by Robert Thomas
reviewed on PC
Backstory Based in Reality
Despite the revitalization of the horror genre on PC, there's often a lot of misdirection in horror games. Classic horror elements, like atmosphere, narrative and mystery have been all but forgotten in favor of jump scares, spooky noises, and minimal story. Kholat, however, not only remembers the classic elements of horror, but also knows how to properly use the conventions that the genre has begun to rely upon so heavily. Kholat masters tone and mood to bring about an amazing piece of work.
The events of the game are based on a mysterious group of deaths that took place in Soviet Russia in 1959 called the Dyaltov Pass Incident. Nine students from a University's Hiking organization set out on a difficult trek to Mount Otorten. On their way, the students experienced terrible weather conditions and became lost. Upon this realization, the hikers set up camp on Kholat Syakhl, which translates from the native language to Dead Mountain. The students died there.
After not receiving word from the hikers, a rescue expedition was soon sent out, alongside a military investigation. What happened to the students is unclear, but the investigators found their tent cut from the inside out, as though they were escaping. Most fled with no shoes or socks, some with only their underwear. The student's bodies were found in multiple locations, scattered throughout Kholat Syakhl. The last group of bodies found had suffered internal injuries equivalent to that of getting hit by a car, but had minimal external injuries, causing confusion. One student had lost her eyes and tongue. Officials ruled it as panic induced by an avalanche, but many theories still exist today. I recommend you read up on these events if you're interested in playing Kholat.
Navigating a Cruel Mountain
This incident is narrated to you at the beginning of the game by renown actor Sean Bean before you are dropped into an abandoned town in the Ural mountains. After entering the Kholat system, you begin the main part of the game, traversing the brutal mountain in search of clues. Notes, journals and reports that reveal the story of this Dead Mountain are scattered throughout.
Moving through Kholat requires a decent bit of navigational skills. Game designers have discarded all HUD elements to allow the player a complete, unhindered view of the area. You navigate the complex system with only a map and a list of coordinates. Though it doesn't show your current location, the map will show you your camps and all of the locations of collected notes. With no way of seeing yourself on the map, it becomes easy to get lost. You are given a flashlight, but I rarely used it, as the outside is lit enough that I could still see my trail.
Becoming distracted is the only thing that stops you from getting to your destination. Snow obscures your vision and startling noises turn your attention away from your path, adding a tense worry that you're going the wrong way. The anxiety can make you look behind you, or fear will force you to retrace your steps, causing Kholat to quickly become a labyrinth. While stumbling through the mountain, you'll have to avoid getting spotted by the red spirit and going into encroaching orange fog, which, once encountered, will follow you. Running from these enemies is another way to lose yourself, as you'll need to escape quickly. Your camp offers you the only reprieve from these monsters.
Navigating the mountain can be difficult, like it should be. Great voice acting, visuals, and sounds all work together to create a suspenseful tone.
Uninvolved gameplay makes subsequent playthroughs tedious.