Kentucky Route Zero is a magical realist adventure game about a secret highway in the caves beneath Kentucky, and the mysterious folks who travel it. Developed by Cardboard Computer (Jake Elliott and Tamas Kemenczy), the game features an original score by Ben Babbitt, along with a suite of old hymns and bluegrass standards recorded by...
User reviews: Very Positive (919 reviews)
Release Date: Feb 22, 2013

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Recommended By Curators

"A powerfully evocative and beautiful subversion of point-and-click rote, but occasionally opaque and disorienting."
Read the full review here.

Reviews

"Smart, thoughtful, sweet and incredibly well crafted – it’s the perfect game to play in the small hours of a lonely night. Be warned though; it’ll leave you hungry for unknown roads and longing for an invitation to the blues."
Rock, Paper, Shotgun

"Evokes the feeling of old ghost stories told around a campfire. There's the familiarity of friends and family around a warm, man-made fire, but with it comes the unnerving tale of the strange and unusual. Kentucky Route Zero is beautifully bizarre and perfectly poignant, and most of all, deserves your attention."

9.5 - Destructoid

"However you respond to its ethereal imagery, this is a game which makes a rare suggestion: who a player is may be more important than what they do."

84/100 - PC Gamer

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About This Game

Kentucky Route Zero is a magical realist adventure game about a secret highway in the caves beneath Kentucky, and the mysterious folks who travel it.

Developed by Cardboard Computer (Jake Elliott and Tamas Kemenczy), the game features an original score by Ben Babbitt, along with a suite of old hymns and bluegrass standards recorded by The Bedquilt Ramblers.

The game is split into five acts. Acts I, II and III are available now. The remaining two acts will be released as they're completed. Taken as a whole, Kentucky Route Zero is roughly the length of a summer night.

Key Features

  • A focus on characterization, atmosphere and storytelling rather than clever puzzles or challenges of skill.
  • A unique art treatment inspired by theatrical set design.
  • A haunting score accompanies the ambient sounds of the bluegrass state.
  • Wander the highways of Kentucky.
  • Make some friends before morning.

System Requirements

Windows
Mac OS X
SteamOS + Linux
    Minimum:
    • OS:Windows 7
    • Processor:1 GHz
    • Memory:512 MB RAM
    • Graphics:Directx 9.0c compatible video card
    • DirectX®:9.0c
    • Hard Drive:250 MB HD space
    • Sound:Sound card
    Recommended:
    • OS:Windows 7
    • Processor:1 GHz
    • Memory:1 GB RAM
    • Graphics:Directx 9.0c compatible video card
    • DirectX®:9.0c
    • Hard Drive:250 MB HD space
    • Sound:Sound card
    Minimum:
    • OS:OSX 10.5 Leopard
    • Processor:1 GHz CPU
    • Memory:512 MB RAM
    • Graphics:OpenGL 3.0+ compatible video card
    • Hard Drive:250 MB HD space
    • Sound:Sound card
    Minimum:
    • Processor:1 GHz CPU
    • Memory:512 MB RAM
    • Graphics:OpenGL 3.0+ compatible video card
    • Hard Drive:250 MB HD space
    • Sound:Sound card
Helpful customer reviews
91 of 106 people (86%) found this review helpful
1 person found this review funny
12.8 hrs on record
Posted: November 1, 2014
There are roads in Kentucky that take you unknown, weird places if you allow yourself to go there. This game is a shortcut to those places wherein you don't need your imagination irl...instead the devs have done all the work for you. Enjoy the surreal, enjoy not having to work for strange magic, enjoy Ky. Rte. 0 ;-)


Btw, if you are ever in the area of Mammoth Cave, do try to visit Pig, Ky - there's an amazing BBQ joint with the most perfect fried catfish and hush puppies...I was literally dragged back to my grandmother's house in a weird space/time continuum...so when I speak of this game, I know whereof I speak ;-p
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92 of 116 people (79%) found this review helpful
4.1 hrs on record
Posted: November 3, 2014
"When I had journeyed half our life's way,
I found myself within a shadowed forest,
For I had lost the path that does not stray,
Ah, it is hard to speak of what it was,
The savage forest, dense and difficult,
which even in recall renews my fear:
so bitter—death is hardly more severe!
But to retell the good discovered there,
I'll also tell the other things I saw"

—The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

I was talking with a few of my poet and literary friends and they were urging me to try this new game.
Here's how our conversation went.

Virgil: Have you guys heard of the Kentucky Route Zero game, I just tried it and it's great.

Me: But it's $24.99, c'mon really?

Dante: You know the punishment I assigned to the greedy and avaricious.

