It’s not every day you find yourself lost on an underground highway in Kentucky — much less one that manages to capture your imagination and interest. Yet, the first installment of “Kentucky Route Zero” manages to do just that.
Pulling into a dark gas station and stepping away from the hum of my truck, I walk forward toward the silhouette of a man. Clicking anywhere sends a horseshoe spinning around a stake that marks my destination; as I move forward to talk to him, I can sense that this isn’t a normal adventure game and can’t help but wonder what exactly this point-and-click adventure is about.
It’s completely abstract; it makes little sense to me even after playing through it a few times. In fact, the game’s only flaw is probably that it presents a story that’s just beginning. “Kentucky Route Zero” is a five-part adventure game and its first act leaves me full of questions. What is Conway doing in Kentucky? Where is the Zero? What the heck is going on?
That’s not to say this is an incomplete episode — because it isn’t. Although the story doesn’t get past its first hints and murmurs, the taste that I was given made me hungry for more.
Early in the game, I find myself talking to a black-haired mathematician living in a small house on a hill. Text scrolls by as I move the conversation along with a variety of quirky dialogue options. I assure the mathematician that I do in fact know how to use a television.
To prove my point, I turn on the television in the room. The walls pull away, leaving only the frame of the house still standing as the picture on the television replaces everything else. Almost immediately, I’m leaving the farmhouse and walking back to my truck as I hear music playing off in the distance. Getting closer, I realize the outlines of the musicians are visible in the foreground. Bluegrass music bleeds into the sounds of night in the countryside.
I don’t know who the band is, or what they’re doing on a ridge outside of the Marquez Farmhouse. The game doesn’t tell me, and that’s precisely why it’s so intriguing. “Kentucky Route Zero” is filled with dialogue and text, but so much of the game is presented in the environment around you: the transition from the lit interior of a house to the darkness surrounding, the subtle strings of music that filter in as you enter a new location, and the absence of sound when you turn off your light.
I’m in love with the art style, both visual and aural, of “Kentucky Route Zero.” I don’t know where the adventure will take me, but I’m looking forward to the ride. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill point-and-click adventure. There aren’t any puzzles or challenges and you have total freedom to explore the world around you as you try to understand what’s happening.