By Zatheera, 23 February 2016
Kôna:Day One – Beta Demo Review
Kôna is a game by Parabole which is described as an episodic, atmospheric survival-adventure that takes place in Northern Quebec during the 1970s. Obviously, this game was meant to be reviewed by the token French Canadian of the Sticky Bunton team – me.
Disclosure: This review was written using a press copy of the game.
You’re brought into the game at what seems to be your average roadside rest spot; which reminded me of my road trips as a child. There were always picnic tables scattered around tourist stops that otherwise would have been overlooked if it weren’t for the sign pointing them out and advertising that there were public restrooms nearby.
Looking around, I could see that the attention to details is fairly on point; from the worn texture of the weathered wood used for the watchtower, the intricacy of the native masks that were on display, to the Taylor Swift style heart carved into the tables. Unfortunately, there are no blank spaces for you to write your name since someone else wrote “mom” inside of them instead.
The player character is Carl Faubert, a middle-aged detective that’s been hired by a big wig industrialist named William Hamilton. It’s no secret that Hamilton isn’t well loved by the community. He definitely didn’t garner any favors with the Cree after deciding that sacred grounds were the perfect place for a mining operation either. Not that you’re there to judge the guy that’s holding your next paycheck. Particularly when you’re in dire need of it, judging by how your orange pickup truck sounds like a paint mixer when you start it up.
It doesn’t take long to notice that you’re driving through a small and remote ghost town. If you somehow missed that obvious fact, the gritty-voiced narrator makes sure to drive that point home as he urges you to move on with the game through a few not so subtle hints.
The pace is slow to start, and there are no obvious indicators to signal what could be picked up prior to you getting right up to them. This means you might miss a few things on the first pass if you aren’t careful. There are puzzles to solve, some which can’t be solved within the area you found them since they require an item you need to collect from another location. So if you’ve missed something, you’ll have to go back and find it.
Fortunately, you’re provided with a journal to track objectives and give you some sort of guidance where you are supposed to go. I found myself wishing there were as some means for me to add notes to the map manually so I could keep track of where things were since points of interest aren’t exactly labeled for you. It would have been a neat feature to see Carl add notes as he went along, which is something I feel a PI would do.
To see where you are, you’ll have to look at the map in your inventory since there is no minimap. Being a person who is “Directionally Challenged” as those closest to me like to call it, games where I don’t have a detailed map system often end up with me going in circles. On more than one occasion I caught myself going “Oh look! There’s a vehicle over there to investigate! Maybe it’s got cool stuff!” only to discover that I’d went full circle and was back at my old orange truck.
There is no HUD, which helps with the immersion into the world, but means you will have to toggle the menu to check your status levels (Health, Temperature, Energy and Weight). The Narrator does comment when you are freezing and your vision will get blurry if you’ve ignored your needs for too long, but I generally prefer to avoid being reminded by an AI that I need to take better care of myself, so I toggled the menu fairly frequently.
No matter where you go, people seem to be missing and little evidence is left behind to explain as to where more of them had gone. Weird blue crystals and wolf paw prints can be found that lead you to key points with some clues about what might be going on, with a few dream-like memory sequences that can be triggered for even more insight into the world.
Now, it took me awhile to discover this, and I’d be ashamed of that fact if it weren’t for one key thing: I have common sense. After all, who in their right mind would ever follow wolf tracks into the woods during a snowstorm by themselves? Not me, and I love animals! It’s just not a wise decision in my books. If it weren’t for my curiosity levels and that nagging feeling that I’m supposed to go that way, I would have missed out on so much.
I liked that everything you picked up appeared initially in the language of the area (French), and if you hit F to read them, the translated text would be up for the player. I found humour in the off brand names that appeared on the truck, on cigarette packs and other various items in the game, more than likely to avoid copyright issues. The details inside the pickup truck were also pleasing, not only in the truck itself but in the manner in which Carl moves to steer, his hands moving as he turns the wheel, how he rests his arm on the back of the bench seat when he goes in reverse. It’s all those little things that added up to a great experience overall.
I’ll admit, I had to take a break from playing a few times because I got a bit motion sick which is a problem I haven’t had since the first Fallout game I ever played. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a way to turn off the head bob effect. So I advise doing whatever you need to do if you’re like me: Take breaks, have some gravol or ginger ale, I don’t know, just do it. This game does have VR compatibility, which seems like a great idea. Although I’m not sure if that would make things better or worse for me. Something I’ll have to test another time, you know…when I have a VR rig.
The game seems to show a lot of promise. The retro feel is well brought out by the careful detail put into the game, whether it be the pick-up trucks design or the choice in cash registers at the grocery store or the round top gas pumps. The art style and colour pallet are a perfect fit and well executed.
I caught myself staring at the trees more than once and even took a few screenshots of them. I enjoyed hearing my character’s footsteps, from the thunking sound when going across wood floors to the crunch as snow gave out beneath Carl’s boots. The only sound that made me grit my teeth was the static coming from a TV in one of the homes, which I wish they’d put in a means to turn the darn thing off, but I digress.
If you’re looking for a jump scare, this is probably not the game for you. But if you’re looking for something that is immersive, ramps up slowly, and has plenty of mystery for you to unravel, then it is.
Considering that this game was started with just over 44k raised from their Kickstarter, they’ve done some pretty amazing work with their budget thus far.
My only real gripe is the save system, which requires you to be near a heat source to save Ex: a fireplace or campfire. Not only that but to light a fire you need to have the necessary ingredients, like logs and matches. Not too big of a deal except that these things require inventory space to carry and this whole system means you can’t save on the fly. Hopefully, they change this before full release.
Overall, I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen so far – other than the motion sickness bit, of course. I’d probably buy it, if not for me, but for someone else to play while I watch, sip a ginger ale and snuggle with my pup.
All in all, I give it 3.5 Sticky’s.
Happy gaming folks!
PS. If you’d like to see their official trailer, you can check it out here.