Me: I know I know... but still I don't want to play a game where I watch pixels move on a screen

Homer: Stop ridiculing this masterpiece. You insult The Muses and mighty Zeus.

Me: Alright Alright... but if there's no action in the first five minutes I'm going back to my multiplayer shoot em' up

Proust: Don't worry, you won't be bored. After finishing it you're definitely going to want to tweet the authors and discuss the work.

Me: Whatever Marcel... why should I want to play a game about rednecks who drink whiskey

Proust: Every gamer, as he games, is actually the gamer of himself. The developer's work is only a kind of optical instrument he provides the gamer so he can discern what he might never have seen in himself without this game. The gamer's recognition in himself of what the game says is the proof of the game's truth.

Me: Okay I'll try it.

(ten minutes later)

Me: This is good

(twenty minutes later)

Me: Unreal unreal maybe my friends know something about the art of telling good stories

(An hour later)

Me: (speechless)


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78 of 107 people (73%) found this review helpful
1 person found this review funny
4.7 hrs on record
Posted: November 2, 2014
Let me preface this by typing out why I really thought this would be a game that I enjoy and would be able to recommend:

I played and loved pretty much all of the classic point & click adventures in their golden era. From the Sierra adventures to Maniac Mansion, Monkey Island, all the Lucasarts games really, Simon the Sorcerer, Baphomets Curse, you name it.

In more recent times I really enjoyed the Telltale games and also the more philosophical approach of The Stanley Parable for example.

If you are in a similar position and thinking about getting this, it is actually not enough to tell if you will like this game or not. I cannot recommend this to you with a straight face.

First off, the graphical fidelity is really limited, as you might have seen already, but I wouldn't really count that as a negative point. The art style is very distinct and on point, and amplifys the creepy and uneasy mood throughout the whole game. They also manage to get some stunning panoramas and effects out of this minimalistic style, it definitely works for this title.

As for the gameplay, there really is not much to speak of. It mainly consists of walking, driving and dialogue. The conversations aren't voiced so get ready for reading. A lot. Also a lot of really basic small talk that has no connection to any part of the story whatsoever. There are also frequent, short (mostly optional) detours from the main path that happen entirely in text form, no visuals.
As far as I've seen there is no form of puzzles or decisions in the game that have any impact on how it unfolds. I disagreed with people that said this is the same in Telltales games. Although the end result is pretty much always the same, there is at least an illusion of choice and advancement, using a thing with another thing to make something happen. Getting the player busy. There is none of that in KRZ, if anything it is very close to a graphic novel where things play out for you, not through you. (This is also evident in the way it is broken up. Acts and Scenes.)
It does a few really neat things, like seamlessly switching the character you control without you actually realizing it.

Well then, the story. This is where I seriously got lost. I can't really tell all that much without spoilering anything, but I can tell you that it is basically all over the place. There is a goal or finish that you know about, but it gets replaced with another goal in the first few minutes of the game, and this new one never gets questioned, just accepted as necessary.
Come to think of it, everything in this game just gets accepted, nothing is questioned. As a result, nothing gets explained or "solved" either. It's like a very elaborate acid trip. A ride you hop in that trails you along, getting crazier and more confusing by the minute. And you really have no choice but letting it happen and not thinking too much about it, moving on.

You would think that the game would make fun of itself through it ridiculous developments, but it doesn't. Apart from literally one or two very brief instances (one "running gag" and a kid), the tone of this game is dead serious.

The soundtrack is used very sparingly, but to great effect, and it's phenomenal. If anything, I really recommend getting that.
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31 of 34 people (91%) found this review helpful
2.7 hrs on record
Posted: November 16, 2014
Review currently in progress, to be updated as more episodes are released.

There's something just slightly off about Kentucky Route Zero.

Not the sort of "off" that turns you away and makes you consider whether it ought to be locked up with its unnerving peers, but the kind that leaves you puzzled and transfixed upon the play of sorts being performed before you. The unusual atmosphere and odd interactions with characters is at once unsettling and hypnotic, its logic clashing with reality yet somehow seeming entirely natural in this bizarre segment of road you've found yourself lost on.

The plot trickles out through nebulous exchanges with persons that may or may not even exist, giving you answers as they simultaneously create an abundance of new questions you haven't time to ask. This ambiguity could very easily be the downfall of the game, but there's a self awareness to the narrative's construction that holds it together as it continues to distort its world into a mysterious cloud of disconnected yet overlapping plot lines.

I'm being intentionally unclear with my descriptions because Kentucky Route Zero relies so heavily upon the player's unknowing of what exactly it is. Were I to have come in already versed on its events, I have little doubt that the magic that kept me engrossed as I tried to fit the misshapen pieces together would have been lost, and what I would have been left with would be an artistically inspired but far less stimulating experience.

