Kentucky Route Zero Review
What makes Kentucky Route Zero remarkable beyond just the unusual structure, setting and tools it uses though is the quality of each individual component. The music, for example, is perfectly chosen and fits brilliantly in to each scene - gentle guitar strums often rising out of and complementing the ambient chirp of crickets.
The art style meanwhile is equally impressive, proving both stark and warm at the same time - flat, stencil-like characters lit in such a way that they hide the simplicity of their design without the use of high-tech tricks. The use of silhouettes especially works to support the pervasiveness of magic through the game; the suggestion of things seen, rather than the reality.
It's the writing that really shines though; characters such as Joseph the attendant at the petrol station serve to both mock videogame conventions while also appearing real and immediately relatable. Other nameless characters are meanwhile giving last effect by the power and efficiency of their descriptions - the tragic tale of the waitress at the pitch-black diner is told in just three sentences, for example.
Click to enlarge
And yet, for all it's strengths, we do have concerns about Kentucky Route Zero.
There's the issue of delivery, for example. Cardboard Computer is intending this to be the first of five acts that will be released in the coming months, but the impression we took from Act One was that it didn't urgently need a sequel. It's a game about imparting a sense of flavour and, with that flavour imparted, it's hard to see what might come next in subsequent episodes. Kentucky Route Zero: Diet Edition? We'll have to see.
The bigger concern though is the brevity of the experience - and note that we use the word 'concern', rather than problem. It's not a problem
that you can beeline to Zero's end in under two hours, but it is a concern
that people might dismiss the game because of that.
Kentucky Route Zero is exactly as long as it needs to be, but there's a risk that people will ignore it because it sounds too short or costs too much. Neither are true.
Click to enlarge
Instead, the only actual problem we had with the game was that there was no save game option. Twice we had to quit playing in the middle of a scene and, while in both cases the autosave meant we only had to relive a few minutes of play, the fact that there's no save at all is a functional faux pas.
That aside though, the rest of Kentucky Route Zero is a tour de force. It's put together with a skill and artistry that shames most other games, but at the same time is never indulgent enough that the 'is this art?' question becomes a pressing concern.
It's still certainly an acquired taste - especially for those who don't have an ear for folk music - but it's one that's worth savouring all the same.