Kentucky Route Zero: Act 1 Review
The only thing Conrad wanted to do was make a delivery for an antique store he works for. Unfortunately for him the address he’s looking for is on Kentucky Route Zero, a road that may or may not exist. Asking for directions at the Equus Oils gas station might prove helpful, but the station’s owner Joseph wants Conrad to complete a couple of tasks first. After an odd experience in the station’s basement while fumbling around for the circuit breaker, Conrad is given directions to find a woman named Weaver Marquez. Marquez lives alone in a ramshackle house near a burning tree and appears to be the only person that knows anything about route zero.
Kentucky Route Zero is a point-and-click adventure that emphasizes atmosphere and storytelling. Conrad is able to have conversations with most everyone he meets on his journey, even his dog. You’re allowed to choose different dialogue options for Conrad but it’s not clear if any of these choices will make a difference in the end or not. Regardless, the writing is very literary and descriptive. This gives the game the feel of a visual novel which only helps bring more attention to the compelling story.
The animated visuals are dark, shadowy and are almost like a moving painting. The camera pans slowly in each area and pulls in you in close at opportune moments to provide further immersion. The abandoned mine is probably the most stunning area in the first act, particularly during a section when you’re able to switch tracks with the mine cart. Kentucky Route Zero’s visual aesthetics definitely showcase a strong attention to detail. The music provides a similar effect as most of it, while minimalist, reflects the mysterious nature of the story.
Unlike most point-and-click adventure games Kentucky Route Zero doesn’t really feature any puzzles, at least in Act 1. Essentially, the only thing you have to do to control Conrad is click on the ground where you want him to go and select different options that pop up on the screen. The different areas you’re able to explore don’t feature many things that you’re able to interact with, but the map of Kentucky is completely open. Once Conrad finishes up at each location he and his dog get back into the truck and hit the open road. The entire map is up for grabs at this point so you don’t necessarily need to travel to your next destination right away. The fact that Act 1 is relatively short (less than an hour) makes these non-linear sections very welcome.
While Act 1 sets the tone for Kentucky Route Zero very nicely it does contain some minor flaws. Like I said before, the conversation decisions don’t appear to have any effect other than providing a bit of extra dialogue that might reveal some new information. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I think I’d like to see multiple story paths in the later acts. That might just be me, though. The other issue is that there are moments when Conrad doesn’t seem to want to go where you click despite the fact you’re clicking on the proper section. The area that suffered from this problem the most was in the gas station’s basement early in the game.
This current revival of the adventure game genre appears to have inspired numerous developers to create thought-provoking titles that demonstrate the artistic merits of gaming. Act 1 succeeds in drawing in you into Kentucky Route Zero’s promising story, so let’s hope the next four acts can build on this solid foundation.