Kona has been around a while, not since it’s setting of 1970 of course, but quite some time and it’s just had a conversion to VR making it possible to experience the adventure/detective/survival game from a new perspective. Set in the Canadian wilderness, it’s a mystery game that asks the player to look into the strange goings on in a rural community whilst not freezing to death. Will the latest version give a warm feeling or leave you feeling cold?
You inhabit the body of Carl Faubert, a war veteran turned investigator, sent to Atamipek Lake in Northern Canada to look into allegations of the local Cree meddling in the affairs of a rich mining family. It’s not long after your arrival that things have taken a darker turn when you stumble upon the body of your employer. There’s a storm raging, the roads are treacherous, visibility is down to a few yards, and you’ve forgotten your thermal underwear so can’t venture too far without finding a heat source. The only thing to do is start questioning the locals and see if you can figure out what’s happened. Trouble is they mostly seem to be missing…
Kona is a first person adventure game with some interesting elements thrown in to make it a bit different. It’s not just the usual walking simulator. With the inclusion of the survival element in the form of temperature management, you’ve got to be thinking about where your next heat source will be. In most cases this is building a fire, which introduces a collection and crafting side to the game. Lugging all that kit around also needs some weight management depending on what’s been picked up, so it’s fortunate there’s a trusty truck to load up with the unwanted stuff – and it acts as transport around the community and stopping the cold from creeping in.
As you’re playing a detective, Kona wants you to explore everywhere, read everything and start to put together the clues to work out what’s going on. It’s a mix of the mundane and the mysterious as you break into every building you come across and root through anything that will open or get picked up. Carl’s thoughts are ever present and if they’re not being blurted into your ears, they’re stylishly printed across objects and walls. There’s an atmosphere created that has a touch of the X-Files about it in the way it teases supernatural sides to the story, trying to drag you further and further into the world.
Being a VR title there’s the option of using either Dualshock 4 or Move controllers, and in most games with interactive elements the Move is first choice. In Kona it’s a bit of an odd one to go for because despite independently operating your hands, there’s no real interaction with the world, and movement is clumsy, which really doesn’t help when driving. Everything feels more geared towards the standard controller options and the game is easier to play with it. It offers up vignette options so that you can limit your field of view and reduce nausea, and turning is a stepped option instead of smooth… but you don’t have an option to change that, yet driving is permanently a smooth turn so those with sensitive stomachs are going to find that a challenge.
There are some other mis-steps with the conversion as well. Text in places is a bit too small and you’re squinting to read it, and when documents are opened up the fill the screen but are locked in your eye line so if you move your head it moves with you, making it awkward to read the top and bottom extremes. And there’s the fact that resolution is not great on the PSVR version so making out details and selecting the interactive objects isn’t as slick as it could be. It’s possible to overlook a lot of this, but in a game where you need to be picking up on all the details it begins to make things a slog rather than pushing the story on.
There are some great ideas in Kona and the story keeps you guessing for quite some time on where it’s going to go. Having to craft and keep warm are neatly implemented if not always essential, but it’s the integration of the truck throughout that surprises with how useful it is. Unfortunately the VR implementation makes it more of a struggle to appreciate the game, and for that it doesn’t encourage the additional exploration that’s available in the Canadian wilderness. It may be better playing the original version rather than the more immersive one to get the best out of it. Oh, and turn Supersampling off if you’ve got a PS4 Pro – the game refuses to boot up otherwise.
A PSVR review copy was provided by Parabole’s PR team and the game is out now on PS4 and PC for VR owners.