Indie Review: Kentucky Route Zero Act I
Kentucky Route Zero is a mysterious point and click adventure game created by Cardboard Computer, that focuses on narrative over traditional puzzle solving. Act I is here, and how does it fare?
- Worth The Time?It's difficult to say, more acts need to be released.
- Things LovedThe very surreal feel to the narrative, the writing, the way you define your character with dialogue choices, the visual style, it's an extremely intriguing game, the soundtrack, it sets up the game quite nicely.
- Things HatedThe game can often be far too vague, you can be unsure what to feel at the end of the first act, some dialogue choices feel very pointless.
- RecommendationI could recommend this to gamers who love artistic games and trying new things, but for the most part it's very difficult to outright suggest, and it may be best to wait for more Acts to release for this ambitious adventure.
- Name: Kentucky Route Zero (Act I)
- Genre: Point & Click Adventure
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: N/A
- Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
- Developer: Cardboard Computer
- Publisher: Cardboard Computer
- Price: $24.99 (for the season pass to all five acts)
- Reviewed On: PC
There’s a growing movement for artistic games in the indie scene right now, and I have absolutely no issue with that. In fact, I love artistically expressive games like Journey or Limbo. But Kentucky Route Zero is very much an enigma to me right now, and there are many things I love about it and many things I’m completely unsure about, leaving me with a very difficult job of getting a read on it. Perhaps it will become more clear by the end of this review, so let’s see if I can dissect this game as in-depth as possible. First things first, Kentucky Route Zero is a mysterious point and click adventure game created by indie developers Cardboard Computer, that focuses on narrative over traditional puzzle solving. The first Act was released a while ago, with a total of five planned for release throughout this year.
The game’s story revolves around a mystical, secret highway in the caves beneath Kentucky, and the strange people who travel it. In the game you play as Conway, a truck driver who works as a delivery man for an antique shop. In the beginning Conway is tasked with making a delivery to 5 Dogwood Drive, which he can’t seem to find and inevitably gets lost as a result. His only companion is a dog who gets named, or left unnamed, depending on your dialogue choices. From here, it gets very, very difficult to describe the narrative of this game. The best word I can use to do that is “surreal”, because that’s exactly what the experience feels like. The characters you meet are strange, the world is mysterious and you never really feel comfortable in it or like you know fully what’s going on.
In many ways, that’s what makes this game as creepy as it is deeply compelling. From very early on, you’ll be left questioning what is real, and what isn’t, and wondering just what on earth is going on. Brief moments of clarity soon give way to more mysteriousness, and you can’t help but feel that you wouldn’t want to be tasked with explaining the narrative in words to someone. Often, the game can feel far too vague, but on the other hand, its surreal quality will keep you glued to your screen, absorbed in the warped narrative. There is no voice acting. It’s all on-screen text chat, and this game really is one that will either absorb you completely, or outright bore you and leave you feeling like you just don’t get it. Only you can know which group you’ll fit into, and you can only know that once you play the game.
The game consists mostly of text, dialogue and dialogue choices. The game is sort of vague on Conway’s description, and the strength in that is that it’s great how you define him with your dialogue choices. While they don’t affect the story direction, they do change how you come across, your mental image of Conway and what information you get. The game is almost entirely dedicated to its narrative and good quality writing, with traditional elements like puzzle-solving featuring very, very discretely or not at all. Admittedly, some dialogue choices feel quite pointless, as all lead to the same outcomes, and they make you wonder why a choice was even given. But for the most part, you’ll be exploring the game world and interacting through dialogue, which in this game is always intriguing to witness. You’ll need a bit of direction though as characters will tell you locations of places that you’ll need to get to using the world map, manually controlling a wheel icon on it to get around and visit places in the world.
That’s about all there is to say about the gameplay and how you interact with it. This is a hard game to talk about in detail, and it’s a hard game to describe or tell you whether you’ll like it or not. It’s certainly different, and admirable in a lot of ways, particularly with its writing, setting and visual style. It should take you around about an hour or so to complete the first Act, and there’s nothing to return to unless you’re really interested in seeing the different dialogue trees. The only downside is that you can be very unsure what to think at the end of the first Act, and it would be easy to feel a bit lost. On the other hand, it would be just as easy to be left to do a lot of thinking, and be excited and curious to see where the game will go next. From both the neutral and positive point of view, the first Act sets the game up quite nicely, and it is intriguing to ponder what lies in store for the lead characters and story.
Kentucky Route Zero has a very engrossing visual style that is both gloomy and mystical. There’s quite a bit of focus on light and dark, and often turning off your lights can reveal really creepy things while the light itself can bring a strange sense of warmth and relief. A lot of effort went into designing the surreal and peculiar atmosphere of this game, and it’s really well done, coming across as both unique and pleasant to look at. It’s particularly great to see the glow effects of light, especially when in eerie darkness. What complements the visual style extremely nicely is the ambient soundtrack which really does a great job of setting the mood, and keeping the atmosphere surreal and compelling.
Kentucky Route Zero is an admirable, unique adventure that is nothing if not extremely interesting. However, with that said it’s difficult to outright recommend the game because it’s so unique and different to anything else you’ve probably played before, so it may be best to wait for more Acts to release first. But for those who love artistic or different games, this is definitely worth a look as it’s a deeply intriguing and well-written start to what could be a potentially great narrative and experience.