Video Games Preview: Kona: Day One [Beta] (PC, 2016)

Kôna: Day One, from indie studio Parabole, is the first act of a narrative driven game series revolving around a chilling detective tale set in northern Canada in the 1970s. Currently, the game is in a pre-beta stage so the play through only contained around 25% of the full experience, therefore I was limited to a small region of the map. The game is certainly not bug-free, so the current state of the game is not representative of the finished product. Nevertheless Kôna is a beautifully detailed game with a captivating story with aspects of survival, exploration and puzzle solving, creating a very promising game in the works.

The game commences at a rest stop away from where the story will begin and serves as a brief tutorial of your starting inventory items and keyboard controls. You’ll notice that the game has a narrator; this narrator will be your guide, your thoughts, your only friend in this desolate setting later on. The narrator explains Carl Faubert, the character you are playing, is a war veteran who is now a private detective who must travel to Atamipek Lake in Northern Canada to meet a wealthy client called W. Hamilton for a case. From the starting point, you’ll head into a car, which you will be able to actually control, and from then on, you will head north to meet Hamilton at the general store.

As we arrive into town, and find the general store, the story starts to unravel. We discover that there is no sign of life around, the whole area is deserted. Setting the chilling mystery in motion, your main objective as a detective is to understand what exactly is going on in this eerie town. Where has everyone gone to and where exactly is your client Hamilton? In the current early beta stage, they briefly touched the surface of what the full story will entail. This is no ordinary detective tale, as there seems to be supernatural elements entangled into the narrative.

The game does a brilliant job at immersing the player into the eerie and desolate environment, making you feel like you are truly alone. Despite the game being a detective tale, the game can feel slightly spooky, equivalent to a suspenseful horror game.

The sound plays a major role in contributing to the chilling atmosphere and building tension throughout the story. For the majority of the game you hear the snow storm and wind brewing around you, while you are outdoors and indoors, which further sets the desolate atmosphere and builds tension of the looming threat ahead. Simultaneously the folk-like background music provides an ambient feel that harmonises with the Canadian 1970s theme and setting.

The narrator is a key component of the game, and is one of my favourite things they have done with the overall experience. The narrator helps the player immerse themselves into the story and adds depth to the narrative as you are exploring and interacting with certain objects. For example, at times you’ll be exploring a house, and if you come across a picture, the narrator will briefly tell you the context behind it. This concept is similar to games such as Stanley Parable and Dear Esther. This third-person perspective narrator, almost like a voice in your head, helps the players draw conclusions occasionally, which I assume is to prevent the player from drawing open ended conclusions. Essentially this helps the player keep on track if they are feeling a little lost in the narrative.

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Despite the narrator being helpful at times, this game does not hold your hand. The premise of the game play is that you are supposed to be exploring the map whilst solving the mystery, but the direction you go about it isn’t exactly obvious at times. You are given absolute freedom with exploration, which unfortunately left me confused at times. Occasionally I was unsure of what to take note of, and how the camera and the ‘evidence’ you were supposed to be collecting would contribute to the overall game-play. Multiple times I found myself missing crucial areas, going back and forth throughout the map. I will also note that my journal, where the objectives are supposed to be listed, was not working properly in game. In the finished build this aspect of feeling a little confused may be solved.

Since Kôna gives you free reign on exploration, the player needs to be fully immersed in the experience and exploration element. This game is meant to be taken at a slow pace and if you find yourself being impatient, you will find yourself missing crucial details of the story. At each area, you really need to investigate the place fully before moving off, as you can easily miss something around the corner, like a hidden path in the woods, and the game will not tell you what you have missed.

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The visuals in the game are stunning, especially when it has been made with the Unity game engine. There is remarkable detail integrated into the game, adding to the overall immersion bringing the game to life. From the beginning, as you drive your car up north, getting closer to the centre of the snow storm, your car windows start to frost around the corners. As you drive further north, you start to notice that the road becomes barely visible due to the strong wind in the snow storm. Little details like this really add to the realism aspect to help with immersion. Even as you find yourself exploring for too long in the cold, once you hop into your car for warmth, you find that your characters hands will actually animate the motion, letting you know that your heat meter is going up.

Although I only got a small taste of the full experience the game has to offer, Kôna has successfully grasped my attention and has me intrigued for what is to come next. Judging from the listed features and from what I’ve gathered in game so far, Kôna definitely has a lot more to offer. The game-play elements of survival and combat were barely or not at all touched on in this play through. The full game will definitely be a more fruitful experience with all these aspects in play together.

Kôna: Day One currently can be bought as an early access game, and is worth the investment if you’re looking to get into a slow-paced story driven exploration game. Despite the game being cut short and some game-play issues, Kôna has great potential in its finished form. Even being an unfinished product, Kôna does a great job as a story-driven game, establishing an engaging narrative with impeccable detail and dedication to game immersion and graphics. Kôna is proving to be a promising game to look out for in the future.

Review Score:  7.5 out of 10
Highlights: Graphics are stunning; Remarkable detail bringing the setting to life; Engaging detective story
Lowlights: Since it’s an unfinished product, and is consistently being patched, I won’t bother.
Developer: 
Parabole
Publisher: Parabole
Released:
TBA March, Early Access via GOG from February 9, 2016.
Platform: Windows PC