The mysterious, unsolved death of nine hikers in the Ural Mountains on February 2nd, 1959 is a story that chills to the bone.
A group of experienced hikers, they camped for the night on the slopes of Kholat Syakhl when something happened. Something that caused so much panic & fear that they tore through their tents & ran into the night while inadequately dressed.
Investigations found that six had died from hypothermia & the others from physical trauma. Those three deaths are the most disturbing as they include one team member with missing eyes & a tongue.
To date there has been many theories with compelling evidence both for & against each. Were the deaths caused by an avalanche? What about the theory surrounding the wind creating infrasound strong enough to induce panic attacks? Were the Soviet Union military involved?
It’s a fascinating case and we’ve already seen a 2013 horror that took inspiration from that called The Dyatlov Pass Incident. Not a good movie at all, you can read our review here.
Here, Kholat offers up its own dark explanation with its story closely tied into the true story. A premise that could make for a chilling and scary horror game. Sadly, the end result is mind-numbingly boring and incredibly ineffective.
A first-person horror/walking simulator. Players take control of an unknown character who has chosen to explore the Ural Mountains. Why? That is kept deliberately vague. In fact, so much is kept vague and the narration (done by Sean Bean no less) does little to help. It makes for a very confusing play leaving many unanswered questions and an ineffective narrative. This might have been the plan, to steep the game in mystery akin to the whole Dyatlov Pass Incident but it fails to create interest or excitement.
Players take control at a deserted train station and immediately the problems become apparent. Navigation is unclear, there are no obvious routes to go. Once you make it out of the station and into the mountains this becomes even more of a problem. The plan might have been to make it more immersive by only giving the players coordinates and a compass to find their way around with but it ends up being very frustrating.
You can head off in any direction you choose but finding the points on the map is very difficult. There is no marker on the map for where the player is, you have to use rocks, mountains and paths to work out where you are. It’s not fun at all especially when trying to find a page from a diary or specific small location.
Notes and campsites do get marked on the map which does help but these are few and far between. These are also when the game saves so if you’ve been wandering the landscape for a while then die you might find a lot of progress lost. Realistic? Maybe but mostly just annoying.
If that wasn’t frustrating enough, your character has the stamina of an 80 a day smoker. Getting out of breath after only a handful of seconds of running. They can’t jump either meaning hopping up small ledges is out of the question often forcing you to find a specific path instead.
This might not be so bad if Kholat’s world was an interesting place to explore but it is not. It’s bland snow-covered mountains with lots of rocks and the occasional pretty sky. It’s empty and lifeless with no critters or wildlife about.
The notes/diary pages drive the narrative on but it’s so dry and tedious to listen to the droning voices it’s far more tempting to just skip them. Even if you do sit through them they are not enlightening in any way and it’s really disappointing how little horror this game has.
The enemies…ghosts and environmental traps are laughably bad. If the former is the games attempt to scare, then it fails miserably.
This is a game that you just have to shake your head at. It could have been good, it could have been something special. It’s all there but instead it squanders it for a poorly told mystery that lacks intrigue or satisfying story telling.