Kholat is an indie horror game by Polish developers IMGN.PRO, released in 2015. The game is in first person, following the player as they attempt to discover what happened to nine students that went missing on a Russian mountain, by tracing their steps and trying to find notes and pages that they left. However, all is not exactly as it seems.
The game is very similar to Slender in that you play Featureless Protagonist in the wilderness, trying to find pages while a supernatural force hounds them. However, it is different enough to stand on its own merits despite the obvious influences. The game's primary gameplay challenge comes from the fact that the player's position is not marked on the map, requiring usage of landmarks, the compass, and a good sense of direction in general to find your way throughout the mountain. This focus on navigation and exploration as a key element of gameplay also gives the game some similarities to Miasmata.
The story is based on the Dyatlov Pass incident, in which nine hikers were discovered dead under mysterious circumstances on the Kholat Syakhl mountain in Russia, from which the game derives its name.
This game demonstrates examples of the following tropes:
- Advancing Wall of Doom: The orange mist.
- All There in the Manual: A collectible note in the FPS horror game Husk, which was published by IMGN.Pro but is otherwise unrelated to Kholat, seems to clarify quite a few plot elements that were left vague in Kholat itself. The note explains that the player character in Kholat is Vitaly Grazeniuk, a rogue agent of the Russian Natural Phenomena Research Unit who is supposed responsible for causing the Dyatlov Pass incident and who for unknown reasons is searching the Ural mountains as well as the research outpost known as Post Office Box No. 5, supposedly to gather information about the Anomaly 0H1/91 responsible for the whole mess.
- Apocalyptic Log: From the Dyatlov Pass victims, the investigator who finds their bodies, and a few more unnamed people involved in the backstory.
- Arc Words: The name "Anton" seems to come up a lot in plenty of different contexts.
- Big-Bad Ensemble: The Russian government, Sean Bean's spirit character, and whoever/whatever Anton is.
- Eldritch Location: Whatever the hell is going on in those mountains, it's not natural. Boulders levitate in swirling clouds of fire, the sky at one point moves by at impossible speeds, and Noodle People made of smoke leave glowing orange footprints while they hunt you. It all has something to do with the Russian government's experiments on an a spatial anomaly in the area.
- Exposed to the Elements: You can run around for hours at night in the middle of a snowstorm, and never have to worry about freezing. Then again, it's unclear whether the events of the game take place in our plane of reality or not.
- Featureless Protagonist/Protagonist Without a Past: At no point does the game ever indicate who you're playing as and why they've traveled to the Ural mountains. Word of God is that you're playing as Vitaly Grazeniuk, a former agent of the Russian Natural Phenomena Research Unit who's gone rogue. This seems to be confirmed by a collectible note you can find in IMGN.Pro's next published game, Husk.
- Gainax Ending: After collecting all of the pages, you wind up in a snowy plain where a rough circle of massive, glowing obelisks repeatedly rise up and slam into the ground. Walking up to the obelisks triggers a cutscene where your compiled journal starts flipping in the wind and pages start flying out, one of which hits you in the face. The third act of the game suddenly begins and you're on a linear path toward an orange light. Sean Bean's character starts talking about the necessity of his actions — whatever they actually were — and how the anomalies will soon open up all around the world, essentially driving everyone into madness. When he stops talking and you reach the light, it turns out to be the tent of the students who died in the Dyatlov Pass incident. The screen goes black, and you hear the sounds of female screaming and cloth tearing. Roll credits.
- Infinite Flashlight: Which you use to find your way around, and to read the map and the notebook. It comes in handy when you go far from the center of the map, since the further you move, the darker it gets.
- Insurmountable Waist-Height Fence: Some paths ends in slopes which by all means should be reasonable easy for a human to climb over. But since there is no jump or climb button in the game, you are forced to find an alternate route around them.
- Man on Fire: One of the recurring forces in the game takes the form of a human-shaped tongue of flame.
- 100% Completion: Collecting all of the 27 secondary notes, in addition to the 9 primary notes at the 9 major locations, unlocks some extra dialogue during the credits that muddles the mystery up even further (which seems to imply that Sean Bean's character is actually a scientist trolling you, the player, who may be a mental patient of some sort and hallucinating the whole thing).
- Ripped from the Headlines: As explained, the game is inspired by an actual unsolved mystery from Russia.
- Sanity Slippage: Plenty of people around the mountains, but the investigator in the "Report" notes most prominently starts to suffer this. "The sun is just starting to set. WHERE IS ANTON?" He ends up condemned to life in a mental institution for unspecified crimes, though he hopes to see his wife again and has asked his friend Anton to deliver his final letter. However, you can also find a note about a rampaging psychopath who has escaped from a mental institution...
- Scenery Porn: The Russian wilderness is quite beautiful and modeled in great detail, thanks to surprisingly high production values as well as the photorealistic lighting of Unreal Engine 4. However, stopping to ogle some of the more surreally pretty sights, like the field of spontaneously levitating rocks near the start where a burning meteor-like object crashes down in the center after some time will almost certainly get you killed.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The primary mystery of the Dyatlov Pass Incident is what caused the hikers to quickly leave their tents and subsequently die from hypothermia (at which point animals ate the remains). This game, however — like a lot of the urban legends about the incident — spices it up with paranormal fire people and demonic altars. Not that that's a bad thing, but there's definitely a lot of Artistic License involved.
- Warp Whistle: You can teleport between camps as you unlock them on the map by discovering them.
- Was Once a Man: Sean Bean's character (possibly Anton if they are indeed the same person) implies right off the bat that he was a man who died and came back as an orange ghost-like figure. He was kidnapped and experimented on in the spatial anomaly by the government, which broke his body and eventually transformed him.