Kentucky Route Zero isn’t just gaming’s finest slice of magical realism and shaggy dog symphonies, it’s also a magnificent feat of myth-making. Like so much Americana, it straddles the line between fact and folk tale, and finds recognisable unrealities along the road to the grave. If the melancholic dramas of the main episodes take place at centre stage, the occasional interludes aren’t the entertainment in between acts, they’re happening somewhere in the wings, backstage or downriver. The latest free offering, Here And There Along The Echo, has a sinister setup – a telephone that can only dial one number – but turns out to be the closest the series has come to revealing its own absurd comedic heart.
Amusing or not, I reckon that telephone is haunted and there’s the usual melancholy undertone to the wit. Everything you need to play is on the site with the download link but I’ll happily admit that I didn’t realise I’d already been given the number I needed to start the journey until I’d spent some time listening to the Operator’s recording.
When you do manage to reach the audio machinery of the Echo, you might recognise Will Oldham’s voice at the other end of the line. He’s such a natural fit for the world of Kentucky Route Zero that it feels like he might have been along for the whole ride.
But what is Here And There Along The Echo? It’s an interactive radio play in the form of a telephone helpline. You’ll learn what to do when handling a snake and maybe you’ll even manage to learn a little bit about the telephone itself and the wider world of Cardboard Computer’s ongoing travelogue.
As with Kentucky Route Zero itself, the writing may be the main draw but the technical accomplishment should be mentioned as well. It’s a minimalist setting – a first-person view of the telephone, with a cursor to push buttons and handle the receiver. But move that receiver from one unseen ear to the other and the audio travels with it. The device has a tactile quality. It’s satisfying to hang up and to punch those numbers.
What will happen to the actual phone? What does it all mean?