Kentucky Route Zero is billed as a magical-realist adventure game, something which I’m not sure we’ve had before. With a copy both of One Hundred Years of Solitude and After the Quake sitting on the dashboard, I start the truck’s engine and point the headlights towards the highway.
Rarely is it that you can tell a game is something special by its opening minutes, but there’s a reason why the above screenshot is featured in every review or article about Kentucky Route Zero Act, I (KR0I). With its simple, yet gorgeous visual style and utter lack of pretense as it hands control over to the player, KR0I makes a strong first impression.
KR0I is a point and click adventure game, but it is also interactive fiction and to a lesser extent it’s an engine for generating poetry. Indeed, the Not-A-Game Crowd would have a field day with Kentucky Route Zero, but to those unimaginative gits I say “Come at me, bro. To find me, just take the Zero.”
The adventure game sections are certainly the parts that drive the narrative forward, but on the highway map you can find other locations that might not be visually-realised, but are explored in interesting and nuanced ways through short interactive stories. The writing is beautiful but spare – never crossing into flowery territory – and consistently moving; even if it has no bearing on the story going ahead, the Church I found somewhere west of the 65 will still stick in my head for some time to come.
There are puzzles, but they aren’t genuine head-scratchers. Most adventure games – perhaps most story-driven games, period – are about the obstacles between you and the story, but KR0I is the opposite. KR0I is the story, it is the journey, and it is superbly crafted, with gorgeous, distinctive visuals and fittingly-surreal sound design.
I’m going to delve into Act II soon. I’ll bring word back from the road.
Kentucky Route Zero will eventually comprise of five acts. If you purchase the Season Pass you get access to Acts I and II straight away, and the other three acts as they are released.