Kentucky Route Zero isn’t your typical video game. It’s set in Kentucky, for one thing, where players discover and explore a secret highway hidden in underground caves. The player controls Conway, an antique furniture deliveryman, as he attempts to complete the final delivery for his financially troubled employer.
The game starts Equus Oils, a gas station in the middle of nowhere, with Conway pulling in to ask for directions as he wants nothing more than to find Dogwood Drive. According to shop’s owner, though, getting to Dogwood means you have to find the Zero, a highway surrounded with much mystery.
Gameplay is divided into two main sections: traditional adventure-style scenes and driving on the game’s road map. The former are operated with a nice point-and-click interface which is less specialized for non-gamers, as Cardboard is aiming to find an audience among people who don’t necessarily think of themselves as ‘gamers’, but are interested in the kind of themes and aesthetics Kentucky Route Zero explores.
Kentucky Route Zero is not a game, in the traditional sense. There are no puzzles to speak of, nor is there an inventory. It’s just you, your truck, your dog, and a handful of memorable characters. Storytelling is what this game does best of all. Gameplay is slow-paced, focusing on exploring new environments and talking with enigmatic and unique characters as you try to find Dogwood Drive. On your quest you’ll find old churches kept alive with tape recordings of people singing, empty museum that you can break into, artificial limb factories, even a young mathematician who asks too many questions and may or may not be a ghost.
Throughout the game, your interactions with these characters happen through dialogue boxes. The multi-path conversations throughout the game will allow you to choose a variety of responses, most of which seem to lead to the same conclusions but give you different fragments of information along the way. Also at various points in the game you get an opportunity to talk or think about yourself and your past, and you’re given several options to choose as you tell stories or remember events. What remains to be seen how much of an effect these choices have on the overall narrative.
Kentucky Route Zero, even if its nature doesn’t force you to speed-run, is on the short side, clocking in at just around an hour’s worth of gameplay leaving you wanting more, which is exactly what a first episode of an ongoing adventure should do.
Prior to the launch of the game the developers stated that they didn’t expect Kentucky Route Zero to have a huge mass appeal. They just wanted the game to find a niche of people who want to play it, think about it, and talk about it.
However the fact that the games is hyped in the same level as Dear Esther (the chineserooms’ experimental game with more 250,000 sales ) was, and is nominated in three categories in this year;’s IGF means that the a wider audience will definitely try this beautifully crafted interactive experience.
Kentucky Route Zero manages to engage you to its premise, and unlike other episodic game’s it makes it impossible to predict what will come next. With such a great first entry expectations are now high and with four more acts set to be released over the course of 2013 we will sit and wait to see if Kentucky Route Zero manages to maintain or even exceed the momentum that was successfully created.
All in one, if you’re at into trying something totally different (as opposed to puzzle or conventional adventure) games it might be worth the small initial investment — $7 just for Act 1, or $25 for the lot — to explore the game’s own lonesome valley.
Gameconnect Rating: 8.6