manage to start a fire and feel the sense of relief wash over me as I warm myself by the fire. This is just one story that has come out of my time with Kona.
The best way to describe Kona is it’s a mixture of The Long Dark and Gone Home. Within the game you play a detective, who was suppose to meet a client . On your way to meeting him, a sudden snowstorm hits, stranding you in a rural Canadian logging town. After some exploring, the town seems abandoned with it’s residents seeming to have mysteriously disappeared. The atmosphere of Kona is eerie. The winter storm that pervades the game makes the storm feel like character itself. As a players I felt totally alone with a sense of dread crawling at the back of my mind while playing. The game isn’t overtly scary, but there is a constant uneasy feel that something isn’t quite right.
An inherent sense of danger is instilled from the game’s survival mechanics. Players have a health bar, warmth meter, and a stress bar. Getting attacked (did I mention there are wolves in the woods?) depletes your health. Straying too long outside depletes your warmth which will result in death. I found it hard to determine how your stress level effects you as a character or what caused it, other than smacking your truck into stuff. I did discover that smoking cigarettes did relax you and refill your stress bar. I personally thought this mechanic was funny, but stressed people do tend to smoke to help calm the nerves. There is also a inventory and weight system within the game. I thought the weight system was annoying especially since players can only save at heat sources, this is annoying as well. I get the reason for a weight system given the game’s survival leanings, but I had to pass up several campfires I had found due to choosing not to carry wood because it’s so heavy. At the end of the day, this didn’t dramatically impact my play session, but I found myself backtracking to a heat sources available to me already just to save. Players can use the truck to store gear which helps, but managing inventory is never a task I enjoy in games.
I enjoyed my time with Kona, but game does little to explain what you should be doing except for some journal notes. Most of my play time I found myself wandering around trying to figure out what was going on. The game is in early access at the moment, and the build I played had some stripped out story elements. Despite this, I feel the game could be improved by some more direction. In it’s current state, the game plays more like a 3d point and click adventure rather than a “walking simulator”. I’m not ashamed to admit I favor the latter style of genre.
Overall, I think Kona has potential, but could use some more time in Early Access to tight up some of the game systems and UI. That being said the game is immersive and has great atmosphere. The winter scapes of the Canadian wild are hauntingly beautiful, and the best aspect of the game in my opinion. There is a story that seems intriguing, but is hard to decipher within the Early Access framework. Kona promises to be a four game series with the first games expected release date late September of this year and is currently available on Steam Early Access.