Kholat’s Xbox One launch comes one year after it first appeared on PS4 and PC. This narrative-driven horror title, from Polish developers IMGN.PRO, is set around the mysterious real-life disappearance, and subsequent death, of nine students on the Dyatlov Pass.
As the game opens up you are met with little more than a bleak deserted train station. A snowy blizzard blows in your face, the wind howls around your ears and that is it. There is no hand holding here at all, no waypoints, no arrows, no glowing markers, or mini maps/GPS. This is initially jarring, as you wander aimlessly for the first 20 mins you fall back on old gaming habits. You check buildings, behind vehicles, you look for something that you can interact with. But you soon realise there is nothing to do here but start walking down that foreboding path.
This is the slowest part of the game, but once you make it through the opening and get to the first base camp, things start to improve. This base camp is where you get your map and compass to help you find your way, but it is also a fast travel point, you will find others around the map that stop the game from becoming a boring walking simulator.
As mentioned the devs are not fans of handholding, you are left on a mountain top facing into the blizzard with little else to guide you. You need to start wandering, finding clues and trying to piece together what happened on that mountain before descending into madness.
If I can give one piece of crucial advice before you start playing, it is to play with earphones. The sound design is incredible, and in a slow paced game like this that relies on atmosphere, it is important to get the most out of it. The cold unforgiving environment is really brought home when the howling wind is whipping at your ears, the distant howls of the wolves send a shiver down your spine and every creak or crack of a branch causes your heart to jump.
There isn’t a traditional combat mechanic, although you can get attacked, and killed, you can’t fight back. You just have to run and hide, the key is to embrace the feeling of despair to try and get into the mind of those students in order to get the most out of the experience. As with most of this style of game, it tells its story through discovery and narration. The narration here is provided but none other than Ned Stark (Sean Bean). There is little to do bar discover and let the story unfold, but there is a lot to discover, either through the main story or via the many side quests.
Overall: A well-crafted horror title for those who want a slow burn, it is very easy to get frustrated initially with the slow pace and lack of hand-holding, but if you approach the game in the right frame of mind it delivers a very enjoyable 4-5 hour horror adventure.