The story of Kentucky Route Zero begins on the side of the highway to nowhere, not far from the gas station, where the truck of the protagonist named Conway slows down. This is the last delivery for an employee of a small antiques shop on the verge of closing, but even this simple job turns into an incredible adventure to find Dogwood Drive and the mystical route The Zero leading to it. Literally from the first minutes, strange branches appear in the measured narrative, and a fairly linear story is transformed into a kind of Twin Peaks with strange strangers, buildings growing out of the ground and floors in government institutions, packed to capacity with brown bears.
Kentucky Route Zero manipulates the player’s attention, revealing more and more new details and tearing the gaming reality into holes in other dimensions. Standard things and people suddenly turn into something unexpected, and the route from point “A” to point “B” embodies a dark version of Alice’s adventures in Wonderland. But in Kentucky Route Zero there is no rigid plot connection – instead of traveling along the rails of history.
you can quite enjoy the world around you, rolling a wheel on an interactive map, meeting strange strangers and watching equally incredible events in a world that is stuck on the verge between dream and reality. Behind one of the turns of this dark highway, two ragged pilots are waiting for you, pushing a battered hang glider into the fading sunset. Another will bring you the charm of abandoned buildings and fake cemeteries where someone’s memories are hidden.
Quarries, old mansions, strange institutions, rain-sheltered museums, and a forest filled with incredible inhabitants from different worlds evoke in you the strangest range of emotions from outrage to empathy; from surprise to admiration for the expression of the creators, who, using primitive vector graphics in the style of Another World, were able to achieve such impressive results.
It is noticeable that from the first to the second chapter the game evolves, bringing to the stage more and more characters, locations and visual environment studies, offering players a three-dimensional version of the map of another dimension, which requires good memory and perseverance. At the same time, Kentucky Route Zero does not try to copy the techniques of other games in this genre, presenting you with a natural development of dialogues without the usual loops of one phrase with a gentle flow of thought between different characters, whose lines you can control. This approach does not greatly affect the main plot, but it gives the player a sense of the vital naturalness of the development of the dialogue and the story itself as a whole.
Kentucky Route Zero is a game that needs to be told as little as possible so as not to spoil the numerous story surprises and design decisions. A game that you can go through several times and each time discover some hidden meaning, and one of the few projects that will make you think about plot connections and interpretations for many days after playing through two episodes of the series and waiting for the late 3rd act.
The first episode of Kentucky Route Zero was released back in 2013. Seven years of development! You don’t see such long-term construction projects every day, both in large and small industries. Many no longer hoped to live to see the release of the last episode, but it still took place. Accurately towards the end of a generation, in an age where studios no longer need to prove that video games are an art form.
And if you’ve never played Kentucky Route Zero, now is the time to catch up. And immediately, and perhaps more than once.
Blues for a lost soul
Formally, this is a leisurely point-and-click adventure. You explore locations, communicate with characters, and… In general, everything. No puzzles, fuss with inventory, pixel hunting and other attributes of the genre. And along with them, the developers abandoned the traditional structure for quests. Although the game is divided into episodes, they are all open at once. It is better, of course, to go through them in order, but no one bothers to start at least from the last one.
The plot tells about a courier named Conway. He’s finishing his last days at a small antique shop that’s about to close. There was only one order left to complete: deliver the cargo to Dogwood Drive Five in Kentucky. But this street is not on the maps. It turns out that you need to get there not along the usual road, but along the Zero Route, which lies deep in caves underground. Well, sort of underground. Sometimes you can turn to Zero even on the surface – no one really knows how it works. In search of a cherished address, Conway will make new acquaintances and cross Kentucky far and wide: on a truck, on a boat, and even on the back of an eagle.
The developers put in the first place not the mechanics or the plot, but the impressions. Emotions. In the dialogues, you often have to make decisions, and sometimes quite serious ones, but none of them will affect the course of the plot. Instead, they influence his tone. Let’s say the game allows you to choose a name for a stray dog in a straw hat. In the context of the plot, this is an absolutely meaningless detail, but it still has weight. You named a tramp Homer because the dog looks wise, like an ancient Greek poet? Or because he’s stupid like Homer Simpson?
Kentucky Route Zero is full of situations where the player has small but very personal choices. A lot of work has been put into these small nuances, because, in fact, the plot is not about the mystery of the Zero Route, but everything that surrounds it. Eccentric people, mesmerizing landscapes, their stories. On the way to Dogwood Drive, the hero picks up a whole ensemble of fellow travelers – as lost as he is. An engineer girl who has not yet recovered from the death of her parents, an orphaned boy living in an abandoned museum … Yes, at least a couple of cyborg musicians who are learning to be human. All this motley company is looking for itself over the course of five episodes, and watching how a handful of strangers turn into a family is a special pleasure.