Kholat PS4 Review
Publisher: IMGN.PRO Developer: IMGN.PRO Genre: Horror Players: 1
Age Rating: 12+ Other console/handheld formats: N/A
Walking simulators can be done very well, as evidenced by The Chinese Rooms’ Dear Esther and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture; both games had enthralling graphics and a coherent story to boot, taking more of a minimalistic approach which hadn’t been done in many games before. Kholat, on the other hand, is a lesson in how not to make a walking simulator and whilst it does have some wonderful graphics and a very eerie atmosphere, everything else about the game is below par compared to the other aforementioned games. Kholat is obviously very inspired by The Chinese Rooms’ two games, combining elements of both but with the execution very much lacking.
The plot of the game is based on a true event that took place in the Ural Mountains in 1959 that saw the mysterious deaths of nine hikers. You are an unknown hiker, and your objective is to explore these mountains and head to co-ordinates written on your map to try and discover what exactly happened to the hikers. Along the way you find notes that give you more insight into what was going on at the time, the notes also acting as save points.
I came into this game with a very open and positive mind as I love horror games, but, unfortunately, I was bitterly disappointed. As mentioned, the game does have its good points, in the graphics and in its foreboding atmosphere; they work brilliantly together to give you a sense of loneliness and isolation, the loud gusts of snowy wind and changes in visibility adding a sense of threat to your situation. But upon starting the game and after having taken in the scenery, you soon begin to feel as confused as a lost hiker, with there being very little input about what you are supposed to be doing. There is a short tutorial about what buttons to use to bring up the map and compass, run and crouch etc, and the objective does become more clear later on, though at the start you’ll be wandering aimlessly around, finding notes and not much else, and wondering what on earth you are supposed to be doing. After working so well to pull you in to the games world, you are just as quickly pulled out by the repetitiveness of all the traipsing about.
You are equipped with a compass and map though, but they offer very little help. The developers must have expected a lot of players to understand how to use a map and compass, but the system here is completely confusing, especially to those who have never used a compass before (like me). The map does not show your current position at all; you can only tell where you are once you find a note or an event and your progress is saved and they are marked on the map. But even when you know where you are, working out where you need to go next is confusing because you don’t know which way you are facing, thanks to the confusing compass. The compass does not have the usual (N) North (S) South (E) East and (W) West markings, meaning you’re at a loss as to which direction you are currently facing. Looking at pictures of compasses on Google, I worked out that the red tip on the hand seems to be (N) North, and always points towards north, but that still didn’t help me because the co-ordinates always have (N) North in them too, meaning….???? Yes, this reviewer is even confused writing about it!!
When looking at the map, there is a cursor that you can move to certain co-ordinates on the map, so it is easy working out where you need to go – it’s just working out how to get there that is complicated. A lot of people seem to be confused with this system, some mentioning the compass is always pointing towards the first camp (the red tip on the compass hand has the letter ‘C’ on it, so this is why they may assume this) or using the moon or the longitude/latitude co-ordinate system makes it easier to navigate your way around. Whatever the case, I eventually managed to find certain co-ordinate locations just by merely looking at my surroundings, working out where forks in the roads or bridges were in relation to the map, and then pretty much guessing the direction to head in and seeing if I ended up being lucky enough to find something. It would work a couple of times, only for me to end up completely lost again afterwards. I barely looked at the compass.
The problem with such a system is that it drastically takes you out of the experience and just makes it a monotonous chore, frustration building as you wander around with nothing of worth happening and growing more resentful of the compass and map for being so unhelpful. Dear Esther and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture worked well because they were so simplistic – you basically walked around to unfold the story. In Kholat, you have to work out where to go to find parts of the story, and because of all the confusion with the navigation, it just distracts you and makes you disinterested in what is actually happening when something does finally happen – this is based on a real life event and shouldn’t be making a player feel that way. The game does also have some very dramatic visual scenes, with rocks floating about, boulders being lifted into the air, blazing fireballs raining down and blustery tornadoes, but it is a shame that these moments are very few and far between; the game could have done with a lot more of this to break up the very slow pace.
You’ll also be wandering in one direction and you’ll unexpectedly unlock a bit of story dialogue, maybe even a flashback scene (represented in a glowing orange hue reminiscent of EBGTTR), but it will feel very anti-climatic as sometimes you won’t know if the dialogue or scene has finished, or whether you should be heading in a certain direction to unlock the next part. There is always a lot of build-up in the story, yet no pay-off, and you don’t know if it is because you have headed in the wrong direction and missed a part, or just because it has finished. Because of this, the story ends up being a jumbled mess, especially when you die, haven’t saved, can’t find your way back to that story part and end up stumbling across another segment.
There are enemies in the game that justifies Kholat’s ‘horror’ element, but they are not the least bit scary; they might have been had I been pulled into the game more, but as I was distracted with finding my way around and trying to work out how to use the compass and map, any enemies on the screen didn’t warrant my attention and were just indifferently passed by. The enemies are also not very well designed, looking like generic, fiery glowing creatures that instantly kill you as soon as you see them. Apparently the torch can be used as a way to save your life, though it never helped in any situation where I was confronted by an enemy. It is also unfair that enemies kill you instantly; instead, enemies should have been made to knock you unconscious, with you waking up and starting again from where you were. It gets frustrating getting so far, only to die before you have been able to find a note to save your progress and then having your progress put back.
The game also suffers with a lot of lag thanks to the blizzard animations and at times the controls became unresponsive, me wanting to move the camera in one direction, only for it to move that way several seconds later. The loading times are also very slow and it is annoying having to wait so long for the game to reload when you have died.
I understand that the developers obviously wanted players to get into the mind of a hiker and into the mindset of the hikers that were involved in the incident, but this was not the best way to do it; hikers are trained before they go on their walks, and if the developers wanted players to fully experience this game as a real hiker, then instructions on how to use the map and compass were very much needed, but instead, for those of us who don’t understand how to use those things, it leaves us flailing about in the dark and ignoring all the other elements of the game, meaning all the hard work the developers put into it is not being fully appreciated. Dear Esther and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture gave you the time to appreciate what was going on by laying out everything for you to easily find, but in Kholat, whilst the game has some great ideas there, the actual experience is just boring, confusing and frustrating, with very little horror to be found.
I have persisted with the game for quite a while, trying to work out the navigation system in the hope that finally understanding it will make the gameplay more entertaining and make progress a lot easier. However, I gave up after two or three hours, as my frustration had reached its peak and, other than the atmosphere and visuals, I felt there was just not enough to even keep me playing. Kholat costs £15.99 on the UK PlayStation Store ($19.99 on the US PlayStation Store website), but I would definitely advise anyone interested in the game to wait until it comes down in price significantly.
Maybe next time IMGN.PRO.