Kôna hands-on: investigating a winter wonderland gone wrong

Go into the creepy abandoned house or freeze to death Your choice

Go into the creepy abandoned house or freeze to death? Some choice.

Most games will introduce you to lush, warm environments laden with tutorial messages designed to carefully guide you through in the most comfortable way possible. Kôna, on the other hand, is happy to dump you in the middle of a snowstorm and let you to figure out the rest.

Made by independent developer Parabole, Kôna is a game that pits players against a Canadian wilderness filled to the brim with desolation and mystery. Its episodic narrative is set in the 1970’s and the first installment gives you control of Carl Faubert, a detective unraveling why an entire town of people have suddenly abandoned their homes and gone missing.

Faubert lands in the middle of a dispute between a Native American community called the Cree and a local industrialist named W. Hamilton. Hamilton has earned the scorn of the Cree by expanding his mining operation onto sacred lands. Faulbert is hired to investigate a theft at the Hamilton manor, but discovers on his way that there isn’t a single soul left in the surrounding area.

The snowy wilderness in K ocirc na is both calming and intimidating to look at

The snowy wilderness in Kôna is both calming and intimidating.

Utter stillness inhabits what appears to be warm and cozy homes, complete with coals still burning in ovens that were suddenly abandoned by their cooks. Step out into the ongoing storm and see the harsh winds whipping through the surrounding forest, making for an intimidating tree line one wouldn’t dare venture out into alone. The quietness of the game is so intense, hearing an omniscient narrator speak once you discover a clue half made me jump. Kôna’s sense of snowy desolation is similar to the original Silent Hill, but skewed more towards a mysterious and eerie feel.

Enemies are limited to those found in mother nature, at least in the first episode. Faulbert can die from overexposure, or be set upon by ravenous wolves that prowl the area. Players must prepare themselves to travel further outward towards the Hamilton manor by finding better clothes to protect them from the elements, as well as vehicles that to help cross the wilderness quicker.

Gameplay is mostly focused on exploration. As Faubert, you can walk around and investigate desolate homes and shops in an effort to find clues about why everyone is gone. All the items and information you can find will be useful, says Kôna producer Alexandre Fiset, but not necessarily for just the first episode. There is no HUD, which leaves the visuals clean and means there’s nothing to distract you from the rich atmosphere.

Notes and pictures found in the game will help players pick up the trail to discover more missing people

Notes and pictures found in the game will help players pick up the trail to discover more missing people.

Aside from pure exploration, Faulbert also has weight, health, stress and cold meters to keep track of. If he is exposed to the cold for too long without reprieve, his health bar will slowly go down and he’ll succumb to frostbite. Having heavy items in your inventory can also take a toll. Although not immediately visible, certain aspects of the game will apparently also affect Faulbert’s stress meter, requiring you to smoke or drink to calm him down—or otherwise suffer poor aim with weapons, and other hindrances.

Faubert has a pickup truck at his disposal, so players can more easily access the area map that is measured at approximately two miles in game. Kôna won’t be limited to a small area for long, according to Fiset, as Parabole has plans to give players a new section of the game map to explore with each episode. “We want to keep growing what we give people,” explained Fiset. “So each [episode] will have more clues, more items, and we’ll spread [the map] further and further out.”

Instead of standard text boxes K ocirc na utilizes a stylish splash for contextual messages

Instead of standard text boxes, Kôna utilizes a stylish splash for contextual messages.

Faulbert won’t be the only character people can play as the story unfolds. Fiset told me that the second episode will be told from the perspective of a female member of the Cree, following her own investigation into what's happened to the population.

The Parabole developers aim to create four full episodes and release it for PC, Mac, and Linux. The first is due out later this year.

Homes that would normally be filled with happy folks now lie still

Homes that would normally be filled with happy folks now lie eerily still.