Videogames add new devices to our shared cinematic language that were once only impracticable theory. While interactivity itself can be an anchor that keeps an audiences’ expectations on pacing grounded in the realtime, the real advances that truly change the way we think are those in perspective and in the experience of space.
Kentucky Route Zero, Act II begins with the question “Are we inside or outside?” as characters explore a space that’s both institutional (a great and dysfunctional bureaucracy busily shuffles around an unmanageable archive of random information) and natural (an entire floor of the structure is filled with placid and slightly bored bears, and the sounds of office work mingle with faint sounds that could be the dripping of an underground stream). There’s even odd religious overtones in this space (A functionary describes it as having been a cathedral that was requisitioned, and its parishioners and priest sent to continue their worship somewhere in storage).
Kentucky Route Zero may frustrate people who play games for the cognitive food-pellet-dispenser of interactivity. You’re not patted on the back for either your patience or your skill, and what constitutes puzzles are primarily exposed as being yet another spacial form, one that is invisible or impossible to adequately describe in any other media, and must be navigated to be understood.
It is, first and foremost, a beautiful, funny and cinematic game that feels brave and thoughtful in both its construction and in the pacing of its play. I’d recommend a lazy Sunday tinkering with it to anyone who wants to take a peek at a crazy outlier that describes the boundaries of what games can be. It’s the perfect game for someone who lacks the childhood context to put up with the trappings of mainstream games to find out why they are important, and feels like an important step into the sophomore years of the evolution of an artform.