Kholat – Steam Backlog Bonanza [Blaugust 9]

839 words.

Yesterday I played a game called Kholat for the 12th day of the Steam Backlog Bonanza, which I got in 2016 for about $9. For some reason, most of the literature puts it in all caps so it’s KHOLAT! Not just Kholat. KHOLAT!!! One of the main attractions is Sean Bean voicing some of the narration.

It’s a really interesting game, in a certain kind of way. It’s basically a walking simulator at its heart, but it’s a very intense walking simulator. The game does a very good job of simulating a winter landscape with howling wind in your ears and blinding snow storms. It’s a game that doesn’t really do much, but what it does is very well-made.

I found the story driving the game to be fascinating. It’s based on the true story of a group of hikers who died under very mysterious circumstances in the Ural Mountains. The game puts you in the position of finding out what “really happened” to them. You do so by walking around and finding clues.

You're not always alone out here.

I have no doubt that the game’s definition of what “really happened” is a complete fabrication, because nobody knows what actually happened to these hikers after some 50+ years of investigations. It’s a fascinating event that I had never heard of before. It has a similar sort of mysterious, mildly supernatural, imagination-inspiring vibe as the old CROATOAN story.

The graphics are very good, and depict a winter landscape very well. The sound design is amazing. It really immerses you in the world. Howling winds, baying coyotes, creaking trees. They did a great job bringing these frozen winter mountains to life.

The music that plays over the title screen is very haunting and beautiful. The music has lyrics when it plays over the credits but I aborted out of it quickly to avoid a copyright strike.

Sometimes you stumble upon a rock formation that looks a lot like a face. :)

You get no instructions when you start this game at all. You begin next to a train and you just have to walk around until something happens, without any indication whatsoever of whether you’re going the right way or the wrong way. I felt like I must be going the wrong way for the longest time, because I kept walking and walking and nothing happened and I found nothing to interact with, and then suddenly, something happened. (That is when Sean Bean starts talking, by the way.)

Here’s my biggest problem with the game: The amount of time that passes between story beats is too long. You find a “clue,” usually in the form of a newspaper article, but sometimes strange rock formations and caves, and you become really engrossed in the story. Then you wander around lost and confused for a really long time, getting impatient, until you find another clue. Then it repeats. I would like it a lot better if the “wandering around lost and confused” time could be shortened.

The map and compass. Unfortunately you don't get to see where you actually are on the map. But it highlights significant finds.

You have a map and a compass. I could not figure out how to use them to help navigating around in any way. Besides the fact that I don’t have any experience reading a real compass, the markings are Cyrillic letters so I honestly couldn’t tell which way was north. [In fact, after looking up the Cyrillic alphabet just now, I discovered that I was reading it exactly backwards.] The map did not seem to have any kind of mark to indicate where I was. You’re given a number of map coordinates to go investigate, but the map and compass were fairly useless in getting to them. Or else I just didn’t understand how to read them, and need to go to a wiki to read up before playing the game.

Other than that I spent an enjoyable hour or so with the game. It’s creepy. It’s not a jump scare game (at least not in the time I played), but it’s definitely creepy and suspenseful. The environment and the sounds and winds and wolves howling combine to create a lot of tension while you’re walking around trying to figure out what to do next.

Eventually I died and that’s where I decided to end the session. Will I play more? Maybe. I’m interested in seeing where the game goes, but I don’t know how many more hours I’m willing to wait for it.

Live Stream - Kholat

Stream Production Notes: KHOLAT!!! isn’t all that great of a streaming game, in my opinion. At least for my kind of videos. There’s a lot of stretches where nothing is going on, so it feels like there’s a lot of “dead air” time. Sometimes that’s okay, if the game is filled with interesting background character sounds, but this game was all about being alone in the wilderness.

Previously on the Steam Backlog Bonanza: Vortex: The Gateway.

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