If you’re a homesick Canadian like me, Kona is a game for you. Sure, it’s set in 1970 northern Quebec, and full disclosure, I’m from Newfoundland. But it still felt familiar enough, and the winter landscape harsh enough, that I found myself wistfully wishing I lived in a frozen wasteland and my house had a wooden stove.
Then again, I get that same feeling from playing Skyrim.
In Kona, you play a private investigator named Carl who, on October 5, 1970, is called up to a small logging community, where controversial white anglophone Hamilton is experiencing vandalism and hostility from the Cree and the townsfolk. Upon arrival, Carl is involved in a car accident and wakes up to find the town swallowed in a snowstorm, and Hamilton is dead.
Kona is advertised partly as a survival game, but it isn’t one of those early access survival games on Steam where you need to babysit your meters constantly. No, there’s only three to manage: your health, your body heat and your mood. Admittedly, Kona makes this a bit too easy for the player. I only managed to die once towards the end of the game, when I sort of got lost and ran into a river. In my defense, a wolf popped out on the road and scared me. Most of the gameplay is fairly easy. Only now and then when looking for a specific object does it feel like a pixel hunt. The constant loading however makes the game feel like it’s chugging along like Carl’s old truck, and once or twice the game crashed completely on me. My biggest gripe is that the game is extremely light on combat for most of the game, but then literally throws you to the wolves at the end.
As events unfold it’s clear that this is more than just a simple whodunit. Several people have motive, but almost all of the townsfolk are missing. There’s an element of Gone Home here and other walking simulators as Carl rummages through the houses and objects left behind. In doing so, we piece together what happened and build our cast of suspects. It is clear early on that there is also something supernatural in the air; perhaps our assailant was not even human, and the storm’s timing is not a coincidence.
And timing in this game is everything. If you aren’t familiar with Canadian history, October 5, 1970 was the first day of the October Crisis, which triggered for the first time the use of the War Measures Act during peacetime. Carl has no way of knowing all this is going on, but remembering the FLQ and the subsequent crackdown is important to understanding some of the characters’ motivations. I didn’t connect the date until after I had finished, and it made the significance of the ending far more rewarding.
That said, I still have issues with the ending. Much of the game is spent preparing for a journey on a skidoo, and gathering the supplies for this journey. The goal is to get to Hamilton’s house, far north of the town. Yet that journey is abruptly ended and you are rushed into the conclusion. You are told whodunit and what their motivation was. It doesn’t even seem relevant to the clues you’ve picked up; I realized after finishing that I forgot to check out a clue that I had trouble accessing, only to realize that it did indeed reveal a little tidbit that I missed. But the ending revealed it anyway, so it felt like it didn't matter. It was frustrating to feel that I had really nothing to do with the resolution of the mystery. I hadn’t solved it, the narrator did.
The motivation of the killer also felt partially weak. I need to discuss a spoiler, so turn back now if you’d like to be completely surprised with the plot. I'm not saying whodunit, just talking about the supernatural element.
Below there be spoilers!
The murderer had invoked a Wendigo, a creature not seen in centuries given that invoking the creature is incredibly taboo among the Cree. While something terrible triggered the murder, after all the hardships the Cree and other First Nations had endured since, it made little sense to me why the murderer would go that far, especially after Hamilton was dead. It felt that the writers had an intriguing whodunit set up, but really wanted to incorporate the Wendigo myth somehow so it got tacked on haphazardly.
Despite the ending, and the quirks of the gameplay, I did enjoy my time with Kona. If you’re a fan of mystery games, this one is worth checking out. Now excuse me while I put a pot of coffee on the stove and listen to Canadian folk music for a while.
Megan “Spooky” Crittenden is a secluded writer who occasionally ventures from her home to give aid to traveling adventurers.