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Kentucky Route Less Than Zero: Limits & Demonstrations

Have you been on the fence about Cardboard Computer’s magnificent Kentucky Route Zero? Well, get down from there, you. It’s dangerous, and honestly, you just look silly. I wasn’t going to say anything, but everyone’s talking about it. OK, OK, since you’re apparently either very stubborn or a cat, let’s try enticing you down. How about a demo? It’s not just any regular old nipped and tucked snippet, either. As co-creator Jake Elliott put it, Limits and Demonstrations is “unique and doesn’t overlap with Act I, and it starts sketching out some backstory for a few already-introduced characters.” It’s also free! Freer than coffee. Freer than moody bluegrass tunes. Freer than freedom.

In short, Limits and Demonstrations plops you in the middle of an avant garde art installation and proceeds to do a bang-up job of distilling Kentucky Route Zero down to its very essence. This means you get dialogue that’s slathered in soul like down-home mashed potatoes in an ocean of gravy. Be warned, though: as with KRZ, it’s also quite confusing and open to interpretation.

Even in this tiny 15-minute-or-so slice, there’s a whole, whole, whole lot to digest. And in part, that’s what makes the languidly insane universe Cardboard Computer’s constructed so great: mind-bogglingly multi-layered depth. Wispy ghosts of meaning whispering just beneath the surface. More than anything, that’s what I think Limits and Demonstrations captures best. There’s more happening here in each individual word than there is in most major FPS plots. Which, admittedly, doesn’t sound like a lot, but KRZ/L&D’s execution is quite a feat. It’s oddly mesmerizing in spite of its highly deliberate pace.

So yes, it’s an interesting standalone, and I think it works well whether you’ve played KRZ or not. Sure, if judged strictly as a demo, I could probably fault L&D for straying a bit from the general vibe of KRZ’s setting and keeping plot connections to a vague minimum, but eh. Cardboard Computer’s quite plainly demonstrated that it has no interest in sticking to any kind of straight-and-narrow. So, as with KRZ, just experience its bite-sized offspring as is. Take it on its own terms. Enjoy the ride.

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Nathan Grayson

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