Fans of the paranormal and unsolved mysteries are sure to be familiar with the story of Dyatlov Pass. Starting in January and continuing through February 1959, a group of 9 hikers set out with a goal to reach Otorten. However, these expert hikers would never reach their location. When the hikers never returned on February 20th (8 days after their expected return date), a search party set out and found the remains of 8 of the hikers outside of their tent on Kholat Syakhl. Their bodies were found if various stages of dress and some had suffered unexplained wounds. To this day, no one has found a definite explanation as to what happened with the hikers and what ultimately lead to their death, but this incident has been a surrounded in mystery and supernatural theories.
Fast forward to Boston 2016: I found myself at PAX East, the glow of televisions and the hum (well, deafening roar) of thousands of people all around me. Making my way through the crowds, I came upon the booth for IMGN.PRO and more specifically, the game Kholat. As I placed the headphones over my ears, the roar of the crowd faded and instead was replaced by the biting and fierce winter winds of Russia. Playing on the Playstation 4, I took the control and after the few moments of becoming familiar with the controls, I set out through a town I can only imagine looks similar to Ivdel. Immediately, I was immersed in the landscape and set out to explore the town and find my way to infamous Dyatlov Pass.
After a few minutes, I found myself walking through a forest, heavily laden with snow, hiking towards the mountain. Once I cleared the trees, the winds and swirling snow picked up and in the distance, I saw a tent. Even though I was sitting in a convention hall, I think I felt a shiver on my neck and I crept closer, unsure as to what I would find. Looking inside the tent, I found a diary and some other information, which really starts the game for the player. Coming out of the tent, as I looked around, there were some large stones and what appeared to be a fire. Ghostly footprints led me towards the stone circle, and once inside it, small rocks started floating leaving me gazing in wonder. In an instant, figures ran out from the circle and I was struck by a large ball of flame. As the saying goes, curiosity killed the cat (or more apt in my case, the gamer).
This was just a taste of the game and from the first few moments I was able to play, Kholat brings the ability to explore to a whole new level. Everything seems so realistic, from the landscape to the sounds of the winter whooshing through trees and the mountains, and to the actual game play. There are very few markers or directions in the game. It is up to the player to figure out where to go, find the coordinates and use their map (without a tracker, but with a compass) to find their way. Kholat is what I would consider a horror game without the jump scare tactics. Playing around with the environment and aspects of the supernatural, the game situates itself as a psychological horror game. As the player, it is very easy to become turned around and disorientated with your surroundings. The game mimics the same feelings of anxiety and apprehension one would experience being lost and alone on a mountain. The map for the game is huge and purposefully so, causing the player to get lost or happen upon things in a natural way. This also lends to the story of the game, providing each player with a different and unique game play experience. Another detail to the game that is sure to please any player: the game is narrated by Sean Bean, giving it another ominous feel.
Kholat is a wonderfully unnerving horror game, bringing real life events to the present day, giving players the chance to uncover what really happened at Dyatlov Pass. The game is available now on Steam (for PC and Mac) and recently was released for PS4. My advice is download the game, turn off all your lights, and blast your air conditioner to see if you can uncover and survive the history of Dyatlov Pass.