Although this second part doesn’t answer a lot of questions about the Kentucky Route Zero universe, Act II is as gripping and stylish as the first entry in series.
Kentucky Route Zero: Act I was a unique episode in the sense that it prioritized atmosphere above every other aspect of the game. So the idea wasn’t to solve complex puzzles to make progress. The idea was to be part of a stylish adventure unlike any other in the genre. Act II expands the Kentucky Route Zero universe and while that means that the story is as incomprehensible as ever, it’s still easy to recommend to anyone willing to try something different.
Act II picks up right where Act I left off: Conway, Shannon and the Dog are looking for an elusive road known as Dogwood Drive so that Conway can deliver some antiques. After meeting the owner of the Equus Oils station, retrieving a lost die, visiting the Marquez Farm and exploring an abandoned mine shaft, the characters are still clueless about where they should be going next. Although I decided to write a brief summary of the events that took place during Act I, this second episode starts with no explanation of past events, so under no circumstances should you play Act II if you haven’t played the first episode of this adventure.
One of my favorites aspects of Kentucky Route Zero is that the game has a cinematic vibe and that’s why episode one has often been compared to films rather than games. But what exactly makes people compare Kentucky Route Zero to a completely different medium? Surreal elements, thoughtful dialogues, an unconventional storytelling and a camera that highlights elements in the foreground and background are some of the elements that make Kentucky Route Zero so unique.
Another aspect that makes this episodic adventure stand out is the fact that it trusts its audience and that’s why Kentucky Route Zero delivers its story with assurance. As in pretty much any point-and-click adventure title, you can examine every nook and cranny, but since Kentucky Route Zero doesn’t have many puzzles, the only motivation you have to explore the environments is to satisfy your own curiosity. So if you choose not to explore items lying around or if you don’t want to engage in unnecessary conversations with NPCs, you can go to the place where you are supposed to go next, skipping everything in between.
All the surreal elements from the first episode are still here and it’s hard to explain what makes them so appealing without ruining the surprise. It’s hard to see the point behind the inclusion of some of those bizarre elements: maybe their inclusion is symbolic, maybe they are metaphoric or maybe they are there to contrast with players’ expectations. Hopefully, everything will be properly addressed in upcoming acts, who knows? The point is that the surreal elements don’t seem to make any sense at all, yet they seem to fit in perfectly with the rest of the game.
Visually, the game keeps making use of some nifty tricks at the same time it incorporates some new ones. I already mentioned the camera rotating to highlight certain characters. Other tricks include parts of the environments appearing and then disappearing. And since we’re talking about camera movement, it’s worth mentioning those moments in which the camera zooms in and out to reveal specific characters. There aren’t a lot of these, but surprisingly, they represent one of the most memorable aspects of the game.
But for all its strengths, Act II isn’t without some foibles. First, none of the choices you make while interacting with other characters have any sort of repercussion in the story, so this gives the impression that this is a static world where you are just along for the ride. This affects the story and makes it feel straightforward, as if everything is going to play out in the same way no matter what you do. Another problem is that the main road is really hard to navigate and even when you read directions (which appear in the game as notes,) it’s hard to know when you’re going.
Finishing Act II should take you less than two hours. But while some could qualify Act II as overly brief, I think this second episode is a cohesive effort whose length feels right. If you played the first episode and it left you wanting more, Act II will not disappoint. Although this second part doesn’t answer a lot of questions about the Kentucky Route Zero universe, Act II is as gripping and stylish as the first entry in series.
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