I never used to have any interest in survival games until I encountered indie Early Access gem The Forest. You can read about my misadventures with that particular bit of Early Access gold right here. But considering I felt that I’d conquered The Forest—at least in its current state—I was in the mood for another survival hit.
I tried The Long Dark when it first released on Early Access, but I fear it was in too much of an early state for me to appreciate it. So, as I plumbed the depths of Steam’s survival games, I came across Kona (which is now in full release for those averse to Early Access “unfinished” games). The name didn’t have any particular relevance to me, but the concept of genre blurring between survival elements, strong storytelling, and a detective mystery had me intrigued. Plus, it didn’t look like arse like certain Early Access titles do (quite the opposite, in fact).
It also helps that when I started playing it, it wasn’t one of those poorly optimised Early Access games (I’m looking at you Battlegrounds), so I don’t feel the overwhelming need to upgrade my desktop while I’m playing. (Seriously, Battlegrounds has made me feel so bad about my rig that I’ve considered it multiple times.) The presence of loading screens is a bit jarring in the game world, but the loading never outstays its welcome (at least not on an SSD installation).
At first, I was surprised that Kona has a voiceover narrative mechanic. I didn’t like it initially, but it honestly didn’t take too long for it to gel, and it slotted in rather neatly with the kind of game Parabole is building. From what I played, Kona is more faux-pen world than open world, but the gentle nudging along the core trail is a welcome change from the often overwhelming reality that there’s an entire world to explore.
And in the case of Kona, this world is freezing. That’s the core of the survival mechanic, where you have to keep warm. It’s not that hard, in fairness, at least not in what I’ve played. When you’re driving between points of interest, the pick-up truck’s heater automatically takes care of keeping warding off the cold. Outside of that, you can light fires at certain locations: in stoves inside buildings, or at makeshift campsites in the great outdoors.
It helps that you can stock up on all the necessaries to start fires and, if you’re paranoid like me, you can load up the back of your pick-up with firewood and other items to ensure you’re never left out in the cold. What really makes Kona a compelling experience, though, is the various mysteries that drive you forward.
You play the role of a private detective, and like any good detective story, that comparatively small thing you’re initially investigating quickly turns into something much, much bigger. Given the remoteness of the Kona area you’re exploring (based on Kona, Kentucky in North America), there’s a fantastic air of creepiness as you try to unravel the main mystery, as well as the subsequent ones you stumble across.
During my play time, I haven’t come across any people yet, but there’s the distinct feeling that I’m being watched. I’ve entered homes where people have clearly recently been, and I’ve also come across crossbow bolts, the user of which doesn’t seem to be terribly interested in target shooting or hunting animals.
Speaking of animals, there are hungry wolves (at the very least). I haven’t had an opportunity to go all Liam Neeson on them (yet), but their lurking, howling presence is a constant source of paranoia. On top of this, there’s also what appears to be both an extraterrestrial and a supernatural presence at play, which has me concerned about how dense Kona might be in terms of its genre and theme straddling. But, at this stage, ultimately adds to the sense that this world is filled with mysteries. For now, though, I’m keen to jump back and unravel the greater and smaller mysteries that Kona has to offer.