Kentucky Route Zero is an indie episodic point and click adventure game, developed and published by Cardboard Computer. Revealed on Kickstarter back in 2011, the developer had to reach a goal of USD 6,500, but managed to raise USD 8,583. Kentucky Route Zero was planned for release in late 2011, but as with every single game development project ever, that never happened and eventually the game was instead split into 5 episodes with the first one released in January 2013 and the second in May.
The game’s story revolves around a secret highway in Kentucky and the mysterious folks who travel it. The player controls Conway, an antique furniture deliveryman, as he attempts to complete the final delivery for his financially troubled employer. Along the way he’ll meet dozens of strange characters and make a few new friends to help him overcome the obstacles in his path. Gameplay in Kentucky Route Zero is slow-paced, focusing on exploring new environments and talking with new people. Thankfully, “slow” doesn’t equal “boring”. The story is very well written, and although the player seems to have no way of affecting the outcome at all, it’s a pleasure to discover everything along the way.
The game has a simply, yet beautiful art style. Background and scene transitions are often brilliantly done, and it’s a shame not all the locations are visualized: Some of them are only described in text on the map screen. I’ve got a feeling the game could have been so much better with every location drawn in the Kentucky Route Zero style, even locations that are not responsible for driving the story forward. And driving is a key word in Kentucky Route Zero. You do spend some time “driving” around on the game map, making it a little disappointing when you reach a new location and it’s simply just described to you textually.
The music in the game is, like the visuals, great, but it suffers from the same problem: It’s just not enough music. Also, it’s a soundtrack that works very well with the game, but it’s not a soundtrack you’ll sit down and listen to, like the Machinarium soundtrack. The sound design, too, is a curious piece. I played the game with headphones on and it has serious volume problems at times, with some sound effects almost drowning out other sounds in a scene. This could of course be intentional, but I doubt it.
The replayability isn’t much to talk about. There are a lot of nice surprises, twists and turns the first time you play through, but since it’s hard to surprise the player twice when telling exactly the same story, Kentucky Route Zero is a game most people will play only once. And this brings us on the the subject of game cost. The game retails at a massive $24.99, which is rather pricy for this game. Yes, you will get 5 acts for that price, but I’ve already played through the first two acts and spent around two hours doing that. If we can use that as a pointer, you’ll get 5, maybe 6, hours of gameplay for $24.99, which isn’t impressive. It should be mentioned that you also get the soundtrack and a “private newsletter” included, but even though the soundtrack is very good, it does not justify the price. To put it in a way the internet generation understands: The price of this game is too damn high!
Kentucky Route Zero is not a bad game, far from it. But I’ve got a feeling it could have been so much better. Just a little more music and a few more visualized locations would have made wonders. Cardboard Computer has promised to release three more episodes, and unless they decide to pull a Valve on us all, those remaining episodes might very well change my overall impression of the game - for better or for worse. If that happens, I’ll come back here and let you know.
Kentucky Route Zero is available from The Humble Store and Steam. At the current price and with only two episodes released, I would not recommend Kentucky Route Zero, unless you are a die hard point-and-click adventure fan. Or you manage to pick it up when it’s on sale.