Kentucky Route Zero: Act 1 | Gaming reviews, news & interviews
Kentucky Route Zero: Act 1
Painting with darkness and light: chiaroscuro never looked so good in this point-and-click visual novel
There’s nothing more off-putting in a game than a screen filled with awful and waffling text that just keeps on awfully waffling. It’s one of the reasons Final Fantasy and I don’t get along. It’s refreshing then to discover a game that is predominantly text-based, but which is absolutely gripping.
Described by its creators as a piece of magical realism, the game is intentionally character-based, focusing on atmosphere and storytelling over puzzles and tests of skill. In fact Kentucky Route Zero is more of a visual novel than a typical adventure game, but it is these visuals which push the game into the realms of art.
Beginning your journey as lost delivery man Conway, you are searching the highways of Kentucky for a mysterious underground Route 0 with only the lonely sound of cicadas and a faithful dog in a battered straw hat for company. Later on you will take control of various other characters as you select from interaction options - a bit like Dungeons and Dragons – and watch as the consequences play out, be they in animated sequences of game play, or in incredibly descriptive text which, with the aid of sound effects, narrates the encounters you cannot see.
Not only is the writing in this game extraordinarily good, the visuals are artistically outstanding. The camera moves like a watching entity, roving through the landscape and zooming in to focus on a small section of action. As it does so, silhouettes melt out of the darkness, solidifying before your eyes.
As the shape of a house looms out of the gloom we are reminded of the mother’s house in Psycho; the unnatural fluorescent shapes of trees protruding starkly from the monochrome landscape creates visuals on a par with The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari; the charming Depression-era Americana-style graphics are redolent of the stylised animations that used to precede 1960s farce movies and more recently films like Catch Me If You Can and Tintin.
A Kickstarter project which not only succeeded in achieving its funding goal, but has already been selected as a finalist in 2013’s Independent Games Festival, Kentucky Route Zero promises a five-act bundle upon completion, and I for one can’t wait until the next instalment.
- Kentucky Route Zero: Act 1 developed and published by Cardboard Computer. Platform: PC and Mac
- Read other gaming reviews on theartsdesk
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