Even the greatest tragedy is forgotten over the years. If it’s particularly unlucky, it acquires fictitious details or becomes the subject of jokes. Wars, epidemics, disasters – they are in the past, because human memory is unreliable, and the memory of generations is entirely conventional and changeable. But still something stays in history and passes through the years. For example, the tragedy that happened to Igor Dyatlov’s tourist group.
Here’s what you need to know before you sit down to play “Kholat”. The game is based entirely on real events which occurred during the night of 1st to 2nd of February 1959, on one of the tourist routes of the Ural mountain range (Sverdlovsk region, USSR). A group of ten, and later because of health problems of one of its members – nine students of Ural State Technical University, went hiking and disappeared somewhere around the mountain Kholat Syakhl. Arriving at their last known position, the rescuers were horrified. Some members left the tent torn to shreds and ran away forgetting to put on snow shoes and outdoor clothing, freezing to death because of that; others, who were found much later and farther away from these places, had their bodies badly damaged, and one of them had his tongue ripped out. All nine people were dead, and despite the fact that the Soviet Union was a country that loved to classify everything, the story has made it to the people. Reports and stories of those who were in the search for the Dyatlov group, made the hairs on the back of the necks of the listeners stand on end.
It’s still unknown what happened to the group. There are theories about an animal attack or local wild mountain natives, or, say, an avalanche that forced the tourists to leave the camping site immediately. But every theory has flaws, totally destroying the bigger picture. For example, if an animal attacked the tent, why does tent analysis suggest that the tent had been torn from the inside? Because of insufficient evidence of plausible theories, the supporters of far less realistic versions of events quickly joined the debate. Government conspiracies and testing of psychotropic weapons, the invasion of evil aliens and UFOs in the sky, evil voodoo spirits that were not happy with the fact that someone tramples their mountains. A lot of books have been written, several feature films and documentaries filmed on these events, all of which put forward their own version of what had happened. For example, the film “The Devil’s Pass” by Renny Harlin was about zombies, secret Soviet laboratories and time travel (yes, all three theories at once), and the Discovery Channel shot a version of the events on the pass, which was dedicated to Bigfoot.
The developers of “Kholat” from IMGN.PRO studio took this story as the base for their first horror video game. A lot of work has been done: the game incorporates logs, letters and reports of those who took part in the Dyatlov expedition, and of those who went to look for them. The game’s protagonist is sent to seek for answers to his questions following in the footsteps of the group. Arriving in the city of Ivdel, he goes further and gets on the same pass. By the way, note the painstaking detail in which the authors recreated the actual train station in the city:
The player is then given almost complete freedom. Using a map and a compass, he is free to roam the mountainous location and search for the key to the back story of the tourists. There are exactly two difficulties: 1) there are no pointers on the map, indicating where the player is, so you have to be guided only by the compass and marks on stones (players with no special awareness are living their worst nightmare); 2) there are monsters in some places. If the surrounds have suddenly gone dark, the whisper, “borrowed” from the “Assassin’s Creed” multiplayer, can be heard and the arrow of the compass is shaking like an over excited rabbit – then creepy creatures are near. They are usually invisible, and you can only see them either when they move (they leave a fiery trail), or when they stand under falling water and their silhouette can be made out in the water. If the monster goes visible – that’s it, you’re done, it instantly teleports to the player and kills with a single blow.
Game saves are hard to come by here: the game is saved in only two cases: near rare tents that are also fast-travel teleports, or after the player finds hidden notes with the history of the pass. Notes are one-time saves and become useless after the first saving. Died because a deadly invisible monster suddenly appeared on the road? Play through the last 20-30 minutes anew.
And all this because the character can’t really run. After three seconds of running on a flat road, he immediately runs out of breath because of fatigue and begins to lose vision. If you’re on the snow, the running doesn’t make any sense – a couple of sprinting steps will have the same effect. So going from a save point to the place of the unexpected (and in the game “Kholat” always is) Death, takes a very long time.
The result is a kind of a frosty cocktail made of “The Cursed Mountain” and “Dear Ester”, where next to exploring the beautiful world and listening to the complicated plot, the players have to deal with survival in very unpleasant conditions. The game can be completed in a couple of hours, but I would not recommend hurrying so much. There are excellent graphics and weather effects for an indie project; the sound component is just as beautiful: from the music and sound effects to Sean Bean narrating the text (that text has little bearing on the plot, but still listening to Mr. Death is always nice). Yes, the game is quite difficult, no, it’s not always scary, yes, the plot is quite fragmented and fleeting, but the visuals alone make you hike through cold mountains, without being distracted by these defects. It could have been much better, but even so it’s very, very good.
Sean “A Thousand Deaths” Bean
Running over the same mountains again and again can be quite tedious
Stripped down ending
A weak plot component, never explaining properly the views of the authors on what is happening
Kirill Ilukhin. Born in 1985 in a land with snowy summers and flooding winters. Games addict from the age of 13, actively voicing opinions about them since 17.