Kentucky Route Zero is a magical realist adventure game about a secret highway in the caves beneath Kentucky, and the mysterious folks who travel it. Gameplay is inspired by point-and-click adventure games (like the classic Monkey Island or King's Quest series, or more recently Telltale's Walking Dead series), but focused on characterization, atmosphere and storytelling rather than clever puzzles or challenges of skill.
The game is developed by Cardboard Computer (Jake Elliott and Tamas Kemenczy). The game's soundtrack features an original electronic score by Ben Babbitt along with a suite of old hymns & bluegrass standards recorded by The Bedquilt Ramblers.
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Holy shit, what an incredible experience. With just the right level of gameplay to compliment the writing, the only things I can think to compare this to are other dialogue-heavy adventure games like Night in the Woods or Oxenfree, but this is entirely different beast.
On the level of writing, subtext and dialogue this was made explicitly for me to love it, with a perfect mix of surface narrative and visceral metaphorical surrealism. It's a story of delivering antiques, but also of loss, working class struggle, modern pastoral industrialisation fears and how the world late stage capitalism creates forgets and leaves behind the people who build it, amongst so many other things.
On the front of art and music this game blows you away, gameplay perfectly joins with stunning visuals that perfectly mix with music into this fantastic stew of a game that's everything I love in film and literature, with a pure, concerntrated southern gothic aesthetic over so many visual styles and locations.
However, I do say 'film and literature' because normally I do ask for a little more game from a game, but that's likely just my being spoiled by my love for fast, deep action games, and anything more than what it's doing simply would not work here.
The story of Conway especially really drives home the commentary on corporate debt in the lower classes, losing his very body in surprisingly literal ways, and being so downtrodden he does nothing about it, it's subtly pulled off but still has the emotional impact you'd want.
Shannon's story displays how the harmful effects of this awful cycle can go down through generations, affecting them forever.
The end of the game shows us this rotten society, destroyed by forces beyond it's control, and something new, 5 Dogwood Drive, that just maybe we can make something better from. The Zero itself is a loop, metaphorically representing the awful cycle of capitalist and corporate greed, and the only way out is by literally escaping. Conway represents this old world perfectly, and the scene in the factory was gut-wrenching, what should be a personal hell for a recovering alcoholic who hates his delivery job (delivering whiskey) but he is numb to it, and he is swept up and lost. The rest of our characters, young and willing to find the new; especially Ezra, who also represents a connection with this strange new world and all of it's... strangeness, are the only ones who can forge a new way.
This game has the same subtextual depth I'm always looking for in literature and film, but it's so rare to see this level and this well executed a version of that in a video game, and I'm so glad we're moving into a world where that is becoming the norm. This was an astounding experience and one of the finest video games I've ever played, once again part of me wishes there was more game, but I can't dock points for my childish need to have action action action jump hit boom.
This game is unbearable and boring as F. Its pretty interesting how I can give it 1 star while people think this is the best thing ever. I don't want to waste anytime writing anymore or waste any brain cells on this game. I gave it a fair shot and made it half way through act 3 and I just could not take it anymore. The music was nice as is the animation....there is just a bunch of random chat and text that scrolls by. I had 0 investment in it... i don't know what the point of this game is... is it a commentary on society? If so do i really need a game to tell me that our medical insurance is a rip off? I tried to push through because its an easy trophy... however i cannot take 8-10 hours of this just for an easy plat.
If you like reading a lot of random things (kind of like in some animes random shit just happens, and people say and do random things, that don't connect and you just accept it....) play this game. If you like traditional story telling... stay far away. In contrast i loved Limbo, little nightmares, etc.... i was expecting more of the same here based on what i read going in....
if only had words... oh god i'm so devasted by this ending. i'm not american, i'm not from kentucky, but all this is so familiar to me. being born at the countryside of a "third-world" country made this story very powerful. i've seen many lives and cities being destroyed by big companies, i've seen many traditions end because of neoliberalism. i just wish world was a better place to all of us.
might be my new favorite game.