Let me start off by saying Kholat is one of the scariest gaming experiences I have had in a long time. Studio IMGN.PRO has done an incredible job and created a beautiful game that will simultaneously give you explorative reward and nail biting tension.
Kholat centers its world around the infamous Dyatlov Pass incident of the Ural Mountains. The event dates back to 1959 and involves the mysterious disappearance of nine experienced alpinists during a 6.2 mile expedition across the mountains. The team was expected to reach their destination of Otorten on February 12th, but never arrived. Search teams first located the bodies on February 26th and with them countless questions.
Investigators reported the hiker’s tent was half torn, covered in snow, and had been cut open from the inside. Footprints leaving the site indicated the individuals fled quickly in socks, one shoe, or no shoes at all. Some of the bodies showed signs of severe trauma, internal injuries, and even radiation. These events have not yet been explained, and this is the setting presented. You are tasked with navigating the pass and attempting to find out just what happened to the hikers.
When starting a new game, you find yourself stepping onto a snow covered train platform in the middle of a small village with no direction and no explanation. This initial feeling of helplessness sets the tone both for the forthcoming gameplay as well as the overall setting of what the lost souls must have felt on the mountain. The first thing you will notice is the beautiful environment created for the game. Footprints appear in the snow, wind blows by your head harshly, and the winter storm makes it difficult to see off into the distance. This has the added benefit of limiting the draw distance and making the title run at a smooth framerate, even on low end machines.
The game itself is sectioned into a few acts. Once you navigate through the town and make it to the first campsite you are given a few items: A map to assist with the manual navigation you will use to complete objectives, a flashlight to better see in the dark (which also allows you to be seen easier), and a notebook used to store notes. These stored notes come in several forms such as diary entries of the hikers to reports of the event, and exist as the main objective for the game.
You are tasked with locating these scattered pages across the game world that you will use to fill this notebook. Fortunately they make a rustling sound when you get near enough, and have a slight glow with line of sight. As you uncover more and more notes, the story of Dyatlov Pass unfolds for you. Also among some of the notes are campsites where your progress can be saved when you inevitably come face to face with whatever it is that killed those who came before you.
Beyond the impressive visuals the mood of the game is set by the unmatched audio design. Firstly the game is narrated by the always impressive Sean Bean. His voice talent brings so much to the atmosphere of not only the introduction but the delivery of the narrative it could almost be its own release. Accompanying Sean Bean’s narration are effects such as wind noise from the aforementioned snow storm rushing past your face, and exceptionally well timed mood music that creeps up on you in just the right (or wrong) moment. All of these things together give Kholat a combined sense of soothing peace and heart stopping terror that would be terrifying in any setting, let alone being alone on a haunted and frozen mountain pass.
Kholat isn’t a long title that will keep you playing for weeks, and IMGN.PRO themselves estimate playtimes between 4-6 hours. However during that time you will find yourself trying to decide whether or not the next part of the narrative is worth risking life and limb to uncover. Whether you are a long time fan of horror games or curious about just what it is that keeps bringing people coming back to the genre, Kholat is a great place to fuel that burning desire.Image Credits: Kholat