Review : Kholat : Lost in the Wilderness

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It is Spooky Season, so if you’re looking for a suspenseful game to play, may I recommend Kholat, available on Switch, PC, PS4, and Xbox One. I first heard of Kholat from a friend and it was coincidentally on the same day I happened to hear about the Dyatlov Pass Incident. Kholat is an indie horror game developed by IMGN.PRO. It was originally released on Steam in 2015 and later released on the Nintendo Switch in May of 2020. Kholat is based upon the real-life mystery from 1959 where a group of nine experienced hikers died mysteriously in the Ural Mountains in Russia, their bodies scattered in the area. Their tent had been cut open from the inside. Their belongings were left in the tent suggesting they left the campsite in a hurry. It took four months to find all of the bodies. Two-thirds of the group died from hypothermia and the last three died from other injuries. One hiker’s tongue had been cut off and was never found. Some hikers were discovered without clothing; some were wearing other hikers’ clothes, and the clothing contained radiation. But what had happened to these hikers? The case was closed shortly after the last four bodies were found. Since no one knows what actually happened to the hikers the night they passed, there have been a multitude of theories ranging from UFOs to missiles. All of this information came from Atlas Obscura where you can read more about this mystery by clicking the link if you wish.

The Kholat game is a fictional account of the Dyatlov Pass Incident. (Fun fact: Kholat means “dead” in the Mansi language.) Imagine: You’re up against the wilderness. It’s snowing. There are tall trees which don’t provide you much cover. You have no weapons. You have nothing with which to defend yourself. You can’t jump. You’re a shitty runner… seriously, after five seconds, you’re winded. You have limited possessions. You’re all alone somewhere in the Ural Mountains. And you must retrace the steps of the nine hikers who mysteriously died that fateful night.

You are the protagonist in this first-person adventure game, probably better described as a walking simulator. The purpose of the game is to wander the wilderness alone, searching for the hikers’ campsites, diary notes, and clues, whilst avoiding the enemy. The only possessions you have are a journal, a flashlight, a compass, and a map. If you don’t know how to read a compass (no judgment here), you may find it a tad difficult to maneuver around the map as there is nothing on the map noting “YOU ARE HERE”. But hey, I’m one of those aforementioned compass illiterate people, and I’ve gotten this far. Though, to be fair, I have no sense of direction in video games. I found myself going in circles and getting frustrated because I didn’t know where to go next. The map, though, is fairly simple to use. You have nine coordinates to visit signifying (what I believe to be) each of the nine hikers’ death locations. Along your walk, you’ll find additional coordinates displayed on rocks. These are hints for locations of notes you’ll need to pick up in order to save the game. 

There’s very little story in Kholat. You’ll find notes from the hikers’ diary entries scattered around the area. These notes are narrated by Sean Bean, who you probably know best as Eddard Stark in Game of Thrones. The gameplay is really just you walking around in the snow looking for campsites and notes, which are the only two places the game will save. So, this means you can wander the wilderness for thirty minutes, die, and lose your last thirty minutes or so of progress. It can be incredibly frustrating losing your play, restarting from your last save point, getting turned around, and not knowing where the hell you are. Once you get back on a trail, if you don’t find another save point, you’re susceptible to another death and more lost progress. Honestly, this aspect of the game is quite annoying. 

The beauty of this game outweighs the gameplay by a long shot. Kholat is set in the snowy Ural Mountains in Russia. I found myself taking photo after photo of the gorgeous scenery. The full moon is the perfect prop for a suspenseful environment. There are a myriad of creepy trees, caves, and snowy trails to discover. The music is spooky, the sound effects are eerie. You never know what will be around the corner, and for that, I am in love with this game. I might even be a tiny bit too scared to play at night. But no one needed to know that.  

The game plays on the theory that the hikers were killed by evil fire ghosts. And if the evil fire ghosts see you, you’ll have two options: run for your life or stand there and die. And since you can’t run for longer than five freaking seconds at a time, you’ll die. Either way, you’re dead (Kholat, remember)! Okay, okay. In all seriousness, I am exaggerating a tiny bit. The game wants you to pace yourself and only run when it’s necessary. It is possible to outrun (outwalk) the fire ghosts and return to your regularly scheduled program, the “walking in the mountains” simulator. Though, I think the evil fire ghosts are terrifying, and I dread every moment I see one around the corner. Also, I should mention there are friendly fire ghosts scattered around the map, and I still find them scary too. 

If you’re into horror/suspenseful games, you will probably enjoy Kholat. I don’t know how it’s possible, but I love and hate this game all at once. I love exploration in video games and Kholat satiates that desire. But I also find that losing my progress repeatedly due to an enemy I can’t fight back against is quite frustrating. Also, the lack of story doesn’t keep me wanting more. This game doesn’t offer anything new, but it’s still quite creative and enjoyable (if slow moving). But if you have 5-7 hours, I’d say it’s worth a try.  

Overall rating: 5

Fun factor: 6
Technical Prowess: 2
Time Investment: 5-7 hours
Replayability: 3

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By Angela Qustandi

Angela Q. has been a gamer since the early 1980s, beginning with the Atari 2600. Growing up primarily on Nintendo games, she branched out with the Uncharted franchise, and never looked back. A sometimes streamer, she is a variety gamer who loves a friendly co-op experience or a good PvP war game. Angela loves all things nerdy from Star Wars to paleoanthropology.

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