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Sunday, June 16, 2024

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Review: Kona (Steam)


Quite fittingly, Kona’s Steam Achievement for finishing the storyline is “A Mari Usque Ad Mare” (“From Sea to Sea”). In case you’re not familiar with this phrase, it’s Canada’s national motto. The game I’m having the pleasure of reviewing today is a prime example of Canadian creativity and storytelling. Developed by a team which has no previously released projects on Steam or otherwise, Kona has been in development for nearly five years and it received during this period funds from both Kickstarter (successful campaign) and the Canadian Government. Why I am telling you this? Because I can’t recall of ever playing a video game that focused on Canadian wilderness in general or Québec in particular.

Initially the game was titled as “Kôna: Day One” and it still follows most of the gameplay mechanics and feel of its one year-long Early Access stage. It has stayed true to the source material, so to speak, while streamlining the User Interface and texture diversity. Now let’s just focus on the best part of this game, which is the story itself. You play as the silent protagonist in Kona, former Korean War veteran and current private eye, Carl Faubert. The game simulates the events occurring in a single day while making good use of a descriptive audio narration. And quite a strange one too, filled with both the right amount of mystery and action. What starts as a regular morning in 1970’s Québec frontier, quickly turns sour as you find your lifeless employer at the rendezvous point. Lac Atamipek may be a fictional location yet it has been richly rendered, from most gaming point of views.

If you think that because you play as a detective and you stumble across a murder scene almost as soon as you start playing, this game is a generic “whodunit” plot, Kona has more than a few surprises up its sleeve for you. Elements of the supernatural intertwine with the retro themes already established and manage to offer an adventure that cannot be claimed to have been attempted before in gaming. The setting and characters are just by themselves, rarely featured in similar titles to Kona. By choosing the fiercely proud (and some say, elitist) Québec province as the location, dev team added the perfect measure of individuality to the predominantly anglophone Canada. I am referring to the French language, of course. The provincial flag (Fleurdelisé) is accompanied by all sorts of written materials and even locals which prefer not to speak in English. It adds character to the story and I have to admit the narrator sounds much better in French, but since my skills in that language are rusty to say the least, I shall always prefer to listen or speak the Queen’s instead.

So Carl gets established from the very start as Kona’s hero but what about the antagonist? That is a late reveal indeed, right near the end of the game and you won’t read any spoilers from me. It may not have been a revelation worthy of an Agatha Christie novel, yet detective Faubert can be just as thorough in his clue gathering activities as Hercule Poirot himself. A major subplot in Kona’s case is the constant struggle with the natural elements. The weather which you’ve guessed it, this being Canada and all, won’t encourage you to go sunbathing anytime soon. When you won’t be evading (or actively fighting, if you wish) timber wolves, the freezing weather shall take its toll unless you find warm shelter in a timely manner.

A heavily modified Unity Engine variant powers Kona and offers plenty of eye candy to force constant stops for screenshot opportunities, as I call them. Occasional lower-spectrum textures are present, but most in-game objects are intricately detailed and cancel out the graphical repetitiveness of certain areas. As far as stability is concerned, the game runs smoothly all the way towards 4K maxing out settings. Unity has yet to disappoint me and I hope that day shall never come. No glitches or bugs were found in the almost 7 hours it took me to finish the storyline. Can’t complain and even if I didn’t try out Kona in its Early Access period, I am glad the developer made the final version of the game, a technically flawless experience.

A pleasant combination of instrumentals (such as the game’s theme and most of the other originals) and radio songs that are accurate for 1970. Too bad the record covers I found in some of Kona’s cabins, aren’t also present on the extended OST or in-game. Joe Dassin, The Rolling Stones or even The Beatles aren’t featured with actual songs as well. You may purchase the game’s soundtrack on Steam separately and it contains 11 audio files. OST was spot-on, so no complaints there either.

Kona can be multiple genres at the same time, in the same sense in which it implements gameplay mechanics from a similarly diversified selection of already tried-and-tested titles. When you’re not literally gathering clues, you can use the items in your inventory to craft more complex objects which in turn, advance certain aspects of the story. Exploration is both encouraged and recommended since the items and objectives are scattered across a fairly large map which you may traverse either on foot (Kona even grants you an Achievement for this) or by vehicle. Your trusty Chevloret (misspelling’s intentional) pickup truck or a more efficient snowmobile, once you assemble it.

A lot to do in this title and many places to visit, yet by the time I finished Kona, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was amiss. Let me explain. You shall spend the vast majority of in-game time, solving mysteries in the Southern parts of the map and by the time you think you’re halfway through in the cases of both the story and actual location, the game abruptly ends. Very anticlimactic for me, since I really wanted to explore the Northern part of Kona’s map which also has a mansion marked as a point of interest. It would have been the backdrop of some nice screenshots for me, but I had to contend with log cabins most of the time and I wasn’t displeased by it in the end.

The game is usually peaceful but it does offer the players, the chance to shoot at foes on several occasions. In self-defense, naturally. Most of the times you can avoid this though and that freedom of approach is a breath of fresh air. Kona doesn’t hand you gun and points you in the direction of mobile targets. Your choice if you shoot. There’s even freedom in regards to the in-game consumption of alcohol and tobacco (it wouldn’t be the complete private eye/noir trope without the inclusion of vices, right?). Craft, discover, document and ultimately survive.

Can’t deny Kona’s charm, no matter your platform of choice. It’s a compelling story wrapped around rarely featured locations and themes. Its price tag is more than decent for what it offers and you even get Steam Achievements. What could you ask for more? Trading Cards? Just gimme a sequel to Kona soon and we’ll get along just fine, thank you!

All the screenshots you see above, have been taken by me in-game through the Steam Overlay.


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