Kentucky Route Zero, Cardboard Computer (P)review

By Tom Hooper aka Atomp

Kentucky Route Zero (KRZ) was initially in the spotlight as a successful Kickstarter project that raised $8,583 of its $6,500 back in February 2011. The game is described as a ‘magical realist adventure game’ and is being released episodically with the first part already available. The game so far has received a generally positive reception which is important considering its Kickstarter involvement. There was a significant slew of crowdfunded games in the past 12 months, a trend which has calmed down somewhat due to a growing realisation that the method may not work. The hesitation which has developed around crowdfunding games started to bite quite significantly, as 22Cans could probably attest to, and can only really be dealt with by seeing successful crowdfunded releases. Therefore the success of already crowdfunded games is essential, which makes KRZ one of those important releases for the future of crowdfunding.

In addition to the somewhat experimental funding method KRZ has also ventured into the realms of episodic gaming. This is not a very common release method, although has seen significant success in the recent Walking Dead game from Telltale. Episodic release schedules do make a degree of sense in story orientated games, as was shown with the Walking Dead. It gives the developers a chance to release episodes as and when they are ready which stretches the available development time whilst also allowing customers to play what is done. There is a fine line to be drawn as the time between episodes cannot be so long as to have interest in the game dissipate, on the other hand a degree of anticipation between episodes is a healthy thing which will stop the player from blitzing such a slow paced game in one sitting. This is possibly why episodic releases should work for this game, it is inherently a slow-paced game which emphasises story, exploration and emotional response. I can realistically see myself replaying previous chapters upon the release of new ones in order to ensure that I have an understanding of the existing story and that I have explored every available element of the game. I can understand why there may be people out there that don’t want to wait for each episode to become available, in which case it may be best just to avoid any spoiler material and buy the full game once every episode is released.

‘Magical realist adventure game’ is a fairly accurate description with the overall game being a 2.5D point and click adventure game allowing for quite some degree of exploration whilst also maintaining a strong narrative. The aesthetic is based around a simple yet gorgeous bold art style which focuses a great deal on the use of lighting and silhouette in combination with a muted colour scheme which represents the areas and characters perfectly. There has been some comparison in style with Super Brothers’ Sword and Sworcery, which is true to some extent however the pixellated style is swapped out for a bold and modern style. A brilliant way to taster the appearance of the art style is to visit the KRZ website which shows various stills from the game, although these stills do not portray the element of the aesthetic that enhances the graphical art style; the animations. These are immensely well done and perfectly compliment the aesthetic to create an overall attractive, unique and immersive appearance. Play this game on the biggest and highest-res screen you’ve got, because it’s almost a moving painting.

The gameplay is as described earlier; a 2.5D point and click adventure game. There are no puzzles per se and the game does not explore the more absurd side of adventure game ‘logic’, instead using point and click to allow the player to explore the environment and examine every possible option. The dialogue system allows for multiple choices in how to respond within character discussions. These multiple choices are evident in how they will be carried out by the protagonist, no single-word ambiguous dialogue choices here. The results of these choices are not readily available, so no light/dark side points here and the idea of exploring the dialogue is as important as exploring the world because of the depth of the characters in the story.

The character implementation in the story is great and at least in the first episode succeeds in what it sets out to achieve. Without providing spoilers, the player will have a view of the characters and the situation very much on par with the protagonist that they are controlling. The characters are interesting and varied, and in some cases rather strange.

The game is available directly from the website for $25 (approx £16.06) for all five acts/episodes or $7 (approx £4.50) for just the first act/episode. At this point the purchases are done through the Humble store which means integration into the Humble account and library system, which is a really nice bonus. Steam keys will also be provided as and when the game is available on the platform. Whether you pay for the full game or just the episodes one at a time is up to you, however I would personally recommend the $25 option in terms of sheer value. The game is available on Windows, Mac and Linux. The system requirements are minimal: 1GHz CPU, DX9/OpenGL3 GPU and 512MB RAM. Just about anyone will be able to enjoy this at these spec requirements.

To conclude, there’s a great deal about KRZ that is different and unique which stems from the freedom that indie developers have when also utilising crowdfunding. The game is a great example of how both crowdfunding and episodic gaming can work really well, whilst also being a beautiful and deep experience in its own right. If every crowdfunded project turns out so well, then the hesitation over the funding method may dissolve as it becomes a norm for indie project funding. Head on over to the website (linked below) to get an idea of the game, and consider giving it a purchase. Personally I’m eagerly anticipating the next instalment and look forward to it gracing my Linux partitionl. I am also linking a great interview that PC Gamer had with the dev, this is a bit spoilery so beware but it’s certainly worth a read.

Game Website: http://kentuckyroutezero.com/
PC Gamer Interview :http://www.pcgamer.com/2013/01/18/kentucky-route-zero-interview-choice-and-introspection-in-the-magic-realist-adventure/

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