Less like a puzzle and more like a mystery.
January 28, 2020 4:27 PM   Subscribe

Seven years and three weeks ago today, an aging delivery driver named Conway picked up one final haul from Lysette's Antiques and began his search for the underground highway that would lead to his final destination. Today, the magical realist, anti-capitalist, Appalachian adventure game Kentucky Route Zero finally comes to a close with the release of the elusive Act V, plus the newly available TV Edition for Playstation, Xbox, or Nintendo Switch. Haven't heard of KRZ? Launch trailer. Reviews from Kotaku and Polygon. If you're intrigued, maybe try out one of the free interlude episodes? Personally, I would recommend Un Pueblo de Nada (previously) or The Entertainment. They'll give you a little taste of the world of the Zero.

'Kentucky Route Zero' Pays Off on Nine Years of Hope and Doubt, by Austin Walker:
[I]t’s probably more fair to say that Kentucky Route Zero is a game about what capitalism does to people, how it turns them into fuel and into highway both, so that it can spread further and further, devouring more and more along the way...
...As a young writer with an underdeveloped critical toolkit and the overconfidence that often comes along with that, I could just tell that Cardboard Computer’s pitch for KRZ was promising the sorts of things that I was desperate to see more of, and which I hoped the then-burgeoning “indie boom” would bring. I was right, but what I couldn’t predict was that not only would these naive hopes of younger self be met, they’d actually be exceeded. Put simply: Kentucky Route Zero is greater than whatever buzzwords are used to sell it. It makes me want to write with the fervor of naivete, yet rewards serious engagement. It’s a masterful American tragedy that avoids the cheapest tendencies of games like it, while leveraging techniques distinct and unique to gaming as a medium. Nine years after it was announced, the journey has been worth every day. I doubt I could be happier with it.
How the creators of Kentucky Route Zero ended their seven-year saga, by Andrew Kuhar

This article includes spoilers for Acts I, II, III, and IV. Hard Times: Revisiting Acts I-IV of Kentucky Route Zero While Desperately Looking for Work, by Carolyn Petit:
At one point, Conway and crew meet a man named Donald, who laments that his life’s work, an elaborate computer simulation called Xanadu, has fallen into disrepair. He asks the travelers, “Do you have any idea what it’s like to spend your life building something, and then sit powerlessly as your work declines into ruin?” You then get to select which member of your party answers, and most can answer Donald’s question in the affirmative. Conway, for instance, can respond, “I drive deliveries for a small antique shop, and we’re closing down.” Meanwhile, Shannon Márquez, a TV repairwoman who joins Conway’s quest, can answer, “I fix TVs and I’m about to lose the lease on my workshop.”
Critical Distance presents A Critical Compilation, a collection of written analysis of KRZ.

Kentucky Fried Zero, a deep dive into the references and themes of Acts I, II, and III.

Highway 0, the Kentucky Route Zero Wiki.

Kentucky Route Zero - Original Soundtrack by Ben Babbitt, currently available on Bandcamp and coming soon to streaming and vinyl.

KRZ, Previously on Metafilter: 1, 2, 3
posted by JimBennett (47 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
 
Who are you and what have you done with Fizz?
posted by RolandOfEld at 4:33 PM on January 28 [5 favorites]


this is not the first media post i've aped fizz's style for, hopefully he doesn't mind.
posted by JimBennett at 4:39 PM on January 28 [5 favorites]


Oh my goodness! I had almost given up hope. I know what I'm doing this weekend.
posted by northernish at 4:41 PM on January 28 [2 favorites]


On PS4 finally, nice! And shockingly, not ridiculously overpriced.
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:09 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


eeeee!!! so excited that the last bit is out - I've been checking back periodically and had also almost given up . it's really a game like nothing else. Thanks for the post
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 5:14 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


I love that it includes the interludes as well. They're interesting experiments. I stopped messing with them after a while since they were additional downloads and I was hoping to play the whole thing all in one go when Act V was released.

Well, I know what my weekend plans are, now! Something about an office full of bears, if memory serves.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 5:57 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


But is it fun?
posted by SoberHighland at 6:18 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


> But is it fun?

