Picture this: you – a 1970s private investigator – have been sent to the fuck-all nowhere town, which is midst of a ball-shattering Canadian blizzard. Not a person in sight, not even the dude who hired you, yet you always feel like you’re being watched. Between the weather and fight to stay alive, you have to figure out the clues as to what the hell is happening around this town and why exactly you’ve been sent. Full of clues and supernatural elements, you along with your journal and busted car have to find your way around a weird little deserted town that will keep you guessing.
This game was initially funded on Kickstarter by Parabole, a Canadian company, so you know there’s authenticity when it comes to the Quebecois, weather and its elements as well as the rural atmosphere. It then received funding from the Canada Media Fund before being released on Steam in 2016.
Yes, 2016, I’m late. I actually hadn’t heard about this game until about a month ago when Xbox’s Game Pass had it available for free, and once I watched the trailer I downloaded it. An investigation-exploration game with supernatural elements? And I’m a PI? Hell yeah I’m downloading it.
Kona let’s you explore the houses, businesses and the grounds of Atamipek Lake as PI Carl Faubert, finding tools, food and supplies, and unraveling the different mysteries surrounding the town and the lives of the residents. It’s the different mysteries that I was pleasantly surprised over. I thought I was just going to have to figure out where my boss is and what he wants me to do, but quickly found out that there’s much more happening in this little town, including tension between the native Cree tribe, the rich guy who hired you, his employees and among residents.
Oh yeah, the residents.
While you might not see anyone around you, there’s this feeling you’re never exactly alone. I mean, if I saw a dude breaking into other people’s homes I’d probably stay in the shadows.
There’s also wildlife (WOLVES!) and the supernatural element, which seems to feel eerier when you start moving around at night time. There’s a moment where I almost pissed myself exploring a home and something crashed down in another room. The atmosphere is set up so well that the soft soundtrack, the silence indoors, the whistling wind outside or the freaky sounding radio in the car always makes you feel tense and ‘off’. The lack of light always makes me on edge playing games, and this is no exception. In fact I’ve been stuck in the ‘night’ part for way too long because I’m a sook.
Yes, I’m writing before finishing the game. So while I can’t tell you about the whole story, but I’m telling you know this is a game I want to finish. And while it might not be a game you replay like other games, I like that this is a smaller developer than I can support and recommend to others.
I love the collection of evidence and PHOTOGRAPHING and trying to piece everything together in the notebook, trying to figure out before Carl arrived and what could still be occurring within the town limits. I even enjoyed the problem-solving and back tracking moments to connect one resident to another (I’m trying to be as spoiler-free as possible here). I find every bit of new info about someone or something really interesting, and each area I search compels me to continue on. Did I just see a vision play out some weird supernatural event to me? Yes! Did an arrow just hit the fence post? Also yes! Did I accidentally swerve off the road while I was looking at the map and tank my health? Shut up.
Now the gameplay, mechanics and controls are pretty simple but reasonable; it’s first person, you can walk at a good pace, run, hold stuff and strike. Get cold or injured? Rip open a pack of cigs or have a drink (hey, it’s the 70s), or chuck a log onto a fire-pit to get warm. Carrying too much? Put it in the back of your truck. Stress? Your aim and speed are affected. While I can’t jump onto things, I don’t need to- and I can step up- although there is one area where I could simply slip through a fence gap.. but can’t. The woods and clusters of trees are abundant but I can’t just walk through them then like, say, Red Dead Redemption 2, but I’m okay with that because they’re both different in every way, mostly time and money behind it and one is an open-world game, the other isn’t.
Also you do some driving and it’s actually really good! Playing to the icy roads and speeds, it seems authentic (am I still made about L.A. Noire’s driving mechanics? Yes. Forever). After playing games with multiple actions and always confusing them when I’m playing more than one game this is welcoming.
If it sounds like I’m not liking any of those, it couldn’t be further from the truth. I really think what is enough given the harsh setting and how a person would move, making you think about what you’re carrying and how far you’re going to explore before you can find somewhere warm.
If you’re a fan of mysteries, great pace, impressive storytelling and supporting indie developers, I can’t recommend Kona enough. It’s been a while since I was this impressed with such a small indie game and it’s wild it hasn’t been given more exposure and love.
If this is what they can make with very little budget, I’m more than eager to know what they could do with extra money and time behind them.