I’ve just finished the third act now and there is something truly entrancing about Kentucky Route Zero. A game I don’t think many have tried or even heard of and yet, it is one of, if not the most engaging narrative I’ve ever experienced. It comes in the simplest of packages. An aesthetic that could have been created in paint and yet the mastery over the scenes, with the direction and design could be comparable to the film great directors, the story equivalent to a great work of fiction.
It is another episodic based interactive story, much like that from Telltale where you are guiding a story along and experience the result but at its heart, Kentucky route Zero is far more an exploration of the thematic. The colours and shading convey a deep emotional undertone to the environments that becomes just as expressive as any of the dialogue. It’s a style that is extremely subtle, drifting between feelings in a lilting way yet transfixing the viewer to it.
This attentiveness to the surroundings is seen in the shading, the spacing of objects and how the scenes are presented. The background noises also become and extension of the environment; noises of animals and other environmental cues. Then there is the many times of wherein the sound continues to support the deep, complex mix of emotions that shift between loneliness, depression, and the surreal.
Hidden beneath this, just waiting for the viewer to wonder more about the experience is a long and extensive inner monologue of themes. Deep seeded questions about morality and humanity and at times, some rather poignant social critiques. Peculiar moment like the couple singing for a bar set becomes a scene that wants to transcend space and time, a time that touches the soul.
For the characters it’s a time of trying to find themselves; who they are in relation to their experiences, the world around and these new, strange relationships. The dialogue is incredibly descriptive at points with the option to delve deep into the lives and motivations of the characters. At times it builds on the scene at hand, moving the story onwards and at other times it is incredibly poetic with its use and manipulation with the structure of sentences and the meaning of words.
A story that helps you envision the other elements and motives at play while also exploring the surreal and haunting nature of the world and ours as well. Notions of obligation and humanity, about the personal experience and its ability to be shaped by the narrative around it. About the theme of modernity but in a way that’s not just pointing out these issues but making large social critiques. It is incredible subtle throughout yet extremely clever in its use of themes and even references to movies, events and plays.
It is an entire experience that lies somewhere between a dreamlike state and that of an unknown world. With elements that feel like they belong yet are twisted beyond recognition. It’s incredibly surreal and extremely haunting experience of personal identity which through the interactive elements is a dialogue and narrative you help to shape.
It’s an experience that is incredible refined, with a technique that reminds of some of the great film directors during their time of experimentation. The angles of view that shift and change, the motion and focus between scenes and the pacing of the story all denote a deep understanding behind film theory and a confidence in their aim. In this form it reminds me very much of some sort of cult film, something by a director not merely bound to the rules, that branches out how the audience perceives their experience in new exciting ways.
This is art. I didn’t think I would ever say that about a game. Something that is usually focused on the mechanics and a formulae more than narrative but here, here it transcend that simple moniker. It still has its elements of interactivity that, even though it’s not about combat or hero-worship seems for more important. It creates a personal connection to the story, a rich and deep story you are creating around you.