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Kentucky Route Zero review – haunting drifter’s odyssey comes to an end

And so a meandering journey comes to an end. Kentucky Route Zero, “a magical realist adventure game”, was funded, modestly, on Kickstarter back in 2012. The first of its five episodes released in early 2013, the second a few months later, the third a year after that, the fourth two years later still. Now, following the almost exponential trend, after a further three-and-a-half years, we get the game’s conclusion – alongside a new console edition of the entire series.

If you’ve been following this game since the start, then, it’s been a long road, and perhaps an exasperating one. Not that this wasn’t a fitting way to experience Kentucky Route Zero’s tale of a band of misfits getting drawn into a truck driver’s quixotic quest to deliver his load of antique furniture to an address that seems to get further away with every step. Some made their peace with the open ending of the fourth act being as good a place as any to leave it – and they weren’t wrong. But I doubt they will be disappointed in the fifth act that releases this week. Strikingly different in style, it’s a gorgeous epilogue that finds resolution while resisting the urge to solve any of the game’s many mysteries.

If you’ve been on this long journey with the game, I envy you. I have played Kentucky Route Zero from start to finish in the space of a week – all five episodes, plus the four interludes that developer Cardboard Computer released for free – and I’m not sure it’s the best way to take it in. Essentially a beautifully illustrated and animated text adventure, Kentucky Route Zero is slow, whimsical, interior, elliptical and at times deliberately frustrating. It is as inspired by theatre and installation art as film or video games; it’s dense with memory, digression and fragmentary, half-remembered lore. It’s not long, but it has too little plot and too much story to be comfortably consumed in one go. Like a meal composed of dozens of dainty side-dishes, it risks leaving you stuffed but unsatisfied. Better to give each portion its space (though three-and-a-half years of space might be overdoing it), to savour the flavours that linger long after you put the game down.

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