Kona seems to intent on reclaiming the term 'walking simulator,' which has become a bit of a slight of late. Describing a game as such instantly paints a picture of a barely-interactive first-person 'experience' that's more concerned with narrative than gameplay. And while it still ticks many of the aforementioned walking simulator boxes, Kona also stakes out territory in a bunch of other interesting genres.
The game's cinematic story combines elements of film noir, horror, and whodunnit mystery. There's even a little of the Coen Brothers' fatalistic quirkiness in here, right down to the presence of a deadpan narrator who lends colour and shade to your discoveries.
You play the part of hard-bitten private investigator Carl Faubert, who picks up a seemingly innocuous case of vandalism in a remote Canadian mining community. This deserted, frozen landscape is equal parts beautiful and foreboding as you start to piece together an increasingly strange tale. Canadian politics, native folklore, family drama, and dark fantasy are all woven in.
As you wander around Kona's deserted cabins, abandoned stores and icy tundras, you'll encounter numerous clues about what's going on and who's been doing what to whom. Interacting with these elements by hitting 'A' will gradually fill in Faubert's scrapbook-like journal, which you can pore over at your leisure.
The game revels in its 1970 setting. You have access to a Poloroid camera for recording particularly strange occurrences, while Faubert also has access to a beat up old pick-up truck for travelling between snowbound locations. The driving mechanic is a little clumsy, with poor visibility and ponderous handling, but it actually suits the setting quite well.
Indeed, the free-roaming scope of Kona works to set it apart from other walking simulators. Your ability to wander around this open environment - as compact as it is - and pick up clues on a whim feels empowering, making you feel like you're actually directing the investigation rather than observing it.
Another element that deepens your connection to Kona's world is a light survival game element. Faubert is vulnerable to the elements and the effects of stress, and it's up to you to manage both. The former is the better defined system, and requires you to light fires as you encounter them in the environment. Stepping into a chilly log cabin, lighting a few logs and locating the light switch is a strangely comforting part of each stage of your investigation, and it works to draw you further into Kona's world.
Managing your stress level is relatively ill defined by comparison. Just chowing down on the odd dose of medication and keeping warm generally does the trick. In truth, both systems are fairly inconsequential when it comes down to it. You're essentially monitoring two gauges in addition to the health bar, and if you're thorough with your looting and purposeful with your movements you won't be in any real danger.
Kona also steps into first-person action territory from time to time, as you take up arms (a hammer, a hatchet, or even a gun) to fend of certain creatures. Make no mistake, this is hardly DOOM or even Resident Evil, and it all feels a bit awkward. However, it does work to strengthen that feeling of agency within this narrative-driven world. Add in a dose of point-and-click adventure-style item collection and environmental manipulation - find the wire to power the generator to raise the lift to collect a crowbar to move a rock - and Kona soon reveals itself to be an impressively immersive game.
There are a few technical things that break that sense of immersion, however. Given the game's heavy reliance on interaction prompts, it's a little puzzling how imprecise it can be to centre and activate the appropriate one. We would often find ourselves shuffling around in small circles, rotating our view just to try and open a cupboard. Technically, too, the game struggles a little on Switch. The graphics have obviously been simplified from the console and PC versions. They still manage to create a moody atmosphere, even if they occasionally fall short of the game's stylish cinematic framing devices.
What's more of a problem is a clumsily handled loading system that rears its head whenever you move across the invisible barriers separating each major section. At these moments the whole game grinds to a halt without warning while a circular symbol appears to let you know the game hasn't crashed. It looks and feels a bit like a broadband advert, which is a bit of a mood spoiler.
Kona is a walking simulator that makes an admirable attempt to increase the usual level of interactivity and player agency. While not all of those attempts pay off, and it suffers from some disappointing technical issues, it remains a highly absorbing and atmospheric adventure-survival experience.