Early Access Investigations: Kôna: Day One

Firewatchers, Mister Dyatlov, Esther and friends, once more into the wilderness we traipse. Behold, the stark frigidity of the Canadian north. Welcome to survival-cum-adventure mystery, Kôna: Day One.

Under a light dusting of Lynchian weirdness, private detective Carl Faubert motors into the rural hamlet of Atamipek Lake to investigate a land rights dispute between a wealth mining magnate and the indigenous people of the area. It's not totally unicorns and cherry pie worth a stop, but there's a eerie undercurrent to the 1970s ambiance. Players start just shy of Atamipek, collecting themselves at a roadside park and acclimatising with the first-person adventuring interface, before moving into the county-proper via a mood-setting drive through a looming snow storm. 

There's a good sense of physicality to inhabiting the world of Kôna. Faubert's breath hangs in the biting air, his hands are present to manipulate most - though not all - items interacted with, and the ever-satisfying snowbound trudge metered out with just the right speed. This is what separates Kôna from a lot of its walking simulator peers. Rather than coursing weightlessly in a frictionless, decoupled manner, Faubert clumps about the environment, leaving deep footfalls in the drifts and tramping around the wooden interiors of the district's houses. It recalls Kholat and Cryostasis, not merely for the superfluity of an arctic romp, but for that confluence of being there and feeling digital digits curl against the temperature. Kôna also channels the latter in demarcating the elements, where Faubert huddles around a hastily-kindled fire or the warm confines of his pickup to thaw his bones and regain his speed. 

Though a silent protagonist, Faubert's lonely rummaging is complimented by Forrest Rainier's impeccable narration. Speaking in the third-person, Rainier's throaty observations, detailing the past and present, bathes everything in an agrarian sentimentality. Rainier's cadence is the most convincing element of the period, doing justice to the subtle writing with warm, placid enunciation. It's perfect casting, like a room-temperature Lance Henriksen.

Speaking of Henriksen, there's something about Kôna that recalls his iconic character Frank Black and the seminal crime drama, Millennium. Not in its more overt outings, but the episodes where investigation takes its time. Stories where Frank Black has the opportunity to soak in the surroundings, stories like Luminary or the high-strangeness in Beware of Dog. Kôna sports a similar style of music care of Curé Label, with shades of Mark Snow's mournful synth pads offset by folksy strings. This could be an alternate Millennium universe. It would be a shame to spoil any of the writing, but scattered between rooms in one of the Atamipek residences is a four-page fiction, entitled 'Fantasy'. In the words of Giebelhouse, very Millenniumistic. And perhaps not fiction. 

With low-impact scavenging and crafting, more in service to problem-solving than crafting for crafting's sake, and good environmental adventuring, Kôna: Day One is captivating fare. Tending to bounce off a lot of its contemporaries, it was really good to find one that was immediately engaging, loosing cards from its closely guarded hand in a manner that ever-so-gently tugged the line of intrigue. With a smartly-designed world that doesn't feel channeled or unnaturally gated, investigating Lake Atamipek is a compelling slice of free-form investigation. 

If you've watched enough fires and seen to that Carter kid, head north for a day. 

Kôna: Day One is available on GOG.com's Games In Development platform, with full release of the first of four episodes expected in March.