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Travel Log — ‘KIM’ Review

As more and more video games come out, the settings in which these games take place are inevitably going to get more and more obscure.



As more and more video games come out, the settings in which these games take place are inevitably going to get more and more obscure. Metal Gear Solid 5 takes place during the Russian-Afghan war of 1984, Battlefield 1 wadded into the largely untapped trenches of World War 1, and most of Paradox’s Grand Strategy titles like Crusader Kings or Europa Universalis deal with periods of time largely untouched by gaming at large. Another part of history likely glossed over is the British occupation of India, and this is where Kim allows us to go. Based on the novel of the same name by Rudyard Kipling, Kim is one part travel log of 1880s India, and one part open world survival RPG. Can these two ideas work together, or is this a trip not worth taking?

Like the novel, the game orbits around the titular Kim, a young man living in Northern India. The short tutorial has Kim becoming the apprentice of a wise man who beckons him to travel around India in search of knowledge and enlightenment. From there, the game is left up to you, whether or not you want to follow the wise man and complete his missions, or just wander around India getting into and out of trouble as a wandering ragamuffin. There’s really no wrong way to experience the game, and there’s as much fun creating your own story as there is following that of the novel.

Kim features historical photos from India in the 1880s, which does wonders for immersion

The actual writing can be dense at times. In an effort to keep the game authentic to the novel, as well as the language of the time, dialogue can be stiff and hard to understand occasionally. Characters rarely build into a conversation, and it can feel like starting a car in 3rd gear while trying to figure out what’s happening. To make matters worse, there’s a lot of use of local terms that are rarely apparent to those of us not living in 1880’s India, and the use of certain terms just comes across as confusing at times. The game could have benefited from an in-game encyclopedia to reference.

When the writing is at its best, it’s a great read. Kim feels like an interactive travel log of British India, complete with snippets of guide text and authentic images. There’s clearly a focus on player immersion as well as keeping true to the novel, and when it threads the needle, the results are fascinating. Much of the game is talking to people, and it’s easy to get lost in just learning about the land and the culture, each conversation a key unlocking a new door. Easily the most enjoyable part of the game was coming to a new city or historical site and reading all about the history of it.

Stealth involves staying out of enemies’ lines of sight, and provides an interesting mix to the gameplay

Outside of sight-seeing and dialogue there’s actually not much to Kim in terms of gameplay. The world is presented in a top-down fashion and you move Kim around using the mouse. You’ll need to manage food, health, stamina, and happiness, each of which can be increased by completing certain actions. It’s this survival nature that helps to create dynamic stories not plotted out by the game, like starting a fight with a guard and getting arrested because spending time in jail, while depressing, heals and feeds you, or begging for food and finding yourself the enemy of local factions. 

Most of the challenge comes in your travel around India. Each area is a single screen, and by moving to the edge you can select your next destination, as well as factors like the walking pace, begging or buying food, and whether to buy a room or rough it in the outdoors. Each of these will adjust your character’s wellbeing at the end of the journey, as well as your available spending money, and some options increase or decrease the amount of time travel will take. This is important because the game ends after three in-game years, on Kim’s 18th birthday, provided you make it that long.

If talking isn’t your style, Kim also features stealth and combat mechanics. The former works pretty well, taking a page from Monaco. Entering stealth mode shows you the cone of vision for everyone on the map, and as long as you stay out of sight and move quietly then avoiding people is easy, allowing you to pick locks or pockets based on your stealth ability. Combat, on the other hand, isn’t quite so great. In theory it’s turn based, with each party attacking as often as their attack skill allows. In practice it’s awkward and boring, and doesn’t seem to jive with the better parts of the game.

A lot of the game involves talking and discovering the history of India, as well as Kim himself

Graphically, Kim looks great. While the top-down perspective does limit the world somewhat, there’s a lot of detail in each of the cities and sites you can visit. Different towns all look and feel different from one another while never being to difficult to navigate. Conversations are presented using static character images, although the more beat up Kim becomes, the more it’ll show on his face, and overall these are generally well done. There’s nothing especially impressive here, but the graphics certainly do help to sell the idea of traveling through colonial India quite well.

Audio is somewhat sparse. There are only a few music tracks, and while they fit the mood well, they also loop constantly and you’ll hear them all after only a little play time. There’s no voice work and sound effects are kept fairly minimal. It can feel totally barren at times, and you might find yourself subbing in your own music instead.

Kim is nothing if not original. There are few other games that match the ideas presented here, and if the goal of the game was to be an interactive travel log around India, then they’ve hit the mark perfectly. There’s a lot to see, and even more stories to discover. Kim is that rare kind of game that works when you’re following its own plot or just getting into trouble. For fans of games that are legitimately different from the norm, Kim is definitely worth the look.

Andrew Vandersteen has been watching movies and playing games since before he could do basic math, and it shows. But what he lacks in being good at things, he makes up for with opinions on everything nerd culture. A self described and self medicated audiophile and lover of anything and everything really, really terrible, he's on a constant quest to find the worst things humanity has ever published. He's seen every episode of The Legend of Zelda, twice, and thinks the Super Mario Movie was a war crime. When he's not playing games or writing about them, he's messing around with audio or fixing computers. Perpetually one paycheck short of breaking even, and always angry about something.