After only playing the first act of five, I haven't a great deal more to say about Kentucky Route Zero besides how immensely it made me want to explore more about it and learn its secrets which it has only just touched upon. It's hard for me to pinpoint exactly what makes it so interesting to me, but more than anything it is likely the endless possibility of what could be in store after what was essentially a prologue of sorts.

Perhaps I'll have better answers when I've been through the remaining acts, but regardless of what they contain, Kentucky Route Zero has already established itself as wholly compelling. It feels like the road I'm heading down could take me anywhere, and I want to see everything along it.

Act II Review Update

After completing the second of Kentucky Route Zero's planned five acts, the first is now clear as existing as a sort of necessary introduction to what is to come. It displayed hints of an almost hypnagogic second world hidden beneath our own, setting the story in motion without drifting too far from reality as it slowly allowed its mystery to reveal itself.

Act II is when the Zero is finally allowed to take the spotlight, where former pretenses are rejected as the developers firmly take our hand to guide us through the play being performed in front of us. Kentucky Route Zero's vision of what it is and what it will be is so strong, so confident, that it need not hamper itself with explaining its events as its method of storytelling so entirely encompasses its plot that it would almost be detrimental to the experience should any clear answers be given, or perhaps exist at all.

As its dreamlike world comes more into focus I still have no idea where it plans to take me, and oddly I'm entirely accepting, even excited by that lack of knowledge. Kentucky Route Zero is keeping me in the dark, but its steady reassurance that it knows the way through is enough to keep me moving onward. Wherever this might end up, act II showcased nothing that leads me to believe it has any chance of losing focus, only becoming more captivating as each new piece of its overarching narrative is introduced and I'm taken further inside boundless imagination.
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22 of 26 people (85%) found this review helpful
3.5 hrs on record
Posted: October 24, 2014
This is exactly how game could be if produced by someone like David Lynch :).

Strange, twisted, mystery and catching story with very nice atmosphere and art, both visual and sound/music.

Kind of materpiece adventure game for me.
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19 of 23 people (83%) found this review helpful
3.6 hrs on record
Posted: October 11, 2014
I don't play many point and click games, but I really have to say that this is probably the best I've ever played. While technically barely a "game," its ability to draw emotion and bewilderment in equal amounts consistantly make it a memorable experiance-at least the first three acts have been. The soundtrack is also a must have.
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15 of 18 people (83%) found this review helpful
21.8 hrs on record
Posted: September 12, 2014
Can you imagine a rainbow at night? That's Kentucky Route Zero. Lovely but dark with a great concept, atmospheric places and a fantastic soundtrack. Deep sounds build an important part of the game, impossible without but also impossible with spoken words. And a very interesting gameplay where you switch roles to answer questions. Weird things happen here so choose your answer wisely because some options are unique. Like this game unique and very deep but also dangerous, when you start Kentucky Route Zero you will tunnel through time until you fall into the zero. You cannot stop you want to know where you can go next. A warm journey through cold and endless nights.
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17 of 24 people (71%) found this review helpful
1 person found this review funny
4.1 hrs on record
Posted: October 17, 2014
Truly incredible. Scary, smart, different. Amazing narrative. Act III was particularly remarkable. Can't wait for more.
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11 of 13 people (85%) found this review helpful
12.4 hrs on record
Posted: December 26, 2014
It's tricky to write about Kentucky Route Zero because it's best to know as little as possible about it before playing. The last thing I want is to reveal too much.

That being said, I can tell you that it's not a typical adventure game in many aspects. It's closer to the new Telltale games in the fact that it has no puzzles, no collecting items, nothing to distract from the essence of the game. It's driven by dialogue, observation and exploration, any action scenes are basically non-existent. The most unique thing about it is the narrative mechanic. The player shapes the story, but not in a way that you might expect. Plus the act/scene structure is not something you see in a game every day.

The story is very reflective and melancholic, yet not self-absorbed or pretentious like some sad stories tend to be. It's quite ambiguous and not at all straightforward, exploring multiple themes and leaving a lot of room for interpretation and discovery of its meaning - not a thing for everyone. It might even seem not quite coherent at times, but there's a method in this madness.

Audiovisual design is flawless. Distinctive art style helps create the vagueness and uncanny feeling of the world, perfectly corresponding with the story. There's a lot of atmosphere in almost every scene. Oh, and the scenes. Beautifully crafted, the moments they present can range from calming and touching to rather unsettling ones. And one of them is simply the most perfectly executed musical performance I've ever seen and heard in a game.