Yes.
posted by brook horse at 6:27 PM on January 28 [4 favorites]


sometimes it's fun like settling into a cozy hammock and reading a novel lit by a beam of warm sunlight peeking through the leaves of the forest that's giving you a slight headache but you mostly you just feel vaguely fuzzy. sometimes it's fun like sitting in a dark basement watching a movie where you know everything is going to go wrong before the end, your skin is sticking to the leather of the couch, the air conditioning turned so low you briefly forget about how hot it is outside except for how dry your mouth is. sometimes it's fun like a colony of bears who have found a new home on the third floor of a pseudo-abandoned underground office building.
posted by JimBennett at 6:30 PM on January 28 [6 favorites]


I have waited so long....finally!
posted by triage_lazarus at 6:31 PM on January 28 [4 favorites]


Also, friendly reminder that Here and There Along the Echo is still functioning, so call (270) 301-5797 for a good time.
(If you're holding a snake right now, press 4.)
posted by brook horse at 6:49 PM on January 28 [5 favorites]


I enter into this 2-Dimensional Talk-Chamber of Lapis Lazuli and Acid Gold now as the incarnation of The Phillistine ... hear my dots the dots are my words and my words made dots made words [insert image of a man in a beekeeper outfit]

When it comes to (some) of these [insert image of a llama in an empty swimming pool] Important Games As Art Things [insert image of a telephone booth SFX: baby crying], over the years I have been Intrigued [insert image of needle-nose pliers holding a chicken egg SFX: clock ticking] by such Purposefully Arch and Minimalist Pixelizations of The Inner Journey with //synchronized Soundscapes// Accessed through Capitalist Machinations [insert image of 1977 Gremlin surrounded by ballet dancers SFX: a glass shattering] such as Steam via Finger Input and though my Travels There seated before my Glowing Rectangle and keyboard (the words are my keys the keys are my words) have transferred Life Sustenance Points [insert image of frying pan on an empty desert highway SFX: Mariachi band] via Numeric Codes to "play" These Things ... I point, I click, I am pointed at and clicked at.

Unmoored, I have galloped, rowed my canoe and shambled barefoot though Vistas Made Real Via (60hz vs. 144hz) Refresh and //synchronized Soundscapes//

...and quite often, have been bored out of my gourd. I picture a converted warehouse space that smells like dirty gym socks, a few Aeron chairs and a half dozen bearded 30-somethings giggling into their hands as they read that Critical Distance page (linked above) out loud to each other.

/end Philistine rant

(kidding, sort of... I'm glad these things exist, I'm just not the audience)
posted by SoberHighland at 7:05 PM on January 28


Have you played the game, SoberHighland?
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 7:11 PM on January 28 [5 favorites]


i mean, i don't watch marvel movies, it's pretty easy for me not to click on those threads. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
posted by JimBennett at 7:13 PM on January 28 [6 favorites]


I've Played some Art Games, but not This One. I'm intrigued and read some of the links here, but I doubt I'll try This One out. I'm interested in games in general, just joking around. It's a thread about games, right?
posted by SoberHighland at 7:16 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


Not to harp on a point, but if you don't think "third floor (bears)" is the funniest fucking thing then yeah, you're not the audience, and what's wrong with you?

Kidding. But seriously. Third floor (bears).
posted by brook horse at 7:21 PM on January 28 [7 favorites]


Wow. I vaguely anticipated this in a way that I wasn't sure it would ever actually happen. Now I'm very excited to finish. I'm going to have to read some synopsis to catch back up.
posted by MaritaCov at 7:27 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


Just finished the final act. A beautiful capstone to a beautiful game.
posted by Rinku at 7:32 PM on January 28 [2 favorites]


I found out about this via an email alert from Bandcamp about the soundtrack release. I haven't been an electronic gamer since the heyday of Colecovision, but KRZ was the first game as an adult that made me want to mend my ways. One of these days I'll crack.
posted by mykescipark at 8:17 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


I can haz kentuckyburger

so good it looks
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:31 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


Just bought it and played the first two scenes of Act I and I love it! So sad and weird and beautiful.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:05 PM on January 28 [2 favorites]


I bought Kentucky Route Zero in 2013, played it, loved it and decided I wanted to wait until it was done to get the full experience rather than play it a chapter at a time.

