Kona – A mystery covered in snow – First impressions

Gare – Thursday, May 12, 2016 10:43 PM
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Despite the stigma of Early Access titles on Steam, Kona piqued my curiosity the moment I took a closer look at it: the game seemed to be a mixture of classic adventure games and survival titles, utilizing the best of both worlds in order to produce an enjoyable final product. And indeed, Kona’s “survival” aspects aren’t overly frustrating (you don’t need to eat something every two seconds not to die of starvation), while it also manages to be more successful at being an actual adventure game with actual adventures than, say, the fairly tedious Vanishing of Ethan Carter. All in all, we’re off to a good start – but allow me to elaborate a bit.

You know nothing but there are tracks in the snow

We’re in 1970, right in the middle of the lovely, snow-covered wilderness of Northern Canada, playing as a detective trying to investigate a seemingly abandoned settlement, potentially shedding light on what happened to all its inhabitants. In terms of gameplay, picture an adventure game from a first-person perspective: you carefully examine your surroundings, pick up items, sort through your inventory and use or combine said items at specific points. The “twist” is that all this takes place in a relatively open world that you’re given a free hand to explore. The survival aspect of Kona primarily boils down to your stress and temperature meters, and the need to keep both in check – this, however, isn’t a huge challenge (you can light fires or even huddle up inside your truck for a bit to warm up), which means it doesn’t negatively affect your enjoyment of the exploration in a too intrusive sort of way, but it still reinforces the idea that there’s a harsh, cold winter out there. Speaking of trucks, your vehicle is indeed no mere decoration, as getting from point A to point B is done through driving. You’re also able to store surplus items in the trunk of your vehicle (there’s an encumbrance system), effectively transforming it into a home base of sorts, as well as a place of relative safety.

It does not hold your hand

In terms of atmosphere, Kona certainly has much to offer – not only through its sheer graphical presentation, but also its attentive level design, creating immersion not just with polygons, but a set of believable locations. Each shelf of the general store you first stumble into is packed with various items, all carefully labeled. Each drawer can be pulled out and investigated. Nothing feels static and sterile – Kona’s world is down-to-earth and familiar, with all its little details giving it an organic, lived-in vibe. Those that enjoy combing through every nook and cranny of an area will no doubt find much to enjoy in Kona – and such careful detective work is not only encouraged, but needed, as the game – to use a fairly common expression – does not hold the player’s hand, so to speak. There is no pulsating quest marker to scream “c’mon, this way” at you, nor is there a convenient, Dead Space-esque tracker to guide you along the way, robbing you of the joy of exploration. Or perhaps there is, but it’s all blended naturally into the environment, giving the player a definite feel that he is the one exploring and discovering new things, and it’s not just the game pulling him along a set track by the nose. As such, other than its immersive and intriguing world, Kona’s strength lies in its encouragement of exploration and discovery, which – as more of the game world opens up compared to the relatively small and limited Early Access version – will no doubt play an increasingly important role as the game gets closer to being finished.

A game we are keeping an eye on

All in all, Kona is a good example of how developers should be treating the Steam Early Access program. The game is clearly unfinished – certain things are not fully implemented, and much of the map still closed off from the player –, but the groundwork is there, and we have a solid, competent, and certainly enjoyable base to work with, which is far from being an early, unplayable prototype. It’s a game I would definitely recommend keeping an eye on in the coming weeks and months – if the finished storyline ends up being just as strong as the environmental design, we might be dealing with one of the year’s hidden indie surprises.

Kona on Steam



Gameplay / First impressions (with Hungarian commentary)

(We are sorry for the shitty audio in the begining of the stream)

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