Kona: a mystery in the Canadian wilderness

Step into the shoes of a detective in 1970's Quebec in Kona, a Kickstarter-funded Indie first-person mystery that lets players dictate the narrative pace

Kona game
A cold day in Quebec

With UAE temperatures climbing, we thought it would be nice to escape to somewhere cool. Northern Quebec in the 1970s was, literally and figuratively, a very cool place. It’s also the setting of Kona, a first-person mystery survival thriller. Step into the shoes of seasoned private detective Carl Faubert, who has been hired to investigate vandalism of a wealthy industrialist’s property in the rural village of Atamipek Lake. The initial notes in Faubert’s studiously updated journal seem to hint at deep resentment from the local Cree tribe – the largest First Nation group in North America – and W. Hamilton over his plans to exploit scared land for mining profit.

Can you crack this case?

Kona game
As a proper detective should, Carl Faubert diligently maintains a well-organised journal covering different aspects of the case. It acts as your primary guide around Atamipek Lake

However, this is no open-shut case. An air of mystery hangs over this bone-chillingly cold place, which seems deserted. With a pick-up truck (Chevloret; a cheeky way to avoid copyright) you can drive over to people’s houses, read their diaries, sift through cupboards and hear Faubert’s often amusing, occasionally enlightening thoughts displayed above various items in a funky 70’s font – “Only the tormented smoke in bed”, when you look at a packed ashtray only inches from a pillow.  

The narrator’s role

Kona game
A weighing scale is our nightmare too, Carl

Upon encountering a boot, an omniscient narrator voiced by Forrest Rainier says, “When one finds a lone shoe, it’s natural to wonder what happened to the foot”. Rainier has the cadence of Hollywood actor John Goodman matched with the ponderous intonation of someone telling a bedtime story. “Having a narrator covering in-game events is one way to detach the player from the character and to give them more information on the game world,” Alexandre Fiset, Co-Founder, CEO and Producer at Quebec-based Parabole, independent developer of Kona, tells #GNTECH. Rainier’s narration lends valuable and often interesting context to places, objects and documents discovered, from the politics of the Front de libération du Québec to the Cold War détente as well as the subjugation and historical grievances of the Cree people.

Cold country

Kona
Some of Forrest Rainier’s lines speak from Faubert’s perspective; others look down on a scene from above

For whatever reason, residents of Atamipek Lake are more diligent about locking their sheds than their front doors. An interesting thing I noticed after going through about a dozen drawers was that many contained dominoes. It’s a fitting allegory of how Kona’s story unfolds: one clue unlocks or explains another, which bit by bit opens your eyes to the events in this rural community. The narrative is punctuated by a prog rock-like soundtrack by Quebecois folk outfit Curé Label. “We wanted all of it to be done by local artists,” explains the patriotic Fiset. “We’re really proud of the music.”

Picture in a picture

Kona
Picture in a picture. Faubert’s trusty Polaroid helps him capture snaps for his journal

Clues are scattered everywhere, along with the occasional mind-numbing puzzle. The brainteasers here are less The Witness and more Resident Evil – not so much pure observation from multiple angles and more about, say, remembering a note found in the glove compartment of an abandoned car while you were searching for the key to someone’s shed.

Lessons in pacing

Kona
Shall I investigate this cosy cabin now or later? It is to Kona’s credit that players aren’t straitjacketed into following a set path and can explore at their own pace in an order of their choosing

To keep players on their toes, Parabole introduced a survival mechanic with metrics of health, body temperature and stress. While health isn’t threatened much, body temperature and stress are. There are plenty of places you can start a fire, which requires a match, Firestarter and a wooden log, which is considerably heavy. Unlike the aforementioned Resident Evil, where a photograph eats up the same slot as a handgun, items in Kona‘s inventory are weight-based. You’ll need to manage them carefully to avoid freezing to death – I was repeatedly dropping stuff to be able to pick up a log. That said, it’s possible to store items in your truck.

Survival of the warmest

Kona
You’ll need to make plenty of fires to survive the biting Quebec cold. Remember the basic ingredients: matches, Firestarter and a log

In terms of combat, wolves are the main threat. That said, combat takes a backseat to investigation in this world. The shooting and melee attack mechanics are no Doom, but that’s OK. Exploration and logic matter more than one’s thumbs dexterity in this snowy environment. You don’t even need to shoot the wolves most of the time; simply fire your weapon and these beasts scamper off in fear.

Graphically, the textures in this game are so far from the PS4’s capability that it’s actually endearing to look at pots, pans and bottles while rummaging through someone’s kitchen. The guns and melee weapons in your character’s hands look pretty clunky as well. However, the game’s visual construction serves its purpose as a vehicle for the narrative.

Story > shooting

Kona
A rare bit of combat, it’s Faubert vs wolves

Kona was developed thanks to a CA$40,000 (about Dh111,000) Kickstarter campaign. That’s about enough to buy a mid-range Toyota RAV4. There are games in the $100-million budget range with Hollywood actors that lack the narrative depth of this Quebecois title from a three-man team.

I purchased the game for Dh74 on the PlayStation Store, but it’s also available on Steam.