Kona II: Brume (Xbox Series) Review

Bigger ambitions come at a cost

Kona II: Brume is exactly what I thought I wanted from a Kona sequel. A more coherent narrative; streamlined gameplay mechanics with clear objectives; and larger, more diverse environments to explore. What I should have realised is that this approach could come at a cost. That’s not to imply Kona II: Brume is a bad game – but at times it can feel like a sequel that the developers either never planned out fully before wrapping up the first game, or it represents what they always intended and they have no qualms about retconning and re-contextualising events.

Kona II: Brume once again follows former Korean War veteran turn PI, Carl Faubert, who was drawn to northern Quebec by wealthy industrialist William Hamilton to investigate vandalism attempts against his mining company property. With his would-be employer found dead on arrival, Carl investigated a mostly abandoned town during an unseasonal blizzard; pieced together events leading to the deaths of both a native Cree woman and Hamilton; then seemingly escaped the wrath of a vengeful Wendigo that may or may not have been a manifestation of his strained sanity.

It was an incredibly weird, compelling, and immersive game, with Carl’s observations and deductions conveyed by a seemingly omniscient narrator. You’ll want to play it before tackling the sequel as Carl’s escape north by boat is immediately cut short when he’s fired upon by other survivors, plunges into an icy lake, and only just manages to drag himself to shelter after hearing his attackers claim the “Brume” will finish him off. Seemingly unperturbed and hell-bent on discovering Hamilton’s secrets, Carl sets off for his mansion.

Thus begins a sprawling sequel (about double the length of the first game) that features a mysterious mineral, the titular “Brume” mist, unscrupulous businessmen, rogue scientists, elaborate conspiracies, and – befitting the Cold War setting – communists! Viewed in isolation, it’s an intriguing and briskly-paced narrative that takes place over 48 hours. However, having just replayed Kona in preparation, it’s a significant departure from a small-town investigation that had a strong focus on digging into the interconnected personal lives of just a few of its inhabitants.

The stakes are higher, new survivors and victims are introduced, and every person or event you thought you understood is now part of a more grandiose plot, with pages and pages of new backstory revealed in lengthy notes or Carl’s many journal entries. Nothing feels outright contradictory, but it’s like going straight from reading The Hobbit to the entire The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The narrator once again does an excellent job of framing the story from Carl’s perspective, but I found the overall plot more predictable, the ending less satisfying despite the revelations, and most of the new cast reduced to shallow quest-givers.

Kona II: Brume the refuge

Accompanying this expanded narrative is a much larger world to explore. Rather than an opening sequence, four key investigations to complete in any order, and a finale, Kona II: Brume has you play through four sequential acts that’ll take you through a creepy mansion, an eerie underground laboratory, a snowy wilderness, and a forested valley you can both traverse by dog-sled. The visuals are not cutting edge, but the updated engine and the 1970s aesthetics still give Kona II: Brume a distinctive style and atmosphere – helped no end by the immersive ambience and another great soundtrack that wouldn’t feel out of place in an episode of The X-Files.

As for what you’ll be doing in these expansive environments? In many ways Kona II: Brume is more of the same but more “video game-y”. Kona was an investigation-driven “walking sim”, with simple item-hunt puzzles and survival elements that felt like an afterthought – something meant to be engaging but often just frustrating. Thanks to brisker pacing, the sequel feels more engaging despite being streamlined in many ways, though you’ll need to play on the “Survival” difficulty to actually care about the weather or the spectral “Brume” creatures.

Kona II: Brume spectral wolves

You’ll still be exploring for clues, revealing visions, and photo opportunities that fill out Carl’s journal; there are keys or key items to find; an assortment of relatively straightforward puzzles to solve; fireplaces that warm Carl up and act as manual checkpoints; there’s an assortment of blades and firearms you’ll use for infrequent bouts of combat (albeit more so than in the first game), and mercifully few chase sequences.

The experience just feels more guided and streamlined. Progression is linear with new keys or gear unlocking plot-significant areas; the sanity system is replaced with a simple recharging stamina meter; you’ve got access to a map screen that has (some) objective and collectible markers on it; Carl’s journal and inventory are more logically laid out; there are fewer consumables and no carry limit to worry about; and generic “spare parts” are used for repairing things so you don’t have to lug various tools around.

Kona II: Brume leech lake map

Unlike Kona, in which the sluggish movement was a good fit for exploring small but detailed locations, Kona II: Brume features a seemingly fitter Carl that moves faster even when out of stamina. It’s an essential change as if you combined the Hamilton mansion and underground laboratory, they’d probably be bigger than some Resident Evil games. The problem is mechanical depth is still limited compared to a traditional action-adventure, and too much of it feels like wasted space. Many rooms are attractive set-dressing with flavour text, existing only to provide a believable sense of scale.

The knock-on effect is that Kona’s notable flaws – namely the ability to miss key items and potential backtracking – feel significantly worse when it happens. In the Hamilton family mansion, I spent an hour looking for a key that I eventually found in one of many identical-looking drawers. It was exactly where I initially thought it would be, but having only found torch batteries and spare parts in them up until that point, my brain simply glossed over it. In the laboratory, where you have to recover five backup batteries while allocating limited power to different wings or systems, a mistake can force you to backtrack for several minutes to a central control room.

Kona II: Brume laboratory battery puzzle

Kona got around this by having the narrator make comments like “Carl was satisfied he knew all he could”, or “Carl felt he missed something” whenever he left a significant location. In Kona II: Brume, the narrator rarely provides such situational reminders and, even if you don’t miss a clue or key, there’s still a lot of back and forth with very little happening.

As a result, how you feel about Kona II: Brume might depend on your expectations going in – and, of course, whether you thought a sequel was necessary at all. I enjoyed it just as much as the first game but for different reasons. If you wanted a more traditional video game framework for a more elaborate, high-stakes narrative, it’s a solid sequel that’s perhaps a little too big for its gameplay mechanics to sustain. If, on the other hand, you were hoping for a familiar experience that focused on digging deep into the lives of a small cast, Kona II: Brume somehow manages to make the world and cast feel shallower despite the increased scope.

Kona II: Brume was reviewed on Xbox Series S|X using a code provided to gameblur by the publisher. It is also available on PC, Xbox One, PS4/PS5, and Nintendo Switch.

Kona II: Brume (Xbox Series) Review

Kona II: Brume (Xbox Series) Review
7 10 0 1
Total Score

The Good

  • A higher-stakes adventure with a larger cast
  • More diverse environments to explore and more interesting puzzles
  • Several streamlined mechanics and a map with some objective markers
  • Excellent narration, soundtrack, and updated visuals

The Bad

  • The expanded narrative and backstories feel forced and more generic
  • Carl’s investigation feels less grounded and intimate
  • Larger environments mean more backtracking and easy-to-miss key items
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