This post may contain spoilers. You’ve been warned!
The first act of indie adventure game Kentucky Route Zero was released on Steam a couple of weeks ago, and having finally had the chance to complete it yesterday, I have some thoughts on the experience.
Calling Kentucky Route Zero a “video game” is a bit of a stretch. The only interaction it offers is in the form of left mouse clicks. But that’s not a slight on the work. Kentucky Route Zero aims not to provide a challenge, but to tell a story through a combination of text, visuals, and sound. Zero is exceedingly good at creating an atmosphere that’s halfway between haunting and mysterious. The experience isn’t scary, per se, but it always leaves the player wanting to find out what happens next. With its synthesizer-based soundtrack and featuring of old technology, it evokes somewhat of a retro vibe, but one where the devices of decades past can uncover mysteries in the present day.
One thing that initially struck me as odd about Zero but I realize in retrospect is actually quite brilliant is that the game presents players with dialogue choices. They don’t seem to have much of an impact, if any, on the story. At first, it seems as if they were included in order to reach a baseline threshold of interaction for players to feel engaged. But further reflection reveals that they were included for a different reason. Kentucky Route Zero positions the player in the role of paranormal investigator. Dialogue choices allow the player to feel as if he or she is uncovering the mystery for him or herself.
And what an odd mystery it is! It raises so many questions that have yet to be answered. Who sent Conway to Dogwood Drive? What’s Shannon hiding down in the mine? What’s up with Weaver? What’s going on in the museum? Why is there an underground highway (possibly the titular one) running next to the mine? And now that Conway and Shannon have found the Zero, what’s next for them? Hopefully, Act 2, set to release next month, presents some answers.
I’ll post my thoughts on each episode as it comes. So far, Kentucky Route Zero is off to a fantastic start, and I can’t wait to see where this enigmatic adventure goes next.