Mysterious and stylish, Kentucky Route Zero should be played
In my opinion atmosphere can go a long way when it comes to the quality of a game. Even if its gameplay is nothing new, a solid story mixed with a unique art style and some creepy atmosphere can really carry a game. That’s the case with the first episode (or Acts as the game calls it) of Kentucky Route Zero, a Kickstarter funded adventure game about the mysterious route zero on the Kentucky highway.
I only bring up the whole Kickstarter thing because I feel like it’s still a largely untested concept. Only now are we seeing the results with games like FTL and Kentucky Route Zero. Having now play both of these game I can say that if this represents the bar of quality for future Kickstarter funded games then we have only good things to look forward to.
Kentucky Route Zero is the kind of game where the story is really its main drive and I would upset if I was to spoil any of it for you. What you can know is that you play as Conway, a truck driver delivering packages for an antique shop and the only way to his destination is though the mysterious route zero. There’s a lot of mystery to it, as your never quite sure exactly what happening and who, or what, the people you meet are. It’s kind of a ghost story in the lot of ways but it never goes into down the path of trying to scare you. For Kentucky Route Zero everything is about tone and atmosphere.
The gameplay in Kentucky Route Zero is your standard adventure game fair in a lot of ways. You point and click on the screen to make Conway move and you click on objects and people to interact with them. There are no real puzzles to speak of, as the game is more interested in keeping you moving from place to place and reacting to the bizarre happenings around you.
I’d say that Kentucky Route Zero’s core gameplay concept is in the layer of player choice in its dialogue. However it’s much different than what you’re used to in games like Mass Effect, where you decide what happens next. Instead the events of the narrative stay fixed but you manipulate the characters and their stories around it. For example, Conway has a dog with him throughout the episode. When asked by a gas station attendant what the dog’s name is, your options are; “His name is Homer.” “Her name is Blue.” And “Just some dog; I don’t know his name.” You don’t change what happens to the dog, but you do create the dog’s identity and Conway’s relationship to it. Throughout the whole episode people keep asking questions about Conway and his past and you get to create that history and personality for him.
This whole idea really shows of its potential in my favorite moment, when you get to control a second character briefly. That character then meets Conway and you get control both of their dialogues while they have a conversation with each other. It’s this totally unique moment where I’m creating this conversation between the two characters as oppose to simply reacting to what another character says. While the story remains the same throughout the episode, your changing the context of everything that’s happening and that’s actually cooler is a lot of ways. I felt like I had more choice in the story without really having any. It’s an amazing feat to pull something like that of and I’m interested in seeing how that continues in future episodes.
Oh course you can’t talk about Kentucky Route Zero without bringing up the visuals. It’s just got a great look to it. Lots of sharp angles, solid colors, and abrasive shadows give everything that cool vector art look. The game does an amazing job transitioning from one scene to the next. At one point you visit a house on top of a hill covered in fog. As Conway walks up the hill the camera slowly zooms in and fog begins to disappear revealing the house. It’s a neat visual trick and something you really have to see to in action to fully appreciate. Everything also has this great Midwest highway feel to it. If you've ever taken a road trip in the Midwest at night you know it has a particular feel to it and the game really seems to capture that. Add in the creepy fog and ghost story like atmosphere and you have a game that’s just dripping with style.
I could keep talking about all the little cool things Kentucky Route Zero has like how walking into a museum turns the game into a text based like game at one point (huh, guess I just did). My point is you should play and experience the game for yourself to truly get what’s so neat about it. I have no idea how the game will work episodically or if any of the other episodes will be any good, but Kentucky Route Zero is off to great start, and they have me ready to see what comes next.