Kentucky Route Zero: Episode 1 Review

  • Platform: PC
  • Developer: Cardboard Computer
  • Publisher: Cardboard Computer
  • Release Date: January 7, 2013
  • Price: $24.99
  • Official: Kentucky Route Zero

“Go ahead, take a drive on the Zero”

White beams continue to cut deeper through the empty black that is this lost part of the American reality while your eyes continue to fight the battle of staying vigilant, of staying awake. The roar of the engine is the only evidence you have that you are still even alive, that the blank canvas before you isn’t an ever expanding end. You look over at your faithful companion, she has been quiet beside you for what may be years now as she stares out the dirt stained window. Perhaps she’s hoping to see something besides the mundane, besides the fruitless endeavors of her partner; for we all wish for something more exciting than what we’ve been given, even if we’re always a little scared when it arrives.

How long have you two been traveling? Ever since the gas station everything has been muddled, a dizzying claustrophobic dance through other peoples makeshift realities. You only wish to make this delivery and be on your way, to free yourself of this burden and then just cut loose from this hauntingly average, yet perhaps, truly haunted stretch of land within the forgotten shadows of Kentucky. Maybe if you ever do find this fabled Route Zero, maybe than this trip will take a turn back to the serene, or perhaps it will just get even more unsettling.

Kentucky Route Zero is a surreal minimalist trip through the forgotten back roads of rural America, a trip that will grab hold of your imagination and easily whisk you away from your world into that of its creators. The game is the work of two designers, Jake Elliot and Tamas Kemenczy, who have boldly looked into gaming’s past to create what may be one of 2013’s best titles, and if not best, then certainly the one that will stick with you the longest.

One half of KRØ is simple point and click while the other goes even further into gaming history and grabs hold of the forgotten text adventure. These two mechanics fuse together perfectly with the sense of mystery and suspense that the game conveys. Though the experience is that of an adventure title, KRØ does not rely on pixel hunting or obtuse puzzle solving, instead Zero is all about atmosphere and its story. Although your journey begins simple enough, your just a delivery man trying to drop off a package, it is not long before you are stopping at a gas station and asking for directions to your destination, and thus traipsing into the lives of the lost and forgotten.

Every encounter you stumble across is one of brilliant thought provoking writing, weaving subtlety and answers into a glorious cat and mouse game as you try to decipher what is real or just a figment of your imagination. As you drive further into the outbacks of Kentucky, and thus further into the lives of its inhabitants, the objective of delivering a piece of furniture becomes secondary to that of helping these people find themselves, and in doing so, finding yourself as well.

When within verbal exchanges the game consists entirely of dialogue choice, it is through these choices that you define the type of man that Conway is. Is he outspoken and honest, or more reclusive and reluctant to help? Does this man love his trusty canine companion, or does he not even know its name? These choices can alter how the people interact with Conway but mostly they are there to help put some of yourself into the adventure, to allow the story to become more personal.

When not conversing with the locals the game shifts to an overhead map of the region; one that you can use your truck on to explore the roads and discover any mysteries waiting in the shadows. It is here that you can waste plenty of time hoping to come across a new location or text adventure segment. While the central story of Episode 1 may only take you an hour or two, the map allows you to get some extra game for your money.

Helping you sink into the world of KRØ further is the games outstanding presentation, Zero has a style all its own. The heavy use of shadow and angular shapes cohere perfectly with the moody soundtrack from Ben Babbitt to form a whole that is unlike any other title on the market. Helping matters further are the moments where the game will seamlessly zoom in or out to showcase a new locale or an event in the foreground. When a game surprises you to the point of sitting back and just watching with a grin on your face, you know its doing things right.

Although this is only Episode 1 of KRØ’s 5 episode season, there is strong evidence here that the whole will be just as great as this single slice. The story being presented drips with personality and the combination of answers and questions will allow it to sink its claws deep into you. Visually there is nothing else quite like Kentucky Route Zero and the games subtle but effective soundtrack helps to absorb you into its digital pages. If you are someone who likes a solid story or yearns for an adventure title that doesn’t impede your progress with ridiculous puzzles, then Route Zero should be exactly what your looking for. -Chuck

The Rundown

  • + Story is deeply intriguing
  • + Presentation is top notch
  • + Map provides freedom to explore
  • – May be too short for some

Final Score

8.5 / 10

“Great”

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