In overall it's not a game for everyone. You won't find in it a dramatic and dynamic plot, exciting action or difficult choices. What you'll get instead is a truly unique game full of beautiful, thought-provoking writing and overflowing with atmosphere.
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6 of 6 people (100%) found this review helpful
6.5 hrs on record
Posted: January 1
Man, I tell you what. I played through the entirety of all 3 currently-available episodes on a cold, rainy, New Year's Day 2015, and it was the perfect companion to such a day. Each episode gets progressively more serene, surreal, and...satisfying.

It's not a spoiler to say this, but: the dialog choices you make have virtually no impact on the eventual outcome of the story. But that's okay, because the flavor they add is fantastic. They all add to your own personal narrative for the game.

Bonus #1: The music is amazing (especially the songs with vocals). And they're all available for free, right there in the install directory of the game.

Bonus #2: Be sure to check out the 3 interludes that they released between episodes. They're free downloads from the official website, and add even more color and background to an already great experience.

Tl;dr: just buy this, and play it. Don't do the whole 'I'll just wait until all the episodes are out' thing.
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9 of 12 people (75%) found this review helpful
5.4 hrs on record
Posted: October 24, 2014
This is, hands down, THE best narrative experience I've ever encountered in a video game. Its weirdness... The craftsmanship of the characters, sounds, and environments... I've never come across anything like it before. Numerous times I just stopped playing and stared at the monitor, thinking outloud, "Wow" in just sheer wonder and amazement at how creative and compelling the scenes are.

If you're in the mood for something a bit off the beaten path, definitely give this game some of your time. It reminds me of O Brother Where Art Thou and I loved that movie for having many of the same qualities.
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8 of 11 people (73%) found this review helpful
4.8 hrs on record
Posted: August 2, 2014
Weird doesn't even begin to describe this game.

Employing pretty unorthodox narrative style Kentucky Route Zero tells a story of a delivery truck driver Conway on his way to the mysterious Dogwood Drive.

The game supposed to be point-and-click adventure but in reality clicking is just means to involve you in the story. You won't see an inventory or puzzles, and the dialogue choices don't have consequences as such. The narrative moves at an uneven pace while keeping you interested. One second you might be controlling Conway but the next you're choosing dialogue option for the person he's talking to. The character you're controlling can be changed literally mid-stride, while two of them just running around. One scene can be told from a perspective of your main character and the next from the perspective of a guy he's seeing for the first time. I would say that is quite innovative for a game narrative.

This game is text-heavy with many dialogues and has beautiful eerie atmosphere. This weird atmosphere and shifting narrative reminds me a lot of David Lynch movies. That would certainly be the way to "gamify" his works. The game is divided into acts and scenes (out of five of which only three are currently released) and has a distinct theater play feel to it.

While most of the playing time is running, clicking and dialogues, among the the odd activities you encounter here are a karaoke session, flying on a giant eagle and playing text adventure on an old oscilloscope.

I would recommend playing this game if you're ready to read a lot and would like to experience gloomy atmosphere and surreal Lynch-esque story through rather experimental storytelling. This is a true work of art.
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8 of 11 people (73%) found this review helpful
3.8 hrs on record
Posted: October 26, 2014
I've been putting off playing this game in favor of more action packed, shiny distractions. That was a mistake. The game (story? narrative? memory?) doesn't ask you to suspend your disbelief for its rich, aluring, surreal atmosphere; it doesn't need to. It draws you in, inviting, aluring, mysterious and yet sometimes disturbingly familiar. Simple and satisfying, that is Kentucky Route Zero... but be warned: once you figure out some of what's driving you along this highway, you might just stop looking for an off ramp.
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9 of 13 people (69%) found this review helpful
5.4 hrs on record
Posted: October 1, 2014
Kentucky Route Zero takes you on a surreal journey like none that I've experienced in a long time. I especially like how the games shifts which character you control without telling you, but it always makes situational sense. This is truly an interactive story - beautifully woven narrative and some subtle and not-so-subtle imagery sprinkled throughout that makes you wonder what this story is really about. Do yourself a favor and go play it now.

Side Note: Playing this game makes me wish I had better reading comprehension skills. It's something I've struggled with my whole life, but this game in particular makes me wish I could process prose more completely. I'm absolutely certain that there are subtleties in the writing that I'm missing, but that doesn't make the game any less enjoyable.
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4 of 4 people (100%) found this review helpful
252.5 hrs on record
Posted: December 15, 2014
I wasn't immediately impressed when I started this game. I was bugged by this reoccurring thought that, "Oh, this is just another in a recent string of indie games where everything is just... So Weird." The story was a little non linear and slow going, and it had to break through a lot of other minor annoyances in order for me to see the merit. There is a lot of unskippable animation that really grinds (especially when one of the main characters is forced to walk around with a real time limp). It's as though one of the designers put their foot down because they didