“Kona: Day One” is the premier game for indie studio Parabole, currently in a pre-Beta status but purchasable on GOG as of February 9, 2016. It’s a rich, atmospheric detective story set in northern Canada in 1970. A copy of the game was provided for us to review.
When I first heard the title “Kona,” I think I sort of wondered if the game would have some kind of Hawaiian influence in it, but once I did more than a minute of real research this quickly proved not to be the case. In fact, it’s pretty much the exact opposite as Kona is set in the northern parts of Canada, in what the narrator calls “Cree Country.” This, coupled with the time-period setting of 1970, make this adventure rather unique in many ways.
One of the things I first noticed about the game within 15 or so minutes of play was that, despite the fact that this isn’t a horror title, the game is very atmospheric and creepy due to its desolate setting. Players take on the role of private detective Carl Faubert, who travels north from Montreal to the region of Lake Atamipek at the behest of a rich industrialist who needs his help getting to the bottom of a simple mystery. The game starts us off at a rest-stop of sorts about two miles outside of town where the simple tutorial begins, but the brief drive in our truck the rest of the distance quickly shows us how remote this area is. Yet, things start to get unsettling when we arrive in town and are hard-pressed to find any living residents. There are signs of life, sure, but this just makes it all the more creepy. Why did we get invited up here? Where did our benefactor go? What happened to the rest of the people in this small town?
Gameplay-wise, this is a fairly standard first-person adventure in terms of controls. You’ll walk around with the WASD keys coupled with your mouse, interact with items with the E key, and have various hotkeys you can assign certain tools and items to in order to ease your play a bit. The game also features the ability to drive around in Carl’s truck, which makes travel a bit easier. It took me a little while to get used to driving since in that case, A and D are used to steer left and right respectively, rather than using your mouse, but in the end this actually was a smart move by the developers because you can use the mouse while driving to look around you. I do that in the longer video included with this review while crossing a narrow bridge over a frozen river, and I think it’s a really cool moment in the video.
This game really doesn’t hold your hand at all, and it’s for this reason that it won’t be for everyone. The game is open-world within the Lake Atamipek region, and so you’ll need to visit various locations, make notes of clues you discover, take photos with your camera to help you remember things, and slowly piece together what is going on around you. Some things may be more obvious than others, and thankfully more often than not, when something needs to be solved there are usually clues in the immediate vicinity rather than miles away on the other side of the lake region.
I also enjoy the narration of the story, told from the perspective of an omniscient third person. I got the impression that it was almost like the author reading the story of a book, and we, as Carl, are the detective hero in the tale. There are some minor things that don’t add up, such as the fact that the narrator mentions we are thousands of kilometers away from Montreal, yet based on highway signs it looks like we are roughly 1,000 kilometers away. I may be nit-picking here though!
Graphically, this game holds up well and provides a nice sense of ambiance. There’s a sort of film-grain filter in place in the game that makes it look gritty and visceral, and all of the graphical assets are very high-res. There are plenty of settings you can fine-tune if you find that the game runs too sluggishly for your liking, though, although for me I found that the default settings (which for me auto-detected to “Ultra”) worked well enough as-is.
The sound effects and music work to further set the atmosphere and stand out well in their own right. For a game that isn’t fully released in its final form yet, I actually think this game was very well put-together. Performance was strong, though I did notice a few odd hiccups here and there, but nothing that over-negatively impacted my gameplay experience.
One thing I’ll note is that while the game was able to render the graphics in an ultra-wide 21:9 aspect ratio, oddly enough the mouse icon and other UI assets were limited within a normal 16:9 field, making it unplayable outside of 16:9 resolutions. However, this is an “issue” very few will experience and it may be something that gets worked out in the final version, so I’m not too worried about it.
Overall, as it stands right now, Kona: Day One is a lot of fun and is certainly worth the investment. A version is planned for Steam in the near future, but currently you can pick up the beta copy of the game on GOG for $7.99 (normally $11.99 USD). I’d say the money is more than worth it even for the beta at this point if you are a fan of adventure and mystery titles.
Also, Kona is planned as a multi-episode adventure, so the “Day One” part of the title implies that all events seen here are in the first day of the investigation.
Overall, I think Kona: Day One is a solid experience, and would award it a rating of: