The Dyatlov Pass incident is one of the great unsolved mysteries of the last century. 10 hikers went to the northern Ural Mountains in February 1959 and all but one died under extremely mysterious circumstances on the eastern side of Kholat Syakhl. The investigation into the deaths discovered that the hikers had cut their way out of their tents and fled the campsite. Some of them were barefoot and none had any protective gear on. Two of the hikers had fractured skulls and crushed ribs though there was no sign of a struggle and there were no contusions on the bodies. One was missing its tongue and eyes. It was, and remains, rather creepy to say the least.
You have to admire a game with the confidence to drop players into a world with little idea of what to do. Immediately invoking the feeling of being lost, Kholat sees the player, an investigator voiced by Sean Bean, wandering around the Ural mountains, investigating sites related to the incident, collecting journal pages and trying to piece together the mystery. There is a definite element of Slender at work in Kholat. The scares come from the situation and environment rather than the occasional shadowy threats that menace the player. Overall it’s a rather unnerving experience, effortlessly conveying the feeling of being lost, in over your head in a situation beyond your understanding and the existential threat said situation carries with it. In a purely thematic sense, Kholat it a triumph. Unfortunately on a playability level the game leaves a little something to be desired.
Kholat is a rather gorgeous game, with some incredible and memorable locations ranging from a throne of bones to a charred forest to a strangely terrifying tree, but a good deal of the game looks confusingly similar. Snowy forest paths, strangely enough, look very similar, making it all too easy to get lost entailing a good deal of backtracking and aimless wandering. Whilst this does evoke that aforementioned feeling of getting lost, it’s not actually particularly fun to play out. Much of this confusion comes from the fact that the player is given no real direction, but once you work out how to effectively use the compass and map the game goes from being frustratingly abstruse to being easy enough to finish in one or two sittings. The occasional setpieces that see the player having to find a journal page before the ephemeral enemies can close in break up the snowy vistas but come too few and far between to be much more than a jump scare gimmick.
At its best, Kholat is truly chilling. Some of the journal pages are dull, but many of the superbly voice acted excerpts are genuinely unsettling, detailing horrors both real and existential. As a narrative experience, Kholat is, for the most part, a deeply satisfying and thoroughly unnerving experience. Unfortunately there isn’t enough depth to the gameplay to make it a hugely compelling one.
Why you should play this game?
- You want to see something in which Sean Bean doesn’t die
- You find creeping solitude sexy
- You always wanted a throne of bones