In case you didn’t know Kona is a detective game set in a sleepy town in Northern Quebec during the 1970s. It’s up to you, Private Investigator Carl Faubert to figure out what sinister happenings have been going on to leave the town near deserted.
I missed the game when it was first released, probably because it’s classed as a walking simulator. A gaming genre the really grinds my gears. Thankfully we are lucky enough to get a review copy for PSVR and I’m glad we did. So what we have here is a mystery that unravels like something from Twin Peaks so as far as walking simulators go, this one isn’t so bad.
In terms of gameplay, there isn’t really much to do. Your main form of peril comes from the cold weather. You need to survive the harshness by lighting fires and collecting wood, firelighters and matches. Despite the eerie location and sense of solitude and isolation, there isn’t much to worry about other than keeping warm. The idea is to go to each location, search every corner, collecting clues and inventory items as the story unfolds around you. You can even take photos, check your log, map and generally get yourself prepped for the mystery that lays ahead. Once you have solved the basic puzzles, you can set off in your car and manually drive to the next location, with barely any motion sickness (winner!) and do then proceed to do the same thing over again. It doesn’t sound like much fun but the story is intriguing and pulls you into the game kicking and screaming. I say kicking and screaming because if you know me I don’t like walking sims at all, I had it in my mind that I would not like this, VR or not. Though no matter what I felt, I found myself engrossed in the mysteries of this snowy Canadian town.
Adding to the mystery is a narrator who on occasion will read clues and speak your characters thoughts and help piece the story together. It’s a great way to keep the story pushing forward and helps with the atmosphere leaving you wondering what’s going to happen next. Although I have to say, the voice sounds more Jackanory than Columbo but it does the job well enough.
Although the idea of walking around in the snow searching for clues to murders sounds like a perfect fit for VR, the implementation for Kona isn’t that great. It’s cumbersome and glitchy which pulls you out of the illusion of being there. Movement is covered by the usual teleportation method, simply point your Move controller at a certain marker on screen and you’ll teleport there. Strangely, this seemed far more restrictive in Kona than it does in any other game I’ve played using this method. Usually, you can point to anywhere and zip on over, but here it’s only specific points you can travel to. Thankfully though, if you have a stronger stomach a free moving mode is available.
As you’re walking around the various areas, you can interact with objects, pick things up and inspect them etc, but with this PSVR update, the move controller and the camera have trouble syncing. On many occasion, I was left stranded, wondering what to do, I had picked up all the clues but at times the game wouldn’t progress. Turns out I had to lift the move controller above my head to trigger some new makers that I could either move to or interact with. This is worsened when you are in tight spaces, where you have lots of markers next to each other and have to teleport, turn and interact and then lift your Move controller up and flap it around in case there were some interaction markers that hadn’t been picked up.
*This, of course, could be due to my PSVR set up. But I like to think that its a reasonable set up with at least a meter of space around me.*
So fiddly controls aside. Kona is game that’s definitely worth investigating (no pun intended) if you haven’t played it before. The story is told well and drives you forward, if not wholly original. The location is great and the feeling of being alone is somewhat unnerving on occasion. Visually it’s ok, rough around the edges but Kona isn’t about how it looks, it’s about telling an engaging story and it succeeds with that.
Is this game better with VR? I don’t think so, I think I would have become more engaged with the game had I not had the fiddly controls to deal with. If you’re a master of duel welding Move controllers, you might find the controls perfectly suitable, but for me, it was just too much hard work and restrictive to get the most out of the game.
So unlike Resident Evil 7 for example which took the original game to a whole new brilliant level, VR doesn’t make this game any better. If you have the original game already, the story, clues and the mysteries would already be known so there is little reason to play through it again just for VR sake. Although at £4.99 for the expansion it’s not too expensive if you do want to dip in again.
For me, I loved the story, the setting and the mystery, but the controls let the game down.
Has it made me change my opinion on walking sims? Well, it’s made me hate them less.