REVIEW: Kentucky Route Zero - Impenetrable Evocation
Join Jon from Games with Jon & James as he shares his.....experience with Kentucky Route Zero!
It only took my second review for me to question my media literacy and intelligence. Kentucky Route Zero is the game that has done it, and I am going to attempt to walk you through my experience, chapter by chapter.
Things start simple enough, you are Conway, a delivery driver for an antique shop, accompanied by your dog Blue. Well, I named her Blue, chances are, if you have played the game yourself, you named the dog something different, and this review is already off the rails. What this game guarantees are infinitesimal variations on how to explore its world and characters.
The world itself is a mystery, evoking pangs of loneliness, anxiety, confusion, and ultimately, hope. The litany of emotions pair with universally recognizable backdrops. One minute you’re at a gas station, the next you’re traveling back roads passing dilapidated farms, old mining tunnels, repurposed churches transformed into vague bureaucratic offices, and more. As you travel along the Zero, your objective becomes lost to play time as new characters assimilate into the group, becoming part of the tangled web of relations and stories that all relate to one another in some way.
As a new member is added to your cast of characters, what narrative is offered is briefly explored before they’re lost forever. Each passing chapter serves as a means to explore their eccentricities, with vague allusions to their relation to the world or its characters or the story, and little hope of any sort of resolution. Between the delivery driver, the wandering musicians, a forgetful sea captain, and subterranean cave dwellers, each act is a vignette that invites you into its world, only to supply you with — the magic word — evocative imagery, before booting you out.
One scene I felt particularly moved by is when you watch the performance of the traveling musicians, as you supply the lyrics to the song. The tune is haunting, but warm, and is one of the few times I felt my engagement with the game was rewarded.
Even on my 5th paragraph, I struggle to come to terms with what I have played. At the beginning, I’d wholly encourage anyone to pick up this game and have the experience for yourself. As each chapter meandered on, I can only express frustration as I struggle to comprehend just what the story is trying to communicate to me. This is where I struggle with more surrealist works: I can understand abstract visuals, allusions and metaphor and motifs, but that can come with the risk of being so unconventional, you alienate an audience trying to experience the art you create.
Whether you call it Lynchian, Kafkaeque, or just weird, Kentucky Route Zero is a trip worth taking with a masochistic amount of patience and resolve. It takes a receptive mind for its quirks and eccentricities, with an unyielding will for its lack of any real gameplay concepts or direction. It will welcome you in, and the rest is up to you.
About the Author:
Jon Anderson is a gamer, illustrator, graphic designer, video and sound editor, broadcaster, photographer, videographer, voice actor, and even a 2D artist for a brief time in the gaming industry. He's brought his eclectic skillset to the Games with Jon & James Podcast!