The Dyatlov Pass Incident is a tragic piece of hiking history. A group of hikers was found deceased in a mountainous area of Russia known as the Dyatlov Pass. What makes their death so much stranger, though, is what was found around the bodies. Their tent was torn from the inside, seemingly indicating an attempt to frantically escape from something. Their bodies were found in various states of disarray, with some bodies having their tongues torn out and others having their heads smashed in. This real life story has fascinated people for years and now, Kholat, takes the story to the world of video games and, in doing so, creates a horror masterpiece.
The story of Kholat is not that of the hikers themselves, but a journalist who is trying to uncover the mysteries surrounding their deaths. After arriving in Russia, the player is knocked unconscious while travelling through the mountains. When they awaken, they are in an almost otherworldly area. There are strange lights and notes written frantically around the landscape. What’s more, there are horrific ghosts haunting the area and trying to kill the player.
It needs to be said that Kholat shows off exactly what Unreal Engine 4 is capable of and, in doing so, has created one of the best looking horror games around. The snowy nighttime mountains look almost photorealistic against the shimmering moon. The ice below your feet reflects the light in such a way that it makes everything around it beautiful. While the ghosts themselves might not look fantastic, the environment more than makes up for it.
This beauty is highlighted in the few incredibly unnerving scenes of otherworldly horror that the game has. The sky itself begins to spin, the world becomes dark, fires begin to light up all around you and you begin to hear voices talking to you. These moments, though few and far between, are incredibly beautiful and, again, show off just what Unreal 4 is capable of.
When you begin Kholat you are given a map, a compass and a journal. Your map has coordinates written on it. Using your map and compass, you need to figure out the path to each of these points. There is no waypoint system and your map doesn’t show your character as an icon. You really need to use the map to plan out your route to each location. This really encourages you to explore the world, just so that you can get your bearings on where you are.
The game will, however, give you a few hints as to your exact location. Whenever you find a note in the world or a special area, it will mark it on your map. There are also spots in the world that will tell you your exact coordinates. These spots become increasingly important as you try to find the path to the remaining spots on the map.
Each encounter with a ghost can be incredibly tense. If you shine your light on a ghost, you’ll immediately draw their attention to you. However, you can sneak by them if you pay attention to their paths. There are a few points, though, where you’ll be cornered against one of them and it becomes nearly impossible to avoid them. This wouldn’t be as terrible if there were a few more checkpoints.
Each time you find a note, the game saves. However, you can go an incredibly long time without finding anything. This means you can be just about to grab a note, get caught and have to do everything you did again. It’s certainly not a perfect system.
The game has a tremendous voice cast, as well. While there are a few moments of overacting, the tone of each of the actors becomes incredibly dark, especially as the hints about what is actually happening becomes more clear. That said, the games narrative becomes only slightly more clear. The ending is somewhat confusing, unless you are paying incredibly close attention to every single thing you collect in the world.
Despite these minor shortcomings, Kholat is a masterclass in indie horror. It doesn’t lead you by the hand, but rather expects that you can figure out this world on your own. Exploration leads to some truly beautiful vistas in Unreal 4. While it is short, it’s likely a trip that horror game fans will never forget.
SCORE: 9.5 out of 10
A code for Kholat was provided to Pixel Related for this review.