The year is 1970. Set in Quebec in Northern Canada, Kona sees you as Private Investigator Carl Foubert, driving to meet his client at the nearby general store to investigate a case of vandalism. Events take a sudden turn for the worse. You swerve off the road to avoid an oncoming car. Coming round from the crash, a blizzard has quickly taken hold, transforming the landscape with a thick blanket of snow. And it’s cold. Really cold. Then you meet your client. Unfortunately for Carl, he’s now dead.

And so the mystery of Kona begin. Why is it suddenly so cold? Where are all the people? Hang on, who are these people frozen solid? What’s with all these weird blocks of bright blue ice?  A few hours in and it’s clear that not all is as it seems. Clear influences here are Fargo, Twin Peaks and maybe a dash of Alan Wake. – there is a creeping sense of unease, amplified by the constant howl of wind blowing through trees.

At it’s heart, Kona is a 1st person walking simulator survival game with a bit of a supernatural twist. Much of the game is spent outdoors and you’ll quickly die without starting fires at campsites and in the burning woodstoves of the (mostly) deserted houses you’ll encounter. There are threats from local wildlife, although weapons and guns are scarce. You will need to keep stock items such as matches, firelighters and logs on you at all times, so there is some inventory and encumbrance management to worry about buy you can dump excess items in your vehicle, and that’s never far away from you. There is little variety in terms of what you do in the game, there are occasional puzzles but generally you’ll just be opening every drawer and cupboard looking for ‘whatever’, and staring at the map trying to figure where to go next. The constant cold becomes less of a threat once you acquire a coat from one of the few NPC’s you’ll encounter.

You’ll scan clues and take photos, these will fill in your detective notebook automatically; you’ll want to refer to it if you want to try and understand what’s going on. The game does not hold your hand at all, indeed on a number of occasions that only way to tell there was something to do at a particular location was when I tried to leave, the 3rd person narrator told me that ‘Carl wasn’t ready to leave to just yet’. You’ll find things and pick them up and sometimes they will combine with another thing you already have. A piece of string, a magnet and suddenly I have a magnet on a piece of string. I guess I’ll be fishing a key out of a drain later. Sure enough, I did.

This discrepancy between what the game will automatically help you with as opposed to giving you much in the way of advice for how to progress the game itself is far from its biggest problem though. The map and inventory systems are rudimentary at best, the only way to drive the car with the map visible is this:

I can barely see where I’m going. I shouldn’t fail to mention that if you drive for much more than a few seconds, the game stops as it loads the next few metres of road. Although these pauses don’t take too long, they do happen all the time.

These technical issues are not just restricted to game performance, with controls clearly better designed for keyboard and mouse play, and a truly horrible radial sub menu system that require at least 6 button presses just to get your torch out. And then another 6 to switch to something else.

All these issues taken together reveal a game that has an intriguing plot, but also one that unfortunately lacks polish and optimisation.

Thanks to Xbox and Parabole for supporting TiX