Saturday, June 8, 2013

Kentucky Route Zero Acts I & II Review

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Kentucky Route Zero is unlike any game I have played before, and so it is pretty hard to explain in terms of genres we are used to. It is definitely a point-and-click game, but it has very few puzzles and it never uses the pre-rendered static backgrounds that have been common in the genre since the 90s. The visual style is simple, but it is a sight to behold. It is amazing what the artist was able to do with flat shapes; shadows and contrast are used heavily to give the scenes depth, and the game actually looks gorgeous in 3D as well.

Some of the scenes utilize angles very creatively to hide objects from you until you have done a bit of exploring. Of course this only works because the game has complete control of the camera the whole time.

The plot centers around a truck driver named Conway who works for an antique shop. He is trying to get to Dogwood Lane in order to make a delivery, but of course that turns out to be much more difficult than he originally anticipated. The gas station attendant that you meet at the beginning of the game tells Conway that he is going to have to take "the zero" and you spend the first act looking for Kentucky Route Zero.

Everyone who gives you directions is pretty cryptic, and the landmarks they navigate by border on the surreal. Once you're on the road, you have a lot of freedom and there are more odd places to visit that have nothing to do with the plot of the game, but they add to the atmosphere nicely.

I really liked the conversation system they use. You always get to choose what your character says, but I am pretty sure that the story line does not diverge based on that; the choices are purely to shape the character in your own mind.

The game sometimes switches the character that you are controlling. Most of the time you control Conway, but when they were introducing Shannon the scene played out from her perspective; Conway was simply marked as "Stranger." This gives the player the chance to decide what kind of person Shannon is before she joins the group.

If I have convinced you to buy the game, stop reading and go play it now. I'm going to start talking about Act II and I don't want to accidentally spoil anything.

At the end of Act I you find The Zero. There, I spoiled it. If you were hoping that finding The Zero was going to be Conway's big break, you'll be disappointed. The Zero is a strange circular highway underground with a very confusing navigational system. Depending on whether you are going clockwise or counterclockwise you will find different landmarks. If you turn around at a particular landmark, you will enter that landmark's layer and you will see different landmarks than before. It's easy to get lost, but don't worry- there is always a way out.

Act II continues the outside-the-box storytelling. In one scene the narration and conversations are being related through people who witnessed the scene to a museum staff who is trying to figure out what Conway and Shannon were up to. I found it refreshing and quite delightful.

Now seriously, if you are planning at all on playing this game stop reading now. I'm just going to straight-up tell you the craziest stuff that happens.

My favorite crazy moment was when I was trying to find a clerk who was supposedly on the fifth floor of an office building. I enter the elevator and see this:

"Third floor. (Bears)"

No, it couldn't possibly mean real bears. So I go to the third floor.

Oh. Bears. Bears that just sit there and watch me as I walk around.

And then there was the time when we all went riding around on a giant eagle to find a hidden forest far away from the highway system.

So that happened.

The forest scenes were absolutely gorgeous, and some of the images are downright mind boggling. Look carefully at the eagle and the car.

So yes, I would highly recommend this game to anyone who has been getting tired of the same old games over and over, anyone who enjoys the surreal or magical realism, anyone who is looking for something artsy. It is definitely worth the $25 it normally costs, and right now it is on sale on Steam. The first two acts are out now, and the other three will be releasing as they are finished.

As always check out all of my screenshots.