Atmosphere is a hard thing to get right in videogames. Whether you’re trying to convey a sense of claustrophobia or attempting to make your audience pause for a moment to take in a breathtaking vista, atmosphere is one of the best tools for suspending your audience’s disbelief and casting them into true immersion.
KONA was a crowdfunding project, beginning its life on Kickstarter like so many other games in this new age of independent gaming. Developed by Parabole, the Kickstarter goal was a respectable $40,000 Canadian dollars.
The game opens with the protagonist making his way into the remote far reaches of North Canada. It’s the 1970s, and a pleasant narrator explains that our leading man is Carl Faubert, a post-war veteran turned private detective. After receiving a job offer in the remote town of Atamipek Lake, he has decided to meet his client on the outskirts of town, but it doesn’t take long before he finds himself tumbling down a mysterious rabbit hole.
The game is presented as an open world mystery thriller with survival elements. The survival comes in the form of a harsh, oppressive blizzard that engulfs the town and seems to be present everywhere. Finding heat is paramount to your survival, and this is where the importance of atmosphere comes into play. Sitting at my desk playing KONA, I felt the cold creeping into the room.
The blizzard that engulfed the town was surrounding me too, to the point I had to put on another layer and a scarf because my body genuinely believed I was freezing. The environment is beautifully realised, the stark alpine terrain feels nature and expansive. The longer you are away from a heat source in the game, the harder it is to accomplish your investigation. Your field of vision begins to narrow, movement is hampered, mental clarity begins to diminish.
Puzzles and fetch quests present challenges to the investigation. These are just challenging enough to keep you wandering through the wilderness, but linear enough to keep you on track. I found myself confused on more than one occasion, my biggest draw back while playing KONA was driving back between houses to double check I hadn’t missed anything. The game lets you know if you have completed an area with a voice over narration, but occasionally finding all of the components for success can drag on.
A fantastic mystery unfolds as you progress through your investigation. The game ends fairly abruptly, but sitting back as the credits started to roll I found that I didn’t feel cheated by it. It made me think back on the story, to consider it from a new perspective. The less said about the story the better, as with any good mystery it’s best to uncover it all yourself.
I recommend KONA for anybody who enjoys a good mystery. Just be prepared to rug up.