First Impressions - Kentucky Route Zero

I guess in Kentucky the sun doesn't always shine on TV

I managed to get Kentucky Route Zero mainly because of my love of "story rich" games (to borrow a tag used on Steam) and after hearing so many glowing reviews (the game holds a Metacritic rating of 81 and a Very Positive rating on Steam after over 1,000 reviews). Described as a magic realist adventure game, Cardboard Computer (the developers) managed to raise over $8,500 on Kickstarter way back in 2011, making it the earliest video game Kickstarter I've heard of (even before the huge success of 2012's Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter). The game's first act was released in 2013 and as of 2015, two more have been completed (with another two still to follow).

So when I finished the third act of the game I was thinking "Haha! I have finished yet another game on my backlog that I can now review!" But alas, as mentioned there are still two more acts to go and considering Cardboard Computer's track record, it could be 2017 before we can finally complete the game! Oh well, at least I can do a "First Impressions" article on it right?

What I like:

  • Tribute to interactive fiction and early adventure games: Despite the game using a point ‘n' click interface most of the time, most of the conversations and decisions are done using a text-based menu system akin to visual novels, interactive fiction and early adventure games. You'll even come across some characters in the game which have suspiciously similar names to pioneers of the interactive fiction/adventure genre and a whole act dedicated to that nostalgic era of text-based gaming.
  • Excellent use of sound effects to create ambience: The sound effects are done so well you could almost imagine yourself being there. Music is used sparingly but to great effect.
  • Art style: The animations and artwork in the game seem to have taken inspiration from classic French games like Little Big Adventure and Another World, which isn't a bad thing.
  • You can pick your own lyrics to a song!: Not only that but the song has actual vocals. So you're basically choosing what you'll hear through your speakers next (not just reading what's on the screen like most of the game).
  • A surreal arthouse film but as a game: The game's greatest strength is the fact it's like a surreal arthouse film where you're not quite sure what's going on and it seems to be more about emotions and self-discovery than actually following a cohesive plot. This does have the effect of building up your curiosity so you'll want to return and learn more…

What I don't like:

  • A surreal arthouse film but as a game: But this is also the game's greatest flaw. If you're the sort to like "beating" a game or a person who likes their plots to make sense, Kentucky Route Zero isn't one of those games. The game is a borderline "walking simulator" in that you're just along there for the ride (along Route Zero. Huehuehuehue).
  • Camera angles: Sometimes the game has really annoying camera angles that obscure other parts of the game you're meant to explore (sometimes preventing you to continue).
  • Interface is sometimes cumbersome: At one point of the game the camera kept rotating in circles while I was viewing the map. The problem is, the mouse cursor also rotates as well making it quite difficult to select menu buttons
  • Still not finished: The biggest complaint you'll see if visiting the Steam store page for the game is that the game is still not finished. While I don't mind delays when it comes to games (I'd prefer a polished product than a half-finished one) it has been almost two years since the first act was released and that's a long time in the world of computer games.


I'm curious to learn more about the characters as you definitely become invested in their stories (as you're the one that is responsible for filling in the blanks, a bit like how Always Sometimes Monsters works). The game's magic realist setting definitely keeps things mysterious and consequently you'll want to stick around a bit longer to make some sense of it. Too bad it could be a while before I get to play the final two acts!

[ LINK: Kentucky Route Zero Official Website ]