Canada has one of the kindest reputations in the world, and it’s an unlikely environment for a chilling adventure game. However, the first five minutes of playing Kona will have you questioning your assumptions. Something has gone terribly wrong in a quaint village in Northern Quebec. It’s up to you to solve the mystery and escape. Can you survive the frigid, enigmatic wilderness without losing your mind?
Kona is intended to be the first of four games in a series by the Canadian game developer, Parabole. It’s an adventure game combined with facets of the survival and horror genres. You play as a detective who has been hired by a wealthy businessman to investigate a vandalism report in a rural village. Upon reaching the village, you find that things are not as one might expect. With the guidance of an omniscient narrator, you must solve the mystery surrounding the community while piecing together clues and building fires to stay alive.
Exploring the grand Canadian wilderness of Kona is a lot of fun. You get to drive a mammoth, purring truck and snoop into the lives of strangers. Every home is searchable. Secrets are hidden in the woods. Very early in the game, you find that what happens while exploring cannot be foreseen. There were a quite few times that I would open a door and be shocked by what I found behind it. Kona is truly refreshing and unpredictable.
What Parabole does best with Kona is create a rich environment, facilitating immersion in the game. The scenery is breathtaking, and there is no lack of quality screenshot material found while exploring. It feels like every detail has been included, from driving through near white-out snowstorm conditions to digging through someone’s junk drawer. Holding and reading a video game map has never felt so realistic. Combined with a soundtrack featuring real folk music local to the region, it’s easy to lose yourself in this frozen, Canadian world. Every snow-crunching footstep and pulsing heartbeat sets the mood. The narrator’s calm, smooth voice nudges you in the right direction. It’s possible to freeze to death if you stay too long outdoors. This immersion is the absolute highest strength of Kona.
There are so many items to collect and objectives to reach in this game, that it’s tough to catch everything the first time through. I won’t spoil the surprises, but the way the game progresses, it’s difficult to tie up loose ends if you’ve gotten too far into the story. Luckily, the game is short enough that it leaves you wanting to play again. The Steam/PS4/Xbox One achievements add to the replayability, with achievements awarded for completing the game without using cigarettes or alcohol to boost your mental health. Other achievements are awarded for completing a treasure hunt side quest or completing the game without using vehicles. Most of these objectives won’t be completed on your first playthrough, but could easily be achieved with another two or three hour run.
The game controls are straightforward, but the menus could use some help. Kona is designed using radial menus, which doesn’t work well when amassing the hordes of items you collect in the game. For example, as you collect more documents throughout your investigation, the icons on the document radial menu get smaller to make room for the new ones. They all have similar icons, so attempting to find and reread something you picked up an hour ago can be a tedious task. You’ll find that all other game items are well organized with separate radial menus for those that you can equip and consume. This makes it easier to heal quickly or to determine if an object can be used to solve a puzzle, more so than returning to the paperwork.
One of my favorite things about Kona is how well the development team at Parabole has been communicating and interacting with players. The Steam forums and Kona Facebook page are both filled with timely, constructive responses from the devs themselves. They humbly respond to bug reports or criticism and offer hints to players who have gotten stuck on a puzzle in the game. It’s one of the few times I’ve seen a developer listen directly to its fan base and take into consideration what they have to say. Parabole is doing an excellent job of creating loyal players who will happily follow them into the next three games of this series.
With an authentic soundtrack and immersive design, Parabole has created an atmospheric adventure game that will stick with you long after you’ve completed the story. Having open-minded developers who are actively communicating with fans is setting the bar for indie design. I have no doubt that this will be a standout indie series. Can you survive the wilds of northern Canada?
A PC review copy of Kona was provided by Parabole
for the purpose of this review