Sometimes I try random Steam Early Access games on a whim. Often, it’s a very bad idea. Kona is a big exception to that rule.
Kona is a snowbound mystery adventure that launched on Early Access yesterday. It’s a game about wandering through a (very convincing) blizzard as a private investigator in 1970s Northern Canada. You’re there to investigate vandalism against the estate of a wealthy industrialist, but you arrive to discover that he’s nowhere to be found. Ditto for, er, everybody else.
As a result, you end up with two main concerns: 1) figure out what the hell kind of weird shit is going on, and 2) don’t become a gravel-voiced, faux-noir popsicle. You can and will freeze to death, so you’ve got to build a fire from time-to-time. That’s doubly important given that the game takes place in a fairly open world (a rarity for the genre), so it’s possible to get woefully lost/even more woefully devoured by wolves.
Oh, also there’s a melodramatic narrator, a supernatural twist, and it’s all just kooky and mysterious and great. Here’s 30 minutes of me playing it:
Things I’m really enjoying about Kona so far:
- Locations are believable. The general store, recently abandoned for Reasons Unknown, feels eerily authentic. Goods ranging from cereal (“Apple Jaques”) to tools are where you’d expect to find them, but behind the counter, the store’s owner seems like kind of disorganized guy. His drawers are messy, and his supplies are scattered. There’s also... ammo out in the open? And a note suggesting that the store owner was to meet me in the wealthy industrialist’s stead? But what about the note I found in the garbage out back, evidently never given to its intended recipient, where the store owner basically told the industrialist to go fuck himself? Kona is all about environmental storytelling, and what a story it tells. Speaking of...
- The game guides you, but it doesn’t hold your hand. Kona lets you wander at your own pace, find clues on your own, and piece together what’s going on in your head. There are, however, subtle aids to guide you if you need them. Hopelessly lost? Here’s a hint: follow the wolf tracks. Oh, but probably bring some sort of weapon. You know, just in case.
- The weather. Kona’s weather and atmosphere effects are excellent. Seriously, just watch the trees sway for a bit.
- The pace. Kona is a pretty slow-paced game, but the gradual unfurling of a larger mystery—and the fact that I’m the one piecing it together using my own deduction skills—has me hooked. It’s always exciting to discover a new landmark, to piece together what people were doing before they vanished. In that respect, no two places are the same.
- The camera. I love it when games give me cameras. I’m not 100 percent sure why. I probably played too much Pokemon Snap as a kid.
Things I’m not so sure about:
- It’s still in Early Access. While the game is close to complete, it’s not quite there yet. As a result, portions of the map aren’t accessible, and you can’t experience the full story.
- It’s front-loaded with exposition. Near the beginning of the game, the narrator just kinda babbles a bunch of backstory at you, to the point where it can be tough to keep track of all the moving pieces involved. I can’t help but feel like Kona’s developers could’ve used their environmental storytelling chops to convey that information more effectively in other areas of the game.
- It can be tough to know what to do next. Once the game opens up after the first couple segments, it’s up to you to sort out where to go and what to do. Good luck.
- There’s some arbitrary puzzle logic. The more grounded, true-to-life puzzles make a lot of sense. But once the game delves into supernatural stuff, it becomes a bit less intuitive.
- It’s all a little janky. Controls can be fiddly, the voice acting is a little wonky, and sometimes the game doesn’t feel great. But it’s a weird, ambitious indie game. What do you expect?
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