The exploration or walking sim genre is one of the fastest growing genres, especially within the indie gaming scene; games such as Gone Home allowed players to explore a unique environment and become wrapped up in a compelling narrative. Kona, developed by Parabole, takes everything that makes this genre so intriguing and for the most part provides a gripping story that heavily relies on you exploring its unique 1970’s Canadian wilderness environment.
You play as Carl Faubert, a private investigator who has been hired by a man called William Hamilton to investigate what appears to be continuous vandalism on the Hamilton Estate. On your way to meet with Mr Hamilton you are caught in a bizarrely spontaneous blizzard, and soon after this you come to realise that you’re going to be investigating a lot more than just these claims of vandalism.
The main over-arching story of Kona is simple to follow, with Carl often being given pretty obvious cues by the excellently voiced narrator when missing something in a certain area. However, to really get the meat of the story, your encourage to explore the rural Canadian village, almost every hut, house or shack you come across will give you a little more insight to the residents that populate this mysterious village. This is further enhance by having the ability to pretty much go where you wish and in what order you choose with the use of your pick-up truck.
The ability to use your vehicle so early in the game really adds to the exploration feel, the map isn’t huge, it does justify the use of a vehicle to swiftly get from point-to-point. Although this is an excellent addition to the game it does also create some frustrations; when driving into a different section of the map you are often greeted with a loading icon, which takes roughly 5 seconds to load the new area. Unfortunately this ends up happening a lot, which I not only found annoying but it also took away some of the engagement for the situation I was in.
The bold approach to the story telling reminded me a lot of ofter games in the genre such as Gone Home or The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, where you as the player almost feels in control of how the story is pacing out. If your willing to take a full investigative approach to the game then you will be rewarded with a gripping and compelling story, however, if you move from point to point and bypass areas of the map then there is every chance you will feel underwhelmed when the story reaches it’s memorable conclusion.
An element to Kona’s gameplay that sets it apart from other title in this ever growing genre is how heavily it focusses some immersive survival mechanics. While searching through the snowy environment you’ve undoubtedly become cold; which in turn effects how long you can run for, you concentration when using a gun to fend of hungry wolves and your general ability to stay alive. Through out my roughly 7 hour play through I was caught out several time with this survival mechanic, leaving me franticly searching for a camp fire to warm my self up. You body temperature isn’t the only mechanic you’ll need to juggle, you’ll soon find Carl will become hungry and thirsty, both of which again effect your concentration.
One area where Kona did feel inconsistent is with it’s visual presentation. For the most part the game looks good, snow falls as you’d expect, the way houses and shacks piece out the fog looks realistic and although the fog can be frustrating with your vision is does a great job of creating a sense of loneliness. Unfortunately it’s the presentation of the different interiors that let the game down. Visually they are at the same standard as their external counterparts, however, they all just look the same. Apart from the well written notes and diary you’s find through out the houses there isn’t anything else to tell them apart and they really feel like they lack a sense of personality.
Kona does a great job of putting you in the shoes of Carl Faubert and really making you feel like a detective. The addition of the various survival mechanics add to the realism of exploring the Canadian wilderness. At it’s heart Kona is a good exploration game,but if your willing to fully explore the mysterious rural Canadian village it will deliver a very good and memorable experience.