Set in the fictitious area of Manastan in Northern Canada, Kona tells the strange and unsettling tale of private investigator Carl Faubert. Carl is contacted by the rich and powerful industrialist William Hamilton to come to Manastan and solve a case of vandalism, but upon his arrival Carl discovers the area to be deserted of human life. What happened in Manastan? Where are its citizens? And what is that sound coming from the woods?
As cliched as it sounds, the area of Manastan is the real star of the show. The snowy roads, lonely cabins, and dark and foreboding woods add a large dose of personality to the area, making it a delight to explore. Whether it’s perusing cabins for notes and diaries, or walking the winding trails in the woods to search for hidden areas, exploring Manastan often leaves to the discovery of little secrets and makes the world feel connected and realistic.
Kona is also entirely narrated, which is an interesting touch. For the most part, the narrator simply explains the story events unfolding or gives extra insight into the world around you. However, one of the things I really appreciated was its flexibility. You’re allowed to explore Manastan in practically any order you wish, meaning you could uncover parts of the story out of order and potentially end up confused or frustrated. Thankfully, the narrator keeps track of which pieces of the story you’ve already uncovered and calls back to certain plot points to remind you how everything pieces together.
While the focus on exploring the world for clues and notes might make Kona sound like just another walking simulator, it does make use of a few different mechanics to set it apart from the likes of Dear Esther, Gone Home, or Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.
For example, there’s some light survival mechanics in the game that add an extra level of depth. As one would expect from the frozen north, the cold is a dangerous enemy that can be fatal to those who don’t take precaution. The longer you explore Manastan, the more your warmth meter decreases. If it drains entirely, then you die, but you can find supplies (such as wood and matches) to light fires at scattered camps or inside of wood stoves in cabins to bring it back up and combat the cold. It’s definitely something you need to keep an eye on, but there’s an abundance of supplies to be found if you’re efficiently looting each area, so it’s manageable if you’re careful.
There’s also a stamina meter that dictates how long you can run. To be completely honest, I’m not sure how this one works. My stamina meter stayed about halfway full for the entire game, so I never had to use any items to maintain it. I also didn’t notice it impacting my ability to move around too much, but that’s possibly due to the fact that you also have a truck you can drive, so I didn’t spend too much time running around on foot across the map.
Although the inhabitants of Manastan are missing, Carl isn’t alone. There’s roaming packs of wolves you can encounter that can quickly end you if you aren’t armed. The arsenal of firearms isn’t large at all (seriously, there’s just a revolver and a rifle) and ammo is incredibly scarce, but they’re an absolutely crucial tool to have you on at all times. Clever players will be able to find a way to get past wolves without direct combat, but it’s always wise to keep at least one weapon and a few rounds of ammo in your inventory.
That being said, the inventory system is frustrating. Your carrying capacity is very small and can’t be increased. You can throw extra items into the back of your truck, but the amount of items you can actually carry on Carl is so small it’s obnoxious. There’s nothing worse than finding an important resource (wood, ammo, a health pack) and having to run back to your truck to drop off items you currently own to make room for the new one. I understand that inventory management is crucial to survival games, but the inventory size in Kona is so small that it feels more like a nuisance than an integral part to the gameplay. Taking the frustration further, key items don’t count as weight to your inventory, so being able to carry countless heavy objects, but not two additional bullets, is absolutely irritating.
Sadly, despite having a genuinely good story, the inventory system is so obnoxious that it actually makes the game a chore to play. Although it’s only about 5-6 hours long, half of that time is spent making constant trips back to your truck to unburden your inventory so you can pick up new items and resources. If only the inventory size was a little bigger than this wouldn’t be as much of a problem, but as it is now, it honestly makes it hard for me to recommend the game.
Although it presents an interesting world and a fun mystery to uncover, Kona leaves a lot to be desired. The survival mechanics, while nice in theory, don’t add much to the overall experience. Likewise, despite having good intentions, the inventory system is designed poorly and feels like a detriment to the player finding any enjoyment with the game. While it might be fun to explore this world and uncover its secrets, some of the mechanics (especially the inventory system) grind the experience to a halt, resulting in Kona being a game with wasted potential.
– Zack Burrows