Published on June 26th, 2013 | by Matt
Kentucky Route Zero: Mysteries Abound
A common complaint about video games is that they often lack good stories. While that’s a debatable topic – there are many good examples as well as bad ones – it’s easy to see that a lot of story experimentation is coming from smaller games. Indie developers have less to lose and more creative freedom than most big-budget titles, so they have the opportunity to tell non-traditional tales.
Kentucky Route Zero is one such game. The episodic indie adventure, which is available on Steam now and in its second part of five, is certainly playing with the idea of keeping the player in the dark. It’s a little too early to tell if Kentucky Route Zero is a good story, but it’s certainly an interesting one. And it has my attention.
It’s hard to to explain what KR0 is about, because the game is mystery. The story seems to be more about the player figuring out the world than a normal one-two-three act structure. You play as Conway, a middle-aged delivery truck driver, and Shannon, a younger electrician. There’s a heavy emphasis on the supernatural and unusual, but no one seems to question the mysterious nature of anything in the world.
So these two (as well as Conway’s dog, which you can name yourself) find themselves searching for “the Zero” a road that will take Conway to his final delivery destination. When they do find it, it leads to some sort of other world and even more questions. Even in the “real” world there are unusual sights, such as people who disappear after you talk to them, or empty churches with music playing in them. Is any of this real? Is everyone dead? Is it all a dream? Am I doing this story any justice with this cliche questions?
Hopefully the mystery will be revealed as the episodes continue.
KR0 may not answer the big questions in it’s first two episodes, because its main focus is on the character moments and utilizing it’s brilliant art style to create set pieces. There are dialogue options in almost every conversation, and while it’s unclear how much of the story they actually alter, they can certainly change the player’s perception of the characters. Entire backstories can be different for each player, or even glossed over and ignored depending on what you choose.
While the characters may just be blank spaces, you get to color them in how you want. Although the story beats don’t change based on your choices, your connection to the characters might. One example with Conway: when asked about his past, you can answer positively about his parents when he was a child, regretfully about the mistakes he made as an adult or philosophically about how the present and future are more important things to worry about. You only have one answer, and each one allows you to build your “own” Conway, even if that aspect of his character isn’t essential to the plot.
Besides the engaging story the game also features simply spectacular artwork that really has to be seen to give it justice. Even the screenshots here aren’t the same as seeing the game move from one scene to the next.
So while this description may not have been the clearest (because the game itself isn’t always clear) I can safely say I am really enjoying this adventure so far. Maybe the questions will be answered, maybe they won’t. Either way the journey seems to be what KR0 is all about.
Due to editorial disagreements with how game reviews are often graded, we don’t have formal reviews yet on Pixel Legends. This series (as well as Broken Pixel) are as close as we get to doing so. As you can imagine, I’m wholly in favor of Kentucky Route Zero and I recommend you check it out if you like adventure games, mysteries or amazing art.