By John Walker on June 4th, 2013 at 9:00 pm.
The second act of the excellent Kentucky Route Zero snuck out late last week. Adam explained why you should play the first part back in January. I’m going to explain why you should play the second part right now. Here’s wot I think:
If you’ve played the first part of Kentucky Route Zero, you’ll understand what a difficult game its second act is to review. The dream-like story structure relies on not being aware of the meandering pathways, the peculiar beats, and the changes in environment. To describe it would be like telling someone the location of all the clues in a treasure hunt before they set out, to rob the process of its purpose. So I shall not, even where I write words like “the final scene”. You can trust me.
Oh, and if you haven’t played the first part of Kentucky Route Zero, seriously, what’s wrong with you? Why do you even read RPS if you’re not going to follow our advice? Play it.
This second act continues the story of truck driver Conway, his dog, and his recently met companion Lysette, searching for the mysterious Route 0 and Dogwood Drive. Conway, with his leg injured from events in the previous chapter, now moves a lot more slowly, and is clearly becoming more ill.
Things don’t pick up immediately from where they left off. The end of Act 1 saw Conway seeing a vision of the entrance to Route 0. That seems somewhat put aside here, as things begin at the Bureau Of Reclaimed Spaces, a bureaucratic office built within a massive cathedral. Negotiating the administrative layers is your first task, as you make your way between floors via an achingly slow lift, first floor for administration, fourth floor for the conference room, second floor for bears.
It’s slightly frustrating to report that this sequence doesn’t quite work. KRZ’s great appeal is its poetic mystery and wondrous visual design, and the office offers neither. Yes, it certainly captures the bureaucratic hell of the area, but you’re briefly stuck in that dreariness. Having played through the first act again before starting this one (it turns out the build I’d played previously was only half of what the marvellous first act eventually contained), it felt like things really ground to a halt for a while. Yet, even here, there are wonders to find – most of all the organ.
Out of there, and the game not only refinds itself, but blossoms further. Rather than going back to the previous routine of driving the truck around the map, this time things are more complex, more peculiar, while still just as densely packed with moments and asides to hunt down. Just negotiating the routes embraces a system even more dreamlike and unnerving than before, although I’ll obviously not describe it at all.
By the final scene, it reaches a new height of imaginative joy. Along the way it gently shifts the nature of its storytelling, perceiving events in subtly novel ways, even further blurring its deliberately fuzzy reality. By this last area (and again, don’t worry, not going to say a thing) I found my heart swept away by it all. Not only because of the utterly beautiful song that accompanies, but the absolute brilliance of the design.
Whenever a loved one starts to tell you a dream, you know you’re about to hear something really fascinating, or to be bored out of your brain by the banal translation. Kentucky Route Zero is taking this risk, and it’s a brave one. And so far, one proving to work out very well. It wavers at the beginning of Act II – for a short while I did feel like I was in that position of being told, “And then I was back in my high school, but the walls were a kind of different shade of green, and my shoes felt slightly too heavy…”, but it’s quickly dismissed and returns to its calmly delivered ethereal poetry. And as I say, the final sequence is too wonderful to miss.
You can currently pick up all five chapters (the next three to be released in the future) for £17 via Steam, or for $25 via Cardboard’s own Humble Store. And someone might want to suggest to developers Cardboard Computer that they should probably update their own website.