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KONA – a mechanically simple, short and very enjoyable game (October Terrorthon)

After Carrion, KONA was the second game I played as part of my horror marathon for October. I honestly didn’t know much about this one. I got it on a sale and had it sitting on my backlog, until I realised this game was touted for its eerie atmosphere and we were in the month for games with eerie atmospheres. After finishing it in about 5 hours I can definitely see why. KONA throws you into a bleak, creepy and desolate experience deep in the icy cold of 1970’s Northern Canada, where you are tasked with piecing together a mystery that gets more mysterious the more you uncover it. The game excels at giving you very little direction in terms of where to go, and it’s up to you to explore the environment as you see fit, as well as to reconstruct events with the information you gather. I wouldn’t necessarily say this game is hard, but it did leave me temporarily scratching my head at a couple moments. The premise here is simple though: the more attention you pay to the information around you, the more you’ll be able to understand what you need to do.

The sense of isolation in KONA is fantastic. Playing though the game, I had moments when I felt almost like a ghost, wandering through the world without seeing anyone else for hours. After a while, I started embracing the loneliness yet feeling more creeped out by it at the same time, because even though I probably wouldn’t class it as a horror game, KONA does a great job at eliciting a sense of uneasiness almost from the get go. There are virtually zero jump scares: everything is achieved through atmosphere, visual affects and sound, all of which are great. To top it all off, the narrator’s voice, which follows you throughout the entire game, is magnificent, both in tone and in how much it contributes to your experience. It is there to nudge you in the right direction here and there, to reflect your thoughts back at you, and sometimes even to provide some timely comic relief that works as a valve to release a bit of tension. I initially thought the voice would become annoying as it went on, but I’m glad they absolutely nailed this aspect in my opinion. The story is also quite interesting, in the sense that it keeps you guessing just what exactly is going on, but although I liked it from start to finish, I can’t help but feel it wraps up a bit too abruptly.

Gameplay wise, KONA is just okay. It feels a bit clunky at times and it’s definitely not as polished an experience as you’d like it to be, but it’s still very doable. Its most annoying aspect, however, is the constant loading moments the game throws at you out of nowhere. All of them last a few seconds and interrupt the flow of the game, and this lack of optimisation is a bit frustrating. I don’t know if the PC version has this problem too but, at least both main consoles suffer from it. Mechanically, there isn’t much to KONA, but I did appreciate the simple yet effective and logical survival mechanisms: you have to make sure you keep yourself warm whenever possible, otherwise you may die of hypothermia; you need to keep your mental state in check, which can be achieved via tobacco or alcohol; wildlife is also a threat, and the game gives you several ways of dealing with it. As a fan of survival games, I really appreciated this aspect.

Overall, I would definitely recommend KONA. Even with it being as short as it is, the game fully justified the money I spent on it. Its atmosphere and sound effects are impressive for an indie game, and because of the things it does well, its flaws aren’t enough to ultimately affect the enjoyment you get out of it in any meaningful way. A 3.5/5 game for me.

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