Gaming has oftentimes served as a deviation from ordinary life, a series of new worlds which let us delve into them and forget ours for a while. That itself is already a good enough reason to jump into gaming. Some games then take inspiration from real life itself to create a game and tell a story which a lot may have missed because of timing, age or location. While on paper Kholat’s aim is an excellent one, in practice it is quite disappointing.
Kholat was meant to narrate the story of the mystery of the Dyatlov Pass incident, where in 1959 nine hikers tragically lost their lives on the Ural Mountains, in what are still considered mysterious circumstances. Conflicting evidence suggested that it could have been more than one possibility as to what happened, and the journals of the hikers found nearby do not provide any more help to the investigation. The absence of certain facts though may limit the wildest of theories, such as a Yeti attack or some other unexpected event.
The game takes its name Kholat from the name of the mountain these hikers were camping on, Kholat Syakhl, which literally means Dead Mountain. There have been countless theories on what could have been that took these lives, such as military involvement, supernatural forces, and so on, and thus this game aims to deliver its own perspective as to what happened that night.
In terms of atmosphere, Kholat presents the player with quite a scenery, since sounds and environment probably capture as best they can the feeling of traversing a mountain in those conditions. Unfortunately it seems as if it is all that developer IMGN.pro gets right apart from a few set pieces in the game, as the rest is quite frankly not to the level of what one may expect coming into the game. The ambient of the game is top notch though, as the developers manage to convey mixed emotions of awe, fear and curiosity just by launching the game. From there on, your expectations of the game start sinking deeper and deeper, and unnecessary deaths, one-touch-kill ghosts and a narration which could have also not been there start taking the toll on a potentially kick-ass experience. One should also bear in mind that the term unnecessary deaths are not of the kind which follow right after a save point, such as in most games. These deaths come out of nowhere and after a good chunk of gameplay, and oftentimes feel unfair. The only result of these deaths is a frustrating loss of time, and while other games try to teach the player new ways to play, Kholat simply does not.
On the good side, as mentioned previously, the atmosphere has to be mentioned regardless of the game’s problems. The soundtrack coupled with the weather’s noises, the wind blowing and the general feeling throughout the game are eerie enough to suck you in. It makes the player feel genuinely uneasy for what might happen, which is the sort of tension that great horror games manage to instil in the player. The voice acting in the game is also performed discretely well, although the lines are not as good as the acting, which oftentimes serves as a paradox to how jumbled up the game is.
Ultimately, Kholat sets itself on a course with very high expectations, only to get just a couple of things right, as shown by the relative length of the good and the bad aspects of the game. The potential for this game, being based on real events and how mysterious these events were, led many to believe it could live up to the expectations. The end result, however, is a bit of a mess, ironically just like the many hypotheses floating around the Dyatlov Pass incident.