Kona has certainly taken me on a wild ride. When the game started I was having flashbacks to Firewatch, if only because I was climbing the winding stairs to a watchtower. Upon finding my first dead body I then suspected a Sherlock Holmes style mystery game, and then when mysterious ice shards and hints of aliens appeared I started thinking X-Files. And when the entire thing is being narrated by a folksy Rex Allen Jr. imposter using verbose and flowery language I had no idea where this was going.
Previously available as Early Access and now officially released, Kona takes you to Northern Canada in October of 1970. You play as Carl Faubert, a private detective hired by the rich owner of a hunting lodge to investigate some recent vandalism in the area. The adventure starts on your drive north in what is otherwise a typical autumn day, but after a near-miss collision with an oncoming car, Carl slams into a ditch and is unconscious for two hours. When he regains consciousness the former chilly autumn day has suddenly turned into a life-threatening blizzard. Racing against time and exposure, Carl must seek shelter to get warm and heal his injuries. And thus begins your in-game tutorial and your adventure in Canada.
Kona plays out much like your typical first-person adventure as you explore various locations you reach by either your truck or later a snowmobile. You’ll gather clues in the forms of letters, memos, and documents as well as numerous items to add to your growing inventory to either restore health or to be used as crafting items to build fires or solve puzzles. A detailed map of the area shows where you are and where you can go, and each new location you visit deepens the mystery of what is actually going on. What seems like a simple murder-mystery at the start soon takes on paranormal levels of suspense and intrigue.
I was impressed that Kona gives you unprecedented freedom to explore the map locations in any order you choose. There is no real set path, but as you discover new clues and reveal more mysteries you’ll most likely be revisiting previous locales. The game sort of hints at where you should go next and even warns you if you are leaving an area “too soon”, so you don’t miss out on any crucial discoveries. Still, for casual gamers it can be easy to get lost or know what needs to be done, thus turning a 5-8 hour game into sometime twice as long.
Puzzles range in difficulty but none are unsolvable if you are thorough in your exploration of the surrounding areas. Sadly, the ratio of empty drawers and cabinets is like 20:1, so finding anything of value can be exciting. First aid kits and pain killers refuel your health meter while other consumable items like beer and cigarettes offer their own minimal stat boosts at the cost of health. Some puzzles are even quite rewarding like a certain power routing puzzles with four +\- terminal wheels when you finally figure it out.
While I enjoyed the suspense of never quite knowing what was going on in Kona it was the presentation that really sold it for me. The amazing outdoor visuals complete with blinding snow and wind actually had me shivering in my seat, and every time I did make it to a heat source my own body seemed to get warmer as I watched my thermal meter rise. Interior locations were very detailed, often with 70’s inspired items. Observant gamers will find a Spirograph art toy and Canadian hockey player trading cards. Driving was super-realistic, at least in the truck with its limited view out the windshield in whiteout conditions, and me trying to steer and read a map that was taking up half my view. The special effects in the paranormal-style visions with inverted graphics and red highlights were also quite exciting.
The audio mix was fantastic and there is support for everything from headphones to 7.1 surround, which is what I had and probably why the game made me feel so cold. The howling winds coming at me from all directions sent chills down my spine. The music was also great and not just the environmental score from Quebec folk band Curé Label. There are also all sorts of tunes available on the various radios found within the game as well as the stereo in your truck. But my favorite part of the entire sound mix was the narrator, whose folksy cadence and homespun charm added as much to this game as Rex Allen Jr. did to the movie, Me, Myself, and Irene.
Bundle up and prepare for an exciting time in the Great White North as you try to survive wolves and frostbite. Part survival game, part adventure, part mystery, the sum of all these parts is pure entertainment, and Kona delivers something refreshingly simple taking us back, not only to 1970’s Canada, but also to the core of the adventure game genre.