Kentucky Route Zero is one of the most interesting games to come out over the last couple years, and it’s still coming out. Weird? Well, it’s all par for the course from this game. Let’s take a moment to parse through it all, though, in preparation for the (hopefully) upcoming release of Act IV.
What is Kentucky Route Zero?
In essence, it’s an episodic point-and-click adventure game made by developers Cardboard Computer. More concretely, it’s a sort of magic realist, surrealist art piece in five “acts” (three of which have been released so far), along with intermission material as well.
The narrative focuses on a man, Conway, and his dog as they attempt to make one last delivery for a going-out-of-business antique shop. As the player follows Conway’s journey, they encounter a number of strange and interesting characters including a ghost band, a young boy and his eagle brother, and cyborg musicians.
Seems pretty straightforward.
The narrative isn’t really the selling point of the game, though, as the “story” is little more than an Odyssean journey narrative – one man’s attempt to get from point A to point B is interrupted by a series of obstacles. The real appeal of the game is the atmosphere and the magical quality of Conway’s journey.
The game presents some very unique techniques in presentation and execution, which really need to be seen or played to be understood. If you haven’t yet given the game a chance, I highly recommend you check it out. If you have tried the game, though, and you’re interested in catching up since the last episode came out over a year and a half ago (how time flies), so let’s remember where we left off at the end of Act III.
What was Conway doing again?
After injuring his leg in Elkhorn Mine (where he met Shannon), Conway had to get his leg repaired by Dr. Truman in the woods outside the Museum of Dwellings. Truman replaced his leg with a skeleton leg with a yellow glow to it.
Although it’s not confirmed, it’s heavily implied that this new appendage is what convinces the skeletons at the Hard Time Distillery to mistake him for a new hire when he and Shannon visit them in their attempt to utilize Xanadu to find Lula Chamberlain.
After drinking a whiskey that’s way out of his price range, Conway ends up indebted to The Stranger at the Hard Times Distillery. First he has to finish the job he’s been trying to do all along, but as it stands right now, once he’s done he’ll have to go to work for The Strangers to pay off his debt. Whether or not Conway can find some way out of this servitude is yet to be revealed.
Okay, what’s everyone else up to?
Well, Shannon is still along for the ride. We still haven’t discovered what she went back for in Elkhorn Mine, so presumably we still have that to discover (or not! Maybe it’s not as important as we think). Ezra (and presumably Julian) are also still by Conway’s side, having no real home – Ezra in particular can develop an interesting relationship with both Shannon and Junebug, and this may play out further in Act IV.
Speaking of which, Junebug and Johnny are both still along for the ride. Whether or not they will play a more significant role besides traveling companions is unclear at this point, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see their characters and relationship further developed. Most importantly, Conway’s faithful hound is still kicking, despite his age.
So what can we expect in Act IV?
Honestly, it’s pretty hard to say. Obviously locations have been a major factor in the game so far, with most of the action revolving around the titular Route Zero. With the party waiting for a ferry to take them down river towards Dogwood Drive, it’s hard to say if we’ll be returning to any past locations.
Returning to previous spots (such as Equus Oil, The Bureau of Reclaimed Spaces, and The Museum of Dwellings) has been so integral to the game thus far, though, I would venture to argue that the party will find some way to travel. It could even prove that traversing the river, and taking the ferry back and forth, become integral parts of gameplay, just like how learning to navigate the zero proved important in Act II.
Is that all the info we’ve got?
Cardboard Computer has been very quiet on their process (other than the occasional tweet to confirm that it is still coming out), so we have no idea what the size and scope of this act will be compared to previous ones. Still, the acts have been getting progressively longer and larger, and jumping from 5 months to a year, to 18 months between releases, it would seem to correlate that Act IV may be shaping up to be the most ambitious installment so far.
Additionally, it should be noted that (like “Limits and Demonstrations” and “The Entertainment” before it), there is a sort of “interlude” “game” that has been released: Here and there along the echo. Similar to the other interludes, it’s unnecessary to participate in if you, but worth checking out if you still need something to tide you over until Act IV.
Until the installment actually comes out, though, all we can really do is wait and bide our time, like the cast of characters waiting for their ferry to come in. Well, you can also listen to the amazing soundtrack on repeat, like I’ve been doing.