Something is never quite right in America. It has always been a strange place. It has been the land of opportunity and magic for many, but for some, it has failed to live up to expectations. Kentucky Route Zero is a point and click adventure game that attempts to capture all the wonderful strangeness of being on the road in America. But, does it capture the ethos of a road story or does it end in disappointment with a flat tire?
Kentucky Route Zero is an episodic point and click adventure game. Act I introduces you to an antiques delivery man named Conrad and his faithful pooch. He's looking for an address on Dogwood drive and finds out he must travel "The Zero" in order to get there. Act I encompasses his journey to Kentucky Route Zero and is a gorgeous and engrossing mystery to enjoy.
Act II however, is a bit different. You're out of the introductory phase of the game's story and things start to get a bit more off kilter. And that is a wonderful thing. As you make your way through Act II with Conrad, Shannon, and your pup, you get this sense of atmosphere that there is always another world lurking behind the one you see. It evokes that post-modern theme of worlds within worlds.
Everything you're presented with in Act II is familiar, yet somehow skewed just to the left of center. The visuals are as stunning as the first act and the closer you look, the more a scene fades from the familiar to the odd. You might be taking an elevator in an office building and pass by a floor full of bears or giant rats. No one else in the world notices them, but you surely do.
The Zero itself encompasses the nagging strangeness of the whole game. It appears as a circular tunnel with an assortment of strange landmarks to guide your way. The twist is that Kentucky Route Zero is actually the rough shape of a zero, but somehow there are new places to explore and landmarks to behold. It is as strange as it is intriguingly designed.
The dialogue is similar to Act I and adds real depth to the storytelling. Instead of elaborate exposition or information dumps, the game encourages you to explore and discover things at your own pace and piece together bits of the mysterious world of Conrad and Shannon. Even though you feel like an observer pulling a few of the puppet strings, the choices you make in the dialogue or how to interact with the environment help you make Conrad your own. You're still enjoying a great story, but you're given the chance to make minor tweaks to make the experience your own. It is the nuances that really makes this game shine.
The real trouble with Act II is that you're dealing with something familiar. After playing through Act I you need a bit more of a plot based prod to propel you through more of the story. This isn't a major concern since I really did enjoy making my way from curiosity to mundane oddity, but it can drag a little bit. Still, you'll want to stick it through to the end. I've done my best not to spoil too much since the charm of this game lies within its mystery, which is exactly what an adventure game should have.
As it is with most point and clickers, your character might get hung up here and there on the environment and a few of the animations might glitch. For instance, when trying to walk up to a counter, Conrad decided to take a bit of a detour out and around some invisible bit of the scenery.
Kentucky Route Zero isn't for the twitchy action gamer bent on blowing things up and going for combos or kill streaks. (In fact, any adventure game isn't for them.) Kentucky Route Zero is more for the gamer looking to slow down a little bit, and simmer in the odd mystery and atmosphere of a delivery in a parallel America.
I'm eagerly awaiting the next installments so I can dive back into the beautifully magical and eerie world that has been built along Kentucky Route Zero.
This review is based on a retail copy of Kentucky Route Zero for the PC.