Hmm. Even though this is narrated by Sean ‘Ned Stark’ Bean, and there’s snow everywhere, I still can’t manage to formulate a proper ‘Winter is coming’ joke. My chops can surely be called into question.
There’s little to smirk about, though, once you get thigh-deep into play. It’s cold, occasionally dark, and some clown’s always waiting around the corner to one-hit kill you. The bastard.
Kholat is based on the real-life 1959 Dyatlov Pass incident in Russia (no, me neither), where nine experienced hikers were found dead, having torn their way from their tents in various states of undress, and ran into the night. Theories have been proffered, but it’s real X-Files exposition stuff, and that creepy, mysterious air pervades throughout, hanging like a bony finger.
Kholat oozes a real sense of place that really pulls you in, demanding you recall your secondary school orienteering training
As you explore the mountain area – very slowly; the term ‘walking simulator’ has never been more apt here – you manage to piece together the mystery of what happened through little scraps of paper strewn throughout, which handily also serve as ‘start here if you die’ markers. And dying does happen, frustratingly. It’s instant death if you happen across the more malevolent spirit kicking about, and if you’ve not found any paper in a while (or stopped at a camp fire/fast travel point), it’s back you go. An onscreen hint suggested that you can defend yourself with your torch, but I never managed to figure that out.
Despite odd misstepps like this, Kholat oozes a real sense of place that – occasional frame rate drops aside – really pulls you in, demanding you recall your secondary school orienteering training. At your disposal is but a starting point on a map, and a compass. There’s no GPS in place to hold your hand, and it’s all the better for that, atmosphere-wise, and once you start getting to grips with the unforgiving navigation, you’ll feel like Fra Mauro or someone. Frequently, though, once you find a new location that gets automatically added to your map, you’ll scratch your head and mumble to yourself, ‘What the balls am I doing up there? I thought I was in the North-West area.’ – especially early doors in the game.
Sean Bean does a fine job of narrating/taunting you throughout, and his role in the experience mercurially switches as you progress. He doesn’t evolve into a satisfying game ender, though, unless you discover all the map locations. The true ending is just that, here, so take this under advisement.
If you’ve got the stones for Kholat, it’ll reward you well, but be warned: is not for babushkas, no?
What I Wish I Knew Before Starting Kholat
Make notes. You’ll thank yourself in the long run. There’s a handy blank map here, that’d behove you to print out and scribble on.
You’ll find co-ordinates scribbled about the place. These are clues, and not a ‘You Are Here’ arrow. Lob ’em on your map.
The Russian for ‘North’ is ‘Cевер’. This took us an embarrassingly long time to work out.