Kentucky Route Zero: Episode One Review
Kentucky Route Zero is the newest game to spawn from the recent explosion of Kickstarter. Players will encounter a variety of weird and quirky characters that are full of detail. Despite the fact that this is an independent affair, it feels like a big budget adventure game. The first episode of five is out now and the other four episodes will be released throughout 2013.
The first episode of Kentucky Route Zero is mainly used to set up the plot and the two main characters. You’ll primarily play as Conway, a deliveryman for an antique shop, who happens to be lost on the interstates of Kentucky. When he stops to ask for directions at Equus Oils, he’s informed that he must take the Kentucky Route Zero to get where he needs to go.
The developers at Cardboard Computer are weaving a tale of mystery that will have you questioning reality at every turn. At one point you’ll see ghosts in the dark decrepit basement of a gas station and at the next you’ll be takin’ a left up at that ol’ tree that’s always on fire.
The story is vague at first, but there’s something about the first episode that makes you want to know what happens next. The characters you’ll encounter are quirky and mysterious in all the right ways, almost forcing you to accompany Conway on his search for the entrance ramp to the elusive Route Zero. Adventure games have an unfortunate tendency to become boring after a while, but Kentucky Route Zero seldom does. The ending will leave you wanting more, which is good because it’s only the first of five episodes.
Gameplay is a standard point-and-click affair. Oddly though, the game ditches the traditional item based puzzles of most adventure games. This was a bold move on the developer’s part, but it worked for the best in the sense that the lack of said puzzles creates some flawless pacing. The two puzzles that do show up in the first episode are easy to solve and they both fall in line with the story very well. One has you simply turn on a switch, and the other asks you to operate a rail-car turntable. They’re fun and unobtrusive and I hope that the developers stick to this type of gameplay for future episodes.
Kentucky Route Zero has the player moving from location to location, broken up by engaging dialogue points. The interesting thing about the dialogue is that it gives you many options that make you feel like you’re shaping Conway to be your own character. For example, one character will ask Conway about his dog and you’ll have three options to choose from. One will say that the dog is a boy; one will say that the dog is a girl, and the other will say that the dog is just some dog. Right there you’re not only choosing gender, but you’re also setting up Conway as a caring and warm person, or a disengaged and cold individual.
Anyone who’s played an adventure game will feel right at home, and the hands off story based gameplay provides a good introduction for people who are making their first foray into the genre.
Visuals are undoubtedly the strongest feature in Kentucky Route Zero. The best way to describe them would be if last years’ Superbrothers Sword and Sworcery EP weren’t 8-bit. The art is truly unique and at its high points you’ll simply be blown away. It’s very sixties-esque and its overall style reminded me of 2012’s Alan Wake’s American Nightmare. It’s very eerie and if you play the game in the right setting, (i.e. a dark room while alone) each new locale will send chills down your spine.
The camera is a great compliment to the art style; it is always moving with Conway and it zooms and pans around the environment. At first glance each environment seems like a static picture, but the way that the camera moves truly brings it all to life. Hopefully the art holds up in future episodes. I wouldn’t worry about that, because of the overall consistency of the game’s mysterious beauty.
Much like the smash indie hit Hotline Miami, the soundtrack of Kentucky Route Zero is a critical piece of the puzzle. Most of the time you’ll be listening to an ominous electronic beat that does a superb job of setting the tone of the game. Occasionally, though you’ll hear some old style country music that, if you listen closely, opens up some of the story’s vaguer points. If you purchase the season pass, you’ll get the soundtrack for each episode as they become available. I highly recommend this purchasing option because it’s fun to listen to the soundtrack after you finish the first episode and it could help you understand the story more.
The first episode of Kentucky Route Zero hits all the bullet points necessary for setting up a great overarching story. Although the gameplay walks a thin line of becoming boring, the developers instill a sense of confidence that they know what they’re doing with this game. The graphics and soundtrack are rivaled by very few games and the end of the first episode will definitely leave you wanting more, which many would argue, is the point of any great episodic adventure.
Written by Guest Reviewer: RandomHero1270