It is now somehow 2020 and I and the world are both different. I'm very interested to see how KRZ and I get along.
posted by slimepuppy at 4:16 AM on January 29 [5 favorites]


While anyone starting the game now that it’s finished is going to have a rad time, playing KR0 over the length of its development felt very fitting, now that I’ve slept on the final act. Having mostly forgotten the beginning when you get to the ending was pretty perfect. I would encourage new players not to rush.
posted by Rinku at 6:38 AM on January 29 [4 favorites]


Huh. I was going to play through again before starting Act V because I've basically forgotten what happened at the beginning but now that you say that, Rinku, maybe I shouldn't.
posted by zsazsa at 8:04 AM on January 29


Caves under Kentucky?
posted by doctornemo at 8:18 AM on January 29


This sounds really appealing.
posted by doctornemo at 8:21 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


I really want to jump into this game but I'm not sure I have the time for it and I have a backlog of games that is taller than me, so I really don't need another narrative game to jump into, I can barely play the games I own.

All that being said, I love the story behind this game and its decade long development, thank you for sharing.
posted by Fizz at 8:28 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


I picked up the game in a bundle roughly 5 years ago, intending to start when the remaining chapters were released "over the next year or so" so I could get the complete experience. Glad it didn't turn out to be just vaporware.
posted by subocoyne at 11:10 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


It takes much less time to play than it did to develop. About 9 hours, Steam tells me.

I just want to highlight one thing: the extremely clever approach to roleplaying. You don't (so far as I know, I haven't replayed it) get to change the overall story much. But you get to define how people respond to each other. Where Bethesda or Bioware would give you choices "cooperate nicely, cooperate sullenly, or be a psychopath", KRZ's choices are more "chug through it, express empathy, or invite a digression."
posted by zompist at 1:53 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]


About 9 hours, Steam tells me

I always find the steam time estimates for games like this very low - like, you could plow through the game in that time, but I like to noodle around, and explore all the little details; there's often enough content to spend much more time on games if your goal isn't just to finish it.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:08 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]


I finished act V kind of numb and unimpressed, but 24 hours later it's completely eating my soul alive
posted by phooky at 4:46 PM on January 29 [2 favorites]


Oh man, has it really been nine years?

Guess I'm gonna have to pick this up now, at last.
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:51 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]


I already own it on PC, but considering picking up for switch or ps4 since I intend to restart from the beginning, anyone have anything to say pro or con for either platform version?
posted by juv3nal at 6:14 PM on January 29


I love the aesthetic of it.
posted by bendy at 6:27 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]


I already own it on PC, but considering picking up for switch or ps4 since I intend to restart from the beginning, anyone have anything to say pro or con for either platform version?

ha! juv3nal I was just coming here to ask the same question - I don't mind paying for the game again, and often games will run better on the ps4, but I'd love to hear if anyone has any thoughts on this.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 7:48 PM on January 29


Huh. I was going to play through again before starting Act V because I've basically forgotten what happened at the beginning but now that you say that, Rinku, maybe I shouldn't.

i played act V immediately upon release and have been replaying the game since then, i really did forget how shockingly good it is even right out of the gate in act I. there's also a post-act V thing that you may not have unlocked if you didn't meet the conditions in your original play through.

I really want to jump into this game but I'm not sure I have the time for it and I have a backlog of games that is taller than me, so I really don't need another narrative game to jump into, I can barely play the games I own.

All that being said, I love the story behind this game and its decade long development, thank you for sharing.


i mention this briefly in the post but i would encourage you and anyone else who is interested but on the fence to just try out one of the interludes, they're all really great experiences in their own right and while some of them do link up narratively with the main storyline in subtle ways you definitely won't be spoiled if it hooks you and inspires you to pick up the rest. if you want to be creeped out or are a fan of experimental theater play The Entertainment, if you like video art or have a history in TV production try Un Pueblo De Nada, if you like creepypasta or spooky campfire stories maybe try Here And There Along The Echo.

the entire game is also a pretty short experience (even if you meander around and do EVERYTHING i feel like 15 hours is a pretty reasonable maximum), and since the whole thing is already broken into chunks you could just play like, one act/interlude a week for 10 weeks and it would sort of be like watching a weekly TV show. or you could binge it all in one day like i'm doing for my current replay haha.

