The truth isn’t out there
How about this for a truly chilling survival horror premise? The story is based on the 1959 Dyatlov Pass incident, a Soviet-era mystery in which a party of nine hikers died in inexplicable circumstances. They appeared to have cut their way out of the side of their tent and fled, partially clothed, into a storm. Temperatures of up to 30 below freezing meant that all succumbed to hypothermia, but while the bodies were unmarked, some had suffered terrible internal injuries.
Theories about what really happened range from the mundane (a bear attack or an avalanche) to the unlikely (secret military tests, yetis and aliens), and you can probably guess which end of the spectrum
Kholat leans towards. Who’d pass up the chance to investigate a real life Russian X-File?
Unfortunately, the original mystery is by far the most exciting thing about
Kholat, and it’s a story that surely merits a much better game. You play an investigator piecing together the truth via pages from a journal that you find scattered around the fateful area. It’s paced like a walking simulator (think DearEsther) with a heavy dose of orienteering thrown in, and your quest is constantly hampered by the attentions of wandering monsters against which you have no defense.
The game’s unswerving commitment to zero hand-holding and
“The original mystery is by far the most exciting thing about Kholat”
no explanation of anything beyond the basic controls make it a tough nut to crack. You’re dropped into the frozen wilderness armed with nothing but a paper map and compass, and without so much as a clue about where to go next. The map doesn’t actually show your present location, and you can’t even draw on it to mark where you think you might have been.
When you do spot a landmark that seems to correspond to something on the map, getting there is no simple task. You can only travel by certain circuitous paths, and there’s no jump button, so an ankle-high log is insurmountable. And the longer you probe and explore in search of the approved route, the more likely you are to encounter one of the glowing orange creatures that will strike you down with a single blow. You can only save at designated camp sites, and every random inescapable death will erase all of the slow, arduous progress you’ve made since the last one.
Beyond not having any idea of where you are or what you’re meant to do, the main problem with Kholat is that if it’s meant to be a horror game, it’s not all that scary. Getting insta-killed by a monster might make you jump the first couple of times, but it soon becomes just an annoyingly frequent impediment to exploration. Losing the monsters altogether would be an improvement.
It doesn’t even attempt to offer an answer to this 60-year-old X-File. Not that we were expecting a videogame to find a plausible solution, but as a work of fiction it could at least pick a conspiracy theory and run with it. Instead, the ending is predictably inconclusive and totally pretentious. Somehow they got Sean Bean to narrate, and he did an amazingly professional job in delivering his lines with a straight face. Mulder and Scully would not be convinced by any of it. n
It looks okay at times, but the framerate can get horribly jerky, and screen-tearing is rife. below
Lowering the map allows you to see over the top of it in search of landmarks.