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Preview: Kôna: Day One

Note: Parabole hasn’t shown Kôna running on the Oculus Rift yet. This preview is taken from the standard PC version.

Upon first glance you might think that Kôna is another videogame that’s recently graduated from the school of Gone Home. Sure enough, Parabole’s upcoming first-person adventure is a narrative driven experience that largely sees players storming through environments, inspecting every fridge, desk and wardrobe as if they were alien artefacts. But what’s surprising about this virtual reality (VR) compatible videogame – and what makes it more of a joy to preview than the likes of Pollen or Loading Human – is that it doesn’t just settle for an engaging story.

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Kôna is set in snowy Northern Quebec, Canada. Players are cast as a private investigator named Carl Faubert, who finds himself in the area after being hired to look into vandalism to a rich industrialist’s summer home. The client suspects the local community are at hand but, oddly, when Faubert arrives on the scene there’s no one to be found. That’s not just at the house; it’s everywhere. Every building is deserted, every vehicle abandoned. It’s up to player to find out exactly what’s going on across a series of episodes, the first being Kôna: Day One.

So, yes, your investigation mainly consists of going into other people’s homes, opening draws and cupboards in an attempt to uncover any clues as to their whereabouts. While it’s always hard to comment on the quality of a story until you’ve experienced all of it, Kôna’s enthralling, harsh setting and stylish presentation certainly suggest Parabole is weaving a worthwhile tale. The snowy blizzard that players find themselves in is unlike anything else yet seen on the Oculus Rift, even if we’re yet to actually see it in the head-mounted display (HMD). The developer has also made some smart moves to make sure the VR support is comfortable: descriptions of items Faubert finds show up in yellow lettering on nearby surfaces, for example.

But what’s most impressive about Kôna is looking beyond that initial story-based gameplay in search of something to separate it from your Dear Esthers and Everybody’s Gone to the Raptures. Doing so reveals much to look forward to.

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The entire title, for example, is set in an open environment that can be navigated using vehicles. That’s a fairly standard box to be ticked, but combined with the fact that Kôna is trying to avoid holding the player’s hand to get through the story, it provides the foundation for an experience that demands attention for progression. There are no objective markers or arrows to guide you to your next location; the only thing players will have to tell them where to head to next is the evidence they gather. True, this could quickly be dragged into monotony, but if Parabole gets the balance right then players could feel like they really are assuming the role of a private detective.

True exploration will also be rewarded, as optional areas hold their own mini-stories that add pieces to the larger plot. Just how Parabole will be able to mix these up to tell unique and individual tales at every home remains to be seen, however.

Most surprising, however, are the survival elements in which Kôna truly separates itself from the pack. The unforgiving blizzard that surrounds players conceals some very real threats. For example, you might find yourself unexpectedly facing a pack of dogs as you journey through the wilderness. They can either be distracted using items from an inventory or scared off with a warning shot from a rifle. Yes, Kôna has guns and even melee weapons, but it’s still a far cry from, well, Far Cry. Expect to use these very sporadically and usually only in worst-case scenarios, as ammo won’t be showing up on kitchen tables and bedside cabinets very often.

As a straight-faced narrative-driven videogame Kôna would be promising. But it’s the mix of more traditional videogame elements that makes its something much more intriguing. Non-VR players will be disappointed to learn that the title was recently delayed into January 2016 but, for those holding out to play it on the Oculus Rift, this is a blessing in disguise as it’s into that Q1 window in which the kit will release. As it stands then, this looks to be one of the more engrossing experiences that will be available when the device launches.