Estrabon sits in front of a blank PC screen. He presses keys and clicks the mouse, trying to elicit a response but to no avail.
ESTRABON: Nothing to be done.
VLADIMAR: (entering with excitement) I was coming round to that opinion. I would put it from me by saying Vladimar, be reasonable, you haven’t yet tried everything. And I resumed the struggle. Then I played a little title called Kentucky Route Zero. Have you played it?
ESTRABON: Have I?
VLADIMAR: You must as it… well it is certainly a fantastic example of… (Vladimar waves his hands about in no discernible pattern)
ESTRABON: Of what?
VLADIMAR: Of gaming of course, you fool. Or perhaps not gaming so much as interactive fiction, or interactive non-fiction, or such-like.
ESTRABON: So which is it?
VLADIMAR: Well it is most definitely something where you click to progress, so it is interactive for certain.
ESTRABON: So it is a point and click adventure?
VLADIMAR: In as much as you point and click and you are on an adventure, yes, but I’d say…
ESTRABON: I don’t like point and click adventure games.
VLADIMAR: Listen, I say to you that it is not a point and click adventure game.
ESTRABON: So what is it?
VLADIMAR: It is a journey, and yes you do have to point and click to move about and select options…
ESTRABON: So it is a point and click? With an inventory?
VLADIMAR: There is no inventory, but there is pointing and clicking.
ESTRABON: How can it be a point and click game with no inventory?
VLADIMAR: The pointing and clicking are incidental, they are there to make progress.
ESTRABON: Incidental? So there are no choices?
VLADIMAR: Of course there are choices, there are many choices. Often one finds oneself choosing multiple sides of the same dialogue. Like one is having a conversation with oneself.
ESTRABON: So it is a point and click adventure with dialogue options that impact the story, like a BioWare game.
VLADIMAR: No no no. It is not any of those things… well, except that there is pointing and clicking to move about and select choices. But the choices don’t impact the story… well, except that they do insofar as they shape the personality of the character, but they don’t necessarily change the outcomes… unless one considers the outcomes to be one’s interpretation of the character itself…
ESTRABON: What’s it about then?
VLADIMAR: About? Many things! It’s about a man delivering furniture, but also a woman who repairs electronics, a young lad whose brother is a giant bird, and a man and woman who are probably robots that play in a traveling band. But also the first man might be a robot, I suppose — he has a bad leg. There is a whiskey distillery and he needs to find a road… I think it’s a road… called the Zero… and deliver the furniture… but it’s also about consumerism, and absurdity, and existentialism, and big important questions like…
ESTRABON: The young lad’s brother is a giant bird?
VLADIMAR: You just need to play it.
ESTRABON: So you do “play” it then. So it is a game.
VLADIMAR: Well now I don’t know about that.
ESTRABON: So it is a point and click adventure that isn’t a point and click adventure, with dialogue choices that do and don’t influence the outcome, that is also an interactive story about a man who is or isn’t a robot that is trying to deliver furniture. That may or may not be a game.
VLADIMAR: Told in five Acts, yes.
ESTRABON: Five Acts?
VLADIMAR: Three so far. But five total.
Estrabon turns back to the blank screen and resumes pressing buttons and clicking the mouse while Vladimar looks over his shoulder. They wait.
If you want to understand the mechanics of how you play/interact/digest Kentucky Route Zero, Neal Chandran already captured that in his review of the first act.
If you want to understand whether the game is worth purchasing, my personal opinion is that Act III of Kentucky Route Zero represents the middle chapter of what will someday be regarded as gaming’s first important literary work. The fact that it has reached a broad segment of the gaming audience, the way something like David Lynch’s Twin Peaks managed to defy description while reaching mainstream television audiences, makes it totally unique in gaming history from where I sit. This is something that warrants multiple revisits and eludes total understanding while still giving the impression that understanding is possible, the way the best works of literature do.
If you want to totally understand Kentucky Route Zero, I have bad news. You probably can’t. You’ve been fairly warned. If that bothers you, I also urge you to stay away from other great works of literature such as Ulysses, Dhalgren, Gravity’s Rainbow, Pale Fire, and many others. Kentucky Route Zero isn’t those works (only time and hindsight can judge such things), but the sensibilities and influences are there for those who want to take the time to look.
Admin Note: This review was originally published before RPGFan ran on a modern platform, and could therefore get away with wildly custom points of data and HTML. For the sake of not breaking our current template, we had to update some of the… esoteric scores that Dave used. But to preserve the original scorecard, we present it here:
Gameplay: The letter Q
Story: A half empty coffee cup
Overall: A single plum floating in perfume served in a man’s hat.