Kholat is a somewhat well designed indie-adventure game based on the true events of a group of Russian students that mysteriously died while on a hiking expedition in the Ural mountains. You play in first-person as a random character, retracing the steps of said hikers, trying to identify what exactly happened along the way. You’ll travel from location to location
hunting for journals and clues that will help you determine what happened to these poor students. Does Kholat manage to pull it off? Sort of.
Kholat has a few good things in its favor. Among them is the use of a standard handheld map and compass. As you travel the snowy path set out before you, these two tools are your buddies;
they are your confidants; they are your secret lovers. You’ll definitely need them to know where the hell you are, at least I did. There are no waypoints, no objectives, no actual direction on what you’re supposed to be doing. You’ll be wandering around freezing and confused, all while searching for anything to advance the story. These are the reasons your map and compass are an absolute necessity. I also found myself wondering if most members of the younger generation even have the ability to read a map and compass, as I felt most kids were probably pissed they couldn’t plug their waypoints into their Google maps.
That being said, there are some frustrating issues we need to discuss with this game. Kholat requires patience. It’s set at a slow pace, which can be quite detrimental if not broken up by noteworthy events in order to keep players invested. Kholat sometimes fails to provide
such events. Often, I found myself wandering for far too long, only to be underwhelmed by whatever surprise the game threw at me in the middle of my wandering. First let me state
that the only save points you’re afforded are when you’re able to find a new journal, which can take some time. There are brutal traps and ghostly spirits that roam around the mountains
in this game, and if you run into them, you die, possibly setting you back 20 minutes of wandering to your last journal. I wouldn’t mind this, except for the unfair mechanics the game can
throw at you. Traps spring up with no way of knowing where they will be, no warning signs whatsoever, and then you’re dead. A spirit might manifest directly in front of you, and you’re dead. None of this is to say the game isn’t fun, but it does get irritating having to backtrack 30 minutes because of a poor design flaw, and then not have an idea of how to avoid being killed in the exact same matter later on. It’s an annoyance that I could overlook in hopes of getting to experience a satisfying ending, but the climax of Kholat has its own flaws as well. I understood the reasoning behind the decision to end the game as they did, but I couldn’t help but be a tad underwhelmed when the credits began to roll.
One aspect Kholat hits the mark on, however, are its world design and musical score. Graphically, you’ll see much of the same art design. If you want to see snow, trees, and mountains, then this is your game. I don’t hold that against the game though, it’s part of the original stories lore, and combined with creepy subtle musical cues, Kholat’s design offers a strong sense of dread being stranded in a snowy hell. My only problem with the art choices would probably be that the design of the ghost spirits didn’t blow me away. It’s fine, they are spirits, after all, I understand why they look like spirits, but damn if I didn’t wish they had more flair. Something to really make them stand out as Kholat’s badass antagonists.
This game is fine. Combined with its tragic real-life backstory and creepy aesthetics, Kholat manages to keep its proverbial head above water, even with the enraging save system and surprise deaths. Is it worth its price point right now? Maybe not, but if you catch Kholat on sale you may as well pick it up and experience it yourself.
*Note: A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of the review
Final Score: 7/10
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