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Review: Kentucky Route Zero - Act 1indie Kickstarter episodic Cardboard Computer PC
Developer: Cardboard Computer
Publisher: Cardboard Computer
Platform: PC, Mac (Web)
Release Date: January 7, 2013
ESRB: N/A (T suggested)
Kentucky Route Zero - Act 1 is, at its core, an adventure game. Although the genre has seen some revitalization lately with the likes of The Walking Dead, it still remains fairly niche territory. Still, this title has managed to gain a wide audience so near to its release that it is astounding. What has caused the game to be so popular? Is it really worth the time investment to play or is it just a passing fad?
First off, what is Kentucky Route Zero? Upon first hearing the name, it sounded like a weird mishmash of words. The game takes place in Kentucky and features a man, his truck, and an old hound dog. The protagonist knows little of the area and simply wants to find the way to highway route “Zero” to deliver his goods. This turns out to be harder than he imagines, though, as he comes across a cast of unusual people and strange occurrences.
Although the story is done in quite an interesting fashion, that’s not what players are going to notice first. No, it is the visuals which immediately steal the show. Colors are boldly dark and shapes are angular. The stylization looks so good and unlike most games before it. Certainly no other adventure games have this look going on, instead all trying to mimic the magic of LucasArts and Sierra masterpieces. Alongside the visuals, the camera pans and zooms in ways to benefit the visuals further. It may be a little hard to explain, but suffice to say, the graphics are definitely one of the many high points for this package.
Now let’s return to discussion of the story. If you are someone who always needs to know exactly what is going on then you’ll hate this game. Much of what is said is veiled and mysterious. People may never say what they mean or even talk about things that make any sense (on a first playthrough). It feels at times like characters are trying to purposefully obfuscate the importance of their words. This all leads the game to feeling very otherworldly. The visuals certainly aid this but even without them, the game would still be undeniably odd.
When speaking with characters, you will have to choose dialog options. However, you are never really capable of saying the wrong thing. All that will change is the knowledge received, and therefore, your perception of the game. Similarly, puzzles relating to choice are not hard. The game was not designed to be difficult like the standard point and click adventure. As long as you’re playing, you’ll eventually work your way through it without having to make sense of convoluted clues. Of course, beating it doesn’t mean you still won’t be confused at the end.
Between talking to characters, you’ll find yourself on the road. There are a great deal of pathways to travel. Although you can simply go from point A to point B and beat the game in half an hour, the true joy comes from taking time to explore the full breadth of the game world. When you first look at your map and see the many winding roads to travel, realize that they all have something of note to find on them. Areas are simply waiting to be found to expand the story a bit, or at least offer up something new to see.
It’s in this portion of the game where it bravely takes on the veil of a text adventure game. For example, some areas have no visuals. You are simply presented with descriptive text and options for where to go in the area or what to do. However, it doesn’t really feel archaic while playing at all. It was only after finishing the title that I realized that those segments were basically text adventures while the rest of the game takes on a point-and-click adventure style. Overall, it is quite a neat part of the game, although a shame that some will easily miss it in order to simply complete the storyline.
However, just beating Kentucky Route Zero - Act 1 does not mean you’ve seen it all. As the name implies, this is just the beginning of a five part episodic series. Only the first part is available right now, which just leaves everyone who plays it more time to scratch their collective heads in confusion. It remains to be seen if the next acts will be able to keep up this quality, but hopefully they shall. It must be worth remembering that this all began as a Kickstarter project, so seeing this high quality so far is quite promising.
If there’s anything wrong with this game, it lies with the “ending”. I am unaware if this was intentional or not, but upon getting to the final scene of the game, it simply closes. There is no title card saying the episode is over or even just showing the name. Instead, after a little scene, the game window closes itself down. This behavior has led many to worry that their game crashed. While the end is sufficient, it does no good to the player to have them fussing over a possible crash instead of mulling over the story they just experienced.
With such a small complaint, it’s easy to recommend this game to many. Kentucky Route Zero - Act 1 oozes excellent aesthetics, both visual and narrative, and gameplay which is incredibly easy to comprehend. There is very little challenge and that leaves players to simply focus on the world. Because the game has started off so well, we can only hope that the other four acts will continue in its footsteps. Until we know how those turn out, all that can be said is that Kentucky Route Zero is off to a very good start.
+ Excellent visual design
+ Cast of unusual characters
+ Writing which leaves you hungry to discover more
- Game closing itself leads to confusion on player’s part
- Simplicity of puzzles, while necessary, may bother core adventure fans
Overall Score: 9 (out of 10)
Kentucky Route Zero - Act 1 is an adventure game that manages to distinguish itself from the pack with a very specific and strange experience.
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