Yesterday, after a long but well-worth-it wait, Act IV of Cardboard Computer’s gorgeous point-and-click adventure narrative game Kentucky Route Zero was finally released. If you haven’t heard of it before, you’ll know about it now – one of my favourite games, it’s a magical realist adventure in five acts about “a secret highway in the caves beneath Kentucky, and the mysterious folks who travel it“. I don’t often write reviews for things online, mainly because I know I’ll get carried away and turn what was intended to be a short recommendation into a somewhat lengthy university-level essay, but to be perfectly honest I love Jake, Tamas and Ben’s work so much that I wrote the below as a review on KR0’s Steam page this morning to support them. If you’re looking for something new to play (and even if you aren’t) have a read of what I wrote, check out the game on Steam, GOG or itch.io, and consider giving it a go!
Kentucky Route Zero is truly the epitome of the quote “Every Frame a Painting”. Beautiful, sad and thought-provoking, it’s the kind of game you end up sitting in silence and thinking about long after you’ve finished playing. If you’re anything like me you’ll probably be screenshotting your way through your playthrough every chance you get; the cinematography and use of colour is just gorgeous and every move the camera makes works to frame the game’s subjects in the most gorgeous and cinematic fashion possible (much like Shadow of the Colossus does)*. The attention to detail in the storytelling is simply breathtaking and the humour and references to media/information theory are v clever in their implementation (see: the Shannon-Weaver model).
If you enjoy stageplays, quietly weird fiction, and slow, thoughtful and intelligent storytelling then I definitely recommend this game. A wonderful example of Southern Gothic literature and excellent playwriting, it touches on themes such as debt, poverty, loss and being lost, and overcoming obstacles. The characters are diverse, sometimes quirky, often sympathetic, and always fascinating and engaging in their own rights. Having just finished Act IV last night in one sitting I’m left fairly heartbroken at its turn of events, but also hopeful that things will turn out okay in the end, even if the main players may not have much in the means of influence within the world of the game. Ben Babbitt’s soundtrack is beautiful and adds perfectly to the ambience of the game, and the aliased style of the graphics are simple and minimalist (especially whilst traveling the Zero) and yet perfectly unique and fitting to the feel and tone of the game.
It’s a multitude of things that make Kentucky Route Zero as enchanting as it is – it’s a poem, it’s ghost story, it’s a piece of art cinema; it’s a collection of vignettes on what it means to be lonely vs alone and the many different ways people may find it hard to fit into society. In my experience, it’s best played late at night, when it’s quiet both within and without – being in the right frame of mind is key to fully appreciating the game, but KR0 does a fine job of bringing you into that mood as soon as you start up the game anyway.
I’ll finish here with a quote from a Tweet my friend (who gifted me the game) posted last night:
“He just wants to finish a delivery. She just wants answers about a family mystery. Things complicate, as they do. I hope they un-complicate.”
So do I… so do I.