By Ronald Gordon
Sometimes life can seem like an endless journey, a long road that we continue to travel in order to find something, anything that proves the journey was worth it, like Deadpool assembling a team of friends to cherish in David Leitch’s Deadpool 2. So far, no other game I’ve encountered has captured the idea of the long, winding road trip filled with magical realism better than Kentucky Route Zero, a point-and-click adventure game developed by Cardboard Computer and published by Annapurna Interactive.
The story starts you off with a man named Conroy; he’s been tasked with making a furniture delivery to 5 Dogwood Drive. However, as you continue to play through the story and discover what kind of person Conroy is, you begin to wonder whether or not Dogwood Drive actually exists.
You see, along the way, you can ask multiple people about Dogwood Drive, and whether they know how to get there, but most of the answers you’ll get aren’t quite what you’d want to hear. Every conversation about where you’re headed ends differently, and never in a satisfying way. Some people say that Dogwood Drive doesn’t exist anymore; others say it never existed. It’s up to you to decide where you’re headed it: Deadwood Drive or a mysterious place name-dropped by many called The Zero, where all roads meet.
Kentucky Route Zero is an interesting game, because it has several Choose Your Own Adventure-like aspects. Depending on which dialogue option you select, you can witness different interactions between characters and experience different lines of dialogue later in the game.
As I played through the first two acts, I quickly realized how much of a fever dream this game was and how eager I was to figure out what was real or not. Route Zero not only plays with its locations and your objective, but also with its visuals and overall world. The map changes occasionally: some places have shadows that shift to make you wonder if the people you see are real or just figments of your imagination, and one area has an entire building floor full to the brim with bears. I wish I were kidding. They weren’t dangerous however. They were just there and it came so out of left field that I had to mention it here.
I love games like Kentucky Route Zero, because of the sense that the character you’re playing as isn’t the most stable person in the room, which describes Conroy perfectly. Throughout the game (spoiler alert), you find out from various dialogues involving Conroy, that Dogwood Drive is supposed to be his last delivery before the shop closes. You see that he’s been doing this for a while, and now he’s old, tired, and worn out, but he still wants to make one last drop off before it’s over. This isn’t someone trying to accomplish a goal or following their dreams, this is the journey of a man who’s on his way out but just can’t seem to find the exit.
Melancholically beautiful story aside, the music in Route Zero is solemn and calming and the visuals are breathtaking for a game with simple origami-like graphics. The places you visit are vast and well-designed, with small Easter eggs and parts that play with your mind and force you to examine everything you encounter: objects that disappear as soon as you turn away or background elements that aren’t visible until you pass them, the people in the shadows, or buildings that seem like they’re distant but suddenly zoom in as soon as your sight splits.
Kentucky Route Zero is an amazing game because it’s made with love, mystery and intellect. I’d recommend it to those who value a long journey with a good story behind it. Conroy’s journey is a hard one but one we’ll all face eventually, the journey of finding out you don’t have anymore road to walk.
Ronald Gordon is a senior intern for the New York Videogame Critics Circle. He attends City Tech College.