Last year’s first episode of Cardboard Games’ Kentucky Route Zero was a pretty weird mixture of text adventure, point-and-clicker and visual novel. Will the second part offer more gameplay, story or something entirely different?
Kentucky Route Zero: Act II (PC)
(USA 2013, developer/publisher: Cardboard Computer, platform: PC)
Truck driver Conway is still looking for the destination of his package delivery and tries to find out more about it and the strange underground highways with the help of his female companion Lysette and his trustworthy dog.
The gameplay hasn’t changed much since the first installment, i.e. there is a lot of text to read and no real puzzles to speak of, although this doesn’t mean that the player is pushed from one cutscene or location to the next without doing anything. In the first part there’s actually a bit of investigative work involved when one has to go talk to different people on the appropriate floors of a building. Sure, this is no real match for inventory-based conundrums (no inventory again here) to solve like in the classic point-and-click adventures, but at least one has the sense of actively pushing the story forward rather than being a reader of a very long text with pictures, although travelling by foot or other transportation systems is slow and at times a bit disorientating, making progress unnecessarily clumsy.
The story and characters themselves are as enigmatic as ever, which is in theory not a bad thing when the presentation is also quite surreal. While the former is a bit more engaging than in the first game, the latter is problematic to generalize. This is in small part due to the dialogue options the player chooses for each individual, creating a different character, although this time it’s nice that the silent-treatment answer option is replaced by more interesting text lines to give the characters more depth.
Reading and experiencing
The atmosphere is still the most captivating thing about the experience. It’s difficult to explain how it affects the player without spoiling any surprises. But suffice it to say that the scenery becomes more dreamlike or nightmarish and refreshingly deviates from the feeling one had when playing a David-Lynch-style adventure in the first episode. There are also more instances where the perspective of narration shifts which at first isn’t easy to grasp, but nevertheless adds another level of intrigue to the proceedings, even if more is hinted at than actually explained during the course or at the end of the one-hour-long episode. It also has to be said that there are some more stories to read and locations to visit if one wants to go outside the main road or story, even though this isn’t necessary to progress.
It’s also a bit disappointing that the decisions one makes or rather the dialogue options one chooses don’t really affect the overall story arc, something which in the days of games like The Walking Dead feels like a missed opportunity. But then again it’s the slight changes in tone and voice of the characters which keep the text alive and breathing, compared to the linear reading of a book, although this approach doesn’t make it any easier to identify with the protagonists.
A different vibration of visuals and sounds
The graphics, music and sound effects are in a way minimalistic again, but with their simple use of few background noises, country songs and change of color also offer a unique experience which would have been lost in a standard 2D engine. It’s also nice to see more dynamic camera angles and zooms which, despite the slow movement of the main character (due to his injury), make the game even more cinematic than it already is. The lack of the characters’ facial expressions or realistic animations shouldn’t be seen as a negative aspect, because this rather enhances the feeling of surrealism or magical realism.
End of games vs. art discussion?
Rating Cardboard Games’ Kentucky Route Zero: Act II simply as a game is a difficult undertaking, because like the first episode, puzzles are non-existent, interactivity kept at a minimum and both story and character development with a very short playtime of less than an hour with the main story not comparable to other adventures, although I personally found this episode more interesting than the last with some memorable scenes.
So it’s much more about the overall experience, the feeling one gets when exploring this strange world which has a warm, but also depressing and disturbing alternative take on our own reality. It’s certainly not for everyone in gameplay terms, but it should still be experienced by everyone who’s open to experimental art games.
If you liked reading this article, make sure you pay a visit to Future Sack which kindly features it as well, and every Facebook LIKE or comment is appreciated :).