Open Roads


Review by · March 27, 2024

Open Roads falls somewhere between slice-of-life and traditional drama as a teenage daughter and her mother do some soul searching and familial discovery over what feels like just a weekend. Perhaps the fault was mine, but my initial impression of Open Roads back when it was pitched to us years ago was that we’d be on an extended cross-country road trip following these two ladies. But what we got was a three-hour stint. That isn’t necessarily bad, as game length certainly doesn’t determine quality in its own right—some folks want that short drive—but going into Open Roads with the right expectations may help one enjoy the trip a little more.

Tess, our protagonist, has just lost her grandmother. Opal, Tess’ mother, is wrapping things up at the house as valuables and trinkets are auctioned off. Duties await, such as de-cluttering the attic, scheduling the electricity to be turned off, and so on. Drama ensues, however, when Tess makes a discovery while cleaning that may change the way she and her mother view the recently deceased, as well as their whole family.

The plot devices are there, we have our macguffin, and intertwining plots and challenges face our heroines. What brings Open Roads to life is the dynamic between mother and daughter. Tess is snarky, sharp of wit yet loving, while Opal is just as cheeky in her own right while trying to achieve that careful balance of cool mom and preparing her daughter for the realities of adulthood. Opal’s parental duties are only the more challenging as she must face them as a single mother who’s recently divorced, and her daughter is just full of questions.

A key inside a book. It's placed in a secret compartment: a square cut out of the book's pages and hidden behind a newspaper clipping. The POV character discovers this while sitting in the passenger seat of a car on a country road.
Oh, man, that small piece of newspaper almost hid that key from me!

While playing detective and investigating granny’s unspoken past, Tess and Opal also grapple with the truth of uncovering the secrets not just between each other, but within themselves. Like in any good story, the characters grow and learn, and Open Roads’ length is certainly no deterrent to that narrative necessity. By journey’s end, we have satisfying closure, even if not everything is tied up with a neat bow on top; we have enough to go on to decide that these ladies are going to be okay, even if reality demands that the roads will be rocky.

Although the game length doesn’t meaningfully detract from the experience except for feeling a bit too neat at times, the real impact is that I grew to love these ladies and their dynamic. The chemistry between mother and daughter is almost tangible as they both make mistakes. We have two imperfect, yet good, humans who are doing their best given the circumstances. Life doesn’t always deal a fair hand, but they’re playing the cards as well as they can. The themes aren’t necessarily cozy and comfy, but the relationship between the characters is backed by love, a strong bond, and respect for one another. In this way, Open Roads is a feel-good story despite what hardships lie in wait.

A car blazing down a road lined by autumnal trees at sunset.
Oh for Christ’s sake, why can’t I turn off motion blur? 0/10, I wanna see the manager.

In fact, the voice actors, scripting, and story devices create such a wonderful blend of comfort that I wasn’t ready to say goodbye at the end, even if the conclusion felt right. This is singularly because of Tess and Opal. I want things to be okay for them, but one other aspect of Open Roads that I love is how real it feels. Life isn’t all sunshine and roses, and chasing a mystery won’t always lead to a satisfying ending. Sometimes what you discover you wish you hadn’t. And that’s it. Not everything in life is a puzzle to be solved or a hidden fix. Closure may be replaced by new wounds that won’t heal as cleanly as the ones already mended. That is reality. Open Roads conveys that with startling ease that doesn’t become apparent until days after the credits roll.

At the same time, in order to achieve its brisk pace, some story beats feel abrupt and illogical. Characters make highly irrational and unrealistic decisions or reluctantly acquiesce to demands that feel improbable for the sake of moving things along. Some won’t take issue with this, as they don’t feel grossly negligent, but the transitions from chapter to chapter don’t always flow as well as one might hope. This doesn’t help the experience, but it didn’t take me completely out of the story, either.

Some player decision-making occurs in the form of two or three dialogue choices littered about here and there. Of those choices, some feel like flavor in how Tess responds to her mother—how sarcastic do you want to be?—while others give the player the opportunity to be potentially tactless as Tess noses her way into her mother’s most inner secrets. The game lets players walk around a bit to uncover easter eggs or just look at the impressive design of 2003 (or much older) trinkets, but these moments aren’t what Open Roads is about, as nice as it is to travel twenty years into the past.

The player examines an old book while cleaning out granny's house. The book is entitled "Liquid Gold" by "Judd S. Baldwin." It is about bootlegging, and the cover depicts several bottles of alcohol.
Just some light reading for a teenage girl about to leave her grandmother’s house.

I had some initial grievances with controls that seemed to clean up after reloading the game, so I won’t gripe about those. Overall, Open Roads controls just fine with no meaningful issues in moving around or clicking on anything. The music’s fine, but the voice actors—as few as there are—absolutely kill the script as Keri Russell and Kaitlyn Dever have some noteworthy titles under their belts. Graphically, as stated earlier, Open Roads has some fantastic detail in this brief trip to the past. What stands out most is the artistic detail in the characters as they talk to each other. The penmanship is absolutely beautiful and the animations flow seamlessly, though the characters’ lips don’t move at all when they talk, which took some getting used to. Animating mouths has to be a pain, especially if you want to do it right, so I don’t take issue with this decision as this is a small indie game, but others may find it distracting and inhibiting.

Open Roads is a brief, affecting tale that isn’t going to change lives or revolutionize gaming, but it is undeniably charming and comfortable despite its difficult themes. By this point, you’ll know if you’re the kind of gamer for this, but if you’re still on the fence about the quality, rest assured that Open Roads feels lovingly crafted and has a distinctly human story to tell. If you were at Tess’ age, like me, in 2003, you may get even more out of it, though your mileage may vary.


Great cast of two, authentically 2003, doesn't overstay its welcome.


Lack of lip movement may turn some off, some story beats feel abrupt, sudden character decisions may feel unrealistic for the sake of moving plot forward.

Bottom Line

Open Roads is a rare title in that it captures humanity with respect and beauty without feeling saccharine.

Overall Score 80
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Jerry Williams

Jerry Williams

Jerry has been reviewing games at RPGFan since 2009. Over that period, he has grown in his understanding that games, their stories and characters, and the people we meet through them can enrich our lives and make us better people. He enjoys keeping up with budding scholarly research surrounding games and their benefits.