Let me tell everyone out there a little something about immersion. Immersion is, at least in my eyes, when you’re playing a game that may have flaws or may have issues here and there but you completely ignore them because the game draws you into its world really well. Kona is a game that nails the aspect of immersion home and then some. A title that blends everything it has together into a neat tidy bow, Kona may not be a perfect game but it is a perfect experience.
To start off, the story - which takes place in the 70’s - centers around a man named Carl as he arrives in a small northern Canadian town in order to unearth the mystery of what has been occurring in the area. Carl goes about this by running from house to house, trying to find out where the townsfolk have gone and why they’ve disappeared. Interestingly, Carl’s character in-game is followed around by a narrator that explains what he’s thinking when something is either examined or when something plot relevant happens. What’s peculiar about the narrator character is that he refers to a lot of things in the past tense while you're going through the length of Kona. So already, the player is given a hint that this story isn’t taking place in real time and is clearly a tale of some sort. A tale that, without wishing to spoil, ends on quite an exhilarating note as Carl finds out once and for all what the hidden truth behind the town is.
Gameplay, on a another note, is fairly simple. You have an inventory to store usable and consumable items like fire starters and first aid kits respectively. Combat is also straightforward with the ever classic iron sights aiming system. With that being said, you won’t be doing much shooting in Kona as it is, all in all, a mystery game. The player completes varying degrees of difficult puzzles that help build more understanding behind the eeriness of the town. So gameplay is simple, yes, but it’s as effective as it needs to be. Things like driving and shooting have the real weight of what they’re supposed to. When I accidently went off road during a blizzard, I felt that panic of going off road.
When moving on to sound and design, both are used to great effect as well. Let me just say that Kona is one of the best atmospheric titles I’ve played this year, with real atmospheric horror that left me uncomfortable from start to finish. Not, “Oh, when’s the jump scare coming?!” I’m talking about Silent Hill 2, wandering the streets of a dead town horror. Now, Kona isn’t Silent Hill 2, but what it is is a memorable experience that, from a design perspective, evokes the unsettlingly feeling of ‘you’re being watched’. From a sound perspective, however, the tunes that are played during the game are just there to set the mood. I’m not against this, but I’ve always been a big fan of licensed music in games and I feel Kona would have benefited from a couple classic 70’s Canadian hits placed here and there. Licensing is expensive, though, so I’m not going to hold it against the developers.
Lastly, one of the biggest things that brings Kona to life is the writing. Writing is the lifeblood of a story based game. It’s what moves things from point A to point B, it’s what makes characters interesting, it allows the plot to branch out into more than just a mediocre story. The writing for Kona is so good and so well-presented that there were times when things that bugged me in-game were completely overshadowed because I wanted to know more. Clive Barker’s Jericho had the same effect on me, but that game was hindered by the fact that it was just overall shit.
So, as if it weren’t already painfully clear, I completely recommend Kona. It may not be Horizon: Zero Dawn, but it still stands head and shoulders above writing standards and atmospheric presence compared to several other games that have come out. Quite simply, Kona is worth your time on so many levels.
Kona (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
Outstanding. Why do you not have this game already?
Kona is a story based game worth telling, combining aspects such as narrative world-building and free-flowing gameplay. This title cannot be overlooked.