The truth isn’t out there

XBox: The Official Magazine (US) - - REVIEW - Martin Kitts

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.

Round­about route

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

right 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.

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