Review: Kentucky Route Zero

Perhaps one of the most talked about indie titles of the year thus far has been Kentucky Route Zero, the point and click PC title by Jake Elliott and Tamas Kemenczy, otherwise known as Cardboard Computer. In the past few months its seen a cult fan base growing largely by word of mouth, players eager to share the beautiful but unsettling mystique that personifies the game.

Unlike most point and clicks, nay, most games in general, Kentucky Route Zero‘s primary objective is not to solve a puzzle or engage in a test of skill. The player is merely meant to observe and interact with their environment and the characters they meet along the way. Set to a pleasing back drop of a simple but curious art style, Kentucky Route Zero‘s merit lies mostly in its presentation, which includes a hauntingly melodic soundtrack of bluegrass tunes (most notably “You’ve Got To Walk“, which you can hear in the video below).

This installment of Kentucky Route Zero is the first of a planned five chapters. Players assume the identity of a quiet antiques shop employee who wanders into a small Kentucky town while trying to find the address for his latest delivery. Upon stopping at a local gas station, he begins an almost dream-like journey into the tiny village’s mysteries, encountering all manner of local folk, from those with a past tied to the town’s mythical highway to those who may hold secrets of the dead who reside there.

Kentucky Route Zero has no voice acting; all interactions are text based. Some of the dialogue trees  freely switch back and forth between two characters, with no penalty to the story or conversation (a feature I’ve never before seen in a game). Perhaps the most intriguing feature is the map, which includes locations that can be clicked on for a variety of text-based encounters, some of them done in the style of choose your own adventure. I hope to see this become fully fleshed out in future installments.

As an illustration of the flexibility and story telling power of the video game medium, Kentucky Route Zero excels. I’m concerned however by the lack of content in the first chapter. The ending was so abrupt I  thought the game had crashed until an email from the developers said otherwise. I understand that has now, or will soon be, fixed. The ending is still abrupt either way. Ultimately, the first chapter feels more like an introduction to the game than an actual installment, and while it costs $7 it feels like $2 worth of content.

I do have high hopes for the next four chapters, but warn that those with a casual interest in the game who haven’t played a lot of indie or PC point and clicks may not find it as enchanting as the hype would have them believe. If you do however enjoy a mixture of eery atmosphere and intrigue with a soundtrack to match, Kentucky Route Zero is worth a try.

Gameranx Review Score: 4/5

Kentucky Route Zero was developed and published by Cardboard Computer. It was released in December 2012, at the MSRP of $7 per episode or $25 for the bundle. A copy was provided by the developers for the purposes of review.