25 Jul The Nostalgic Rhythms of Kentucky Route Zero
A place that is strange yet familiar. Shining eyes peering from the dark. An old dog in a straw hat. Kentucky Route Zero is the perfect blend of theatre and gaming, swirled together in a surreal narrative that heightens with every Act (five Acts total plus interludes). It’s a magical realist adventure game about a secret highway running through the caves beneath Kentucky, and the mysterious folks who travel it.
For those who miss the theatre, this is an ideal outing and it doesn’t require you to leave your house. In an interview with Rock Paper Shotgun the co-creator of the game, Jake Elliott, noted there was a similarity in theatre set design and video game design. “We were making these little scenes in Unity, these little 3D scenes, and setting up props and stuff with a whole lot of consideration for the angle the player was going to be looking in from. They started to really look like theatre sets.” It manages to encapsulate so much of what makes theatre enticing and successfully translates it into a video game format. Together this presents a narrative experience which has already gone on to inspire countless indie titles despite Act V only being released in 2020.
Birthed from the influences of Lynch, Tarkovsky, ghost stories and the 2008 recession, as well as a myriad of other mediums there’s truly something for everyone in KRZ. Colossal Cave Adventure, one of the earliest text adventure games heavily inspired the 3rd Act. Debt looms over the characters, unescapable and unyielding. It catches on those who surround them and tears at them, determined to spread ruination to all. It has become an entity in itself in the world Cardboard Computer created, a world which is not so different from our own – if perhaps a little more postmodern. “Imagine it is a tragic ghost story about the American Dream where the ghost is the American Dream; the tragedy is that it keeps haunting America because it doesn’t know it’s dead.”
Kentucky Route Zero’s gameplay will not suit everyone, but those who hang on until the final Act will be rewarded. The glowing critical reception of KRZ indicates that this style of game is becoming ever more popular. The bluegrass soundtrack, which is made up of traditional hymns, will leave you wanting more. The Lower Depths, a dive bar you visit in Act III, stands out as a transcendent scene where reality and fantasy are indistinguishable. To me, it felt like I entered the Roadhouse in Twin Peaks and Julee Cruise was serenading the crowd. That’s the beauty of KRZ, within its liminality there will be something that resonates with you.
That’s why it’s our bonus game from Monday the 26th of July – the 2nd of August. Starting at 12am BST/4pm PST. Check it out on TrueAchievements here.