By – Callan MacKinlay
Kentucky Route Zero is an episodic point-and-click adventure game by Cardboard Computer. It is in five acts which will be released over the next year. At $7 an episode, it is a bit more expensive than most episodic content, but you can buy the whole set for $25. Even still, I finished this episode in 45 minutes so five times that would only end up being just under four hours long (assuming they are similar lengths). Four hours of gaming for $25 is a bit steep for me, especially when I can get all five episodes of The Walking Dead for the same price.
Kentucky Route Zero centers on a truck driver named Conrad who has to deliver a shipment to a location he has never heard of before. Conrad’s first stop in the quest for the location is a gas station, where he asks the owner if he has ever heard of the titular road, Route Zero. In classic adventure game form, the owner requires Conrad to complete a task in the basement before he will volunteer any information. When you go down there, you are greeted with some people playing a game on a table as you search for the circuit breaker. They require a twenty-sided die in order to move out of your way and once you find it, they just disappear. This first encounter introduces you to the supernatural elements that populate this game and in my opinion, confuse the story.
Your purpose is really to find an underground highway called Route Zero, but as you search for it you encounter what I guess are ghosts who are trying to help you. The whole game feels like a dream sequence and makes about as much sense as one. This is not helped by the conversation system, which oftentimes is disjointed and confusing. There is no voice audio in the game; all of the conversations are done in text, in a font that looks like the one used in Zork. But what makes conversations strange is that every one of them is a meandering mess.
You will be given choices in the conversations that make sense and then provided with an answer that has nothing to do with what you asked. I am not sure whether this is because the game mistook the question that I asked or if they only had one answer that was meant to answer all of the questions. Either way, the responses run the gamut from concise all the way to extraneous exposition. In a game where you are trying to figure out what is going on in the world, having characters that do a bad job of explaining it to you doesn’t help much. One conversation that you take part in has you responding to someone that you can’t hear. I am sure the developers thought that this was a cute thing to do, but instead it just added to the confusion. I don’t know if I was supposed to deduce what the other person was saying by reading my side’s possible responses, but I just gave up and gave the most noncommittal answers.
Luckily, Kentucky Route Zero’s world is beautiful. The game’s art reminds me of a mixture between Full Throttle and the original Alone in the Dark. The first scene opens on a gas station with a massive horse head on it as Conrad drives up in his 50s truck (which he apparently never turns off). The characters are drawn in 3D but in a style more similar to Superbrothers: Swords and Sorcery EP. Looking cartoonish and blocky, the style is certainly unique without drawing away from any of the beauty of the locations. Unfortunately, there are really only four locations in the game, so exposure to these cool-looking places is limited.
While I truly enjoyed the visuals of Kentucky Route Zero, that is the only part that I really liked. This game seems to me to be the game equivalent of an art film: visually exceptional but disjointed and confusing. I hope some of the issues with the game will be solved over the next few episodes, because I think that this game has a lot of potential.
Is it Worth Your Money?
In its current state, Kentucky Route Zero is very expensive for what it gives you. Obviously, the per-episode purchase price is exorbitant so if you are really interested, buy the whole set. But even then, I would wait until the next episodes are out since you won’t get much out of this game from the first act only.