Wot I Think: Kentucky Route Zero Act II

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.

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27 Comments »

  1. rustybroomhandle says:

    As I was playing through that office bit, all I could think of was Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. :)

    • John Walker says:

      I wanted to think of that, but I didn’t think even the most mild of comparisons was deserving. If it had lifted from Brazil, I think I’d have rated the opening a lot more highly.

      • rustybroomhandle says:

        I am glad it picked up though. I’m watching this one closely since our own game has a lot in common with KRZ (well, not the plot, setting, etc, obviously). Episodic release is pretty much the only way one can alphafund this type of game, but from a consumer perspective it does come with some risk, especially for those who opt to buy the entire thing upfront.

        • kazmakoze says:

          Sophia. although Marjorie`s st0ry is flabbergasting… on tuesday I bought Jaguar E-type from making $6849 this-past/month and-in excess of, ten-grand lass month. it’s realy the most financialy rewarding I have ever done. I started this four months/ago and right away startad bringin home minimum $77… per/hr. I follow the instructions here, buzz90.COM

        • roryok says:

          Nice one Flopper. I’m tired of ignoring these spammers. Can we just start laying into them? I know they’re bots and they’ll never read it but I think we’d all feel better

          • 9of9 says:

            Having never had the courage to follow one of their links, I always wonder – are the ‘make money from home’ opportunities they are trying so desperately to advertise actually just more spambot (spam-person?) slots? Is it some kind of spam-based pyramid scheme?

          • frightlever says:

            Kinda curious about that myself. There’s a losing weight without effort website I keep having to rescue co-workers from that has some guff about it, and an irritating popup if you try to close the tab or indeed the browser (using Chrome). No idea what the ultimate pay-off is for them. Maybe it’s a drive-by infection on some browser versions. And why hasn’t Google flagged the link yet?

          • Gap Gen says:

            This site summarises why work from home schemes are mostly scams: http://www.scambusters.org/work-at-home.html

    • RogerioFM says:

      You are right, just the feel of it is very Brazil.

    • dethtoll says:

      Funny. All I could think of was this genuinely bizarre text adventure game I played years ago — a little bit of research turns up “Humbug” — and I think that’s why that scene worked for me.

  2. Penguin_Factory says:

    I love this game more than words can describe. This is exactly the sort of thing the industry needs right now, developers focusing on imagination and writing instead of graphical engines and “me too” feature checklists

    • F3ck says:

      While I don’t think I’m quite as fond of the game as yourself, I strongly agree it is refreshing to see more games like this getting attention and support.

      While I certainly enjoy the vibe of the game and am always down for an exercise in abstraction, I do feel like this game is expensive…not that it isn’t worth it, just a lot of coin for a game that may be beautiful but isn’t exactly dynamic.

  3. Bakuraptor says:

    I think that the first part of this act is much improved if you play “Limits and Demonstrations” first, if only because it gives more insight into the character of Lula Chamberlain, and makes the juxtaposition of her work and her art more interesting (In particular the piece which involves passing a tape-player over strips of magnetic tape seems to be significant in relation to the Zero, though I forget the exact context).

    Oh, one other thing that’s good about the final moments of the act is that it actually tells you that it’s over – in the first act I was so convinced that it had to carry on a bit longer that I replayed the entire thing.

    But yeah, this really is a game that everyone should play. The way it uses narrative and world design is just sublime.

  4. gschmidl says:

    Third floor, actually.

  5. analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

    Any game that has an Austin Maestro Estate, in Kentucky, in the woods, well, interested! Don’t say it’s a Citroen BX Hatch I’ve just chucked the LHM Fluid out the garage!!

  6. derella says:

    “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.”

    Lysette is the owner of Lysette’s Antiques, the company Conway works for. Shannon Marquez is the woman who is accompanying him.

  7. roryok says:

    I can’t justify any more spending on games this month! I’ve already bought Thirty Flights of Loving, Humble Bundle 8 and FTL. What more do you want from me!?!

  8. oyog says:

    What is going on in that first picture? How did they manage to park their car behind a slice of sky?

    (I didn’t read the article. I want to go into the game without any expectations. Feel free to point out how silly it is that I asked a question that may have been answered already.)

  9. golem09 says:

    It’s now on my “to play” list. I just won’t start a narrative that isn’t finished yet. So I’ll wait for episode 5.

  10. Ryan Huggins says:

    THERE ARE COLORS? I’m so excited. I want to play the shit out of this game, but I want to be in the right mood. Regardless, this is looking like it’s going to be just as great, if not better, than the first act.

  11. The Random One says:

    I actually rather liked the first part, because it reminded me of my own job: everyone is helpful, but it’s set up in a way that you get lost in a “paperclip labyrinth”, as Lula herself put it, despite everyone’s efforts.

    The whole thing is pretty awesome, each setpiece is fantastic and the Zero is as completely strange as it’d been advertised. I’m glad they added a bit more strangeness, since my own gripe with the first is that some of my favourite moments got explained away when I heard the devs where trying to write a “ghost story” – it explains the disappearing role players and Weaver’s “we used to be the same age, not any more though I guess” line quite disappointingly. But now there’s a lot of weirder stuff that’s genuinely intriguing and can’t be easily explained by g-g-g-ghosts.

  12. Zyrxil says:

    I loved the first act, but I won’t be playing Act 2 anytime soon even though I own it. It simply took too long to release; at this rate by the time Act 5 is out, I’ll have completely forgotten what Act 1 was about. I’ll save it for when it’s completely released and play through it then.

  13. sleepisthebrotherofdeath says:

    “So I shall not, even where I write words like “the final scene”. You can trust me.” ….. “The end of Act 1 saw Conway seeing a….”

    um, I don’t know about you but that certainly feels like sneaked in spoilers.

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