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Kentucky Route Zero: Act III | reviews, news & interviews

Kentucky Route Zero: Act III

Kentucky Route Zero: Act III

Games within games as an intriguing experiment passes the halfway point

Kentucky Route Zero: Act III: Hall Of The Mountain King

It is almost a year since the release of Act II of Cardboard Computer's strange and opaque episodic game but Act III has finally been released. Has it been worth the wait?

We last saw the nominal protagonist Conway succumbing to the effects of a mind-altering drug in the care of a doctor who lives in a forest that seems to exist between dimensions, having travelled there on the back of a giant eagle with a small boy who claims to be the eagle's brother. Conway still hasn't delivered his package and Lula Chamberlain is nowhere to be found.

If you haven't played the previous acts then the above will seem like nonsense. If you have then it may still seem that way but you will, I suspect, have realised that Kentucky Route Zero is concerned more with emotion and symbolism than logic or action. A neat subversion of the point 'n' click adventure, KRZ doesn't give you puzzles to solve or enemies to confound, just places to explore and sights to see. More importantly, it gives you dialogue to select that will flesh out both the plot and to a certain extent the inner lives of the characters. Although KRZ is inarguably a video game, it is closer to a visual novel than a 'real' adventure. You don't play the game so much as you co-write and direct it.

This tension between watching the story unfold and being an adventure game that you can play is the source of a clever in-joke that forms the middle of this act. A game-within-a-game based on the original Colossal Cave text adventure (itself based on a huge real-life cave system in Kentucky) that you play on a computer built by characters based on (Colossal Cave co-author) Don Woods and creator of the Kings Quest games, Roberta Williams. "The Kingdom is in peril!" giggles 'Roberta' at one point, "Again."

Kentucky Route Zero Act III - musical interludeAt this point, it seems likely that the characters of Conway the delivery man, Shannon the TV repair woman and most of the rest of the cast are inhabiting some kind of limbo or space between worlds. Two important new characters - Johnny and Junebug - are introduced who it is implied may be natives to this strange place and who together are responsible for a musical interlude that is sure to send a shiver down the spine as the game goes fully David Lynch for a moment.

Talking about the plot would constitute too much of a spoiler but suffice to say that we do get closer to Conway being able to deliver the package he was given in Act I and we discover some truly odd goings on both along Route Zero and beneath it. 

Unsurprisingly, given the title, the journey is very much the thing and the game's great strength is to be able to tease out themes of regret, loneliness, ageing and debt with a very light touch. There are little hints in the dialogue that seem to be coalescing into.. something.

Kentucky Route Zero Act III - coffee with LysetteAs in previous episodes the art direction is outstanding with visuals that are abstract but often stunning. There are moments that are genuinely beautiful and others that are unnerving and creepy in a way that is difficult to put your finger on. The soundtrack is fantastic (and hidden in the games files as MP3s, should you care to look) with a combination of tunes and more ambient pieces, some of which are crucial to the game in a way I can't reveal but which is rather clever.

It is still hard to see exactly where KRZ is going and if there is one serious criticism it is that this game will either grab you completely or leave you utterly cold. Providing you are in the former camp, I think you will find the journey a rewarding one.

 
You don't play the game so much as you co-write and direct it

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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