I already own it on PC, but considering picking up for switch or ps4 since I intend to restart from the beginning, anyone have anything to say pro or con for either platform version?

ha! juv3nal I was just coming here to ask the same question - I don't mind paying for the game again, and often games will run better on the ps4, but I'd love to hear if anyone has any thoughts on this.


i've heard nothing but good things about the console ports. i believe the switch version has a tiny bit of trouble keeping up with the visuals in act V but nothing major. the only real disadvantage is that there are a few bugs (in all versions) that will take longer to get patched out, including one presentational bug during a fairly major moment, but it's not something that will ruin your experience or anything like that.
posted by JimBennett at 8:06 PM on January 29


Finished this evening. Just, wow. Beautiful and sad. Can’t believe it’s over. This will definitely get replays down the road. Everything about game amazing.
posted by triage_lazarus at 8:07 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]


The soundtrack is also downloadable for people who purchased the game on the Humble Bundle website. I do enjoy those Bedquilt Ramblers tracks.
posted by WhackyparseThis at 2:54 AM on January 30 [1 favorite]


Despairingly, I clicked on the link for Pueblo de nada. Surely, this is not a web based game so I can actually see if I can play it. Since, surely, there is no Linux port.

clicks link.

No web based version.

BUT!

Linux version!!!!

Despair sets in again. What kind of packaging/dependency hell am I going to have to go through to get this to work in the year of our lord the year of penguin Linux on the desktop?

Download, extract, double-click, GO!

20 minutes later...

This looks really cool. And (obviously?) I don't game much. Thanks JimBennett for sharing! It sounds like it's great to plunk down the $25 and do it start to finish. In the meantime, is there a save function in the full game? In Un Pueblo de Nada?
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 3:31 PM on January 30 [1 favorite]


the full game is broken into "scenes," and it saves before and after each scene. there is unfortunately (afaik) no mid-scene way to save, which also means the interludes can only be played from start to finish in one sitting. they're all pretty short though, if you were 20 minutes into UPDN you were probably more than halfway through it.
posted by JimBennett at 8:04 PM on January 30


I must have played through Act I three times since 2013, and then set the game aside until it was finished or conclusively abandoned and I could play through it all in one go. Anyway, I finished Act II and The Entertainment and I've been turning it over in my head all morning.

I'm amused by the completion percentages on the Steam achievements, which must have been added long after the game dropped and started appearing in bundles. 0.4% of players have the "finished Act I" achievement.
posted by figurant at 10:03 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]


oh wow this is basically like if Achewood were set in rural Appalachia instead of California

I am very into this
posted by DoctorFedora at 2:48 AM on February 1


so, to report back - I did end up getting it for the ps4, and it's amazing, I like that all of the interludes are presented in the right spots of the gameplay. I have found some occasional controller glitchiness, but it seems to me an offshoot of the fact that I have my stuff set up so that I can play games lying down, and so tend to hold the controller almost upsidedown, which seems to interfere when looking through the notebook or tuning the radio. That's a really minor thing though - it's so good
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:49 AM on February 3 [1 favorite]


oh crap I kept playing and now it's past dawn
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:43 AM on February 3 [2 favorites]


I started playing this yesterday and I'm already crying. "She's my cousin. We used to be the same age, but she's older now".
posted by FirstMateKate at 8:22 AM on February 4 [3 favorites]


I'd played the first two acts years ago and decided to start again over the weekend (this time on the Switch - which was a great decision).

I was pretty stunned just how vital the interludes ended up being to the narrative (if you skip 'The Entertainment', for example, you miss a lot of background stuff in Act III).

Ben Babbitt's score is brilliant, too. If you're in the mood to stay in that headspace, I've tried to tease out references and soundalikes across a 4 hour playlist here.
posted by filmvisuality at 5:24 PM on February 4 [2 favorites]


Another good interview from Polygon: The creators of Kentucky Route Zero open up about the ending of their game (Act V spoilers are clearly marked but the interview assumes knowledge of Acts I-IV)
posted by JimBennett at 1:09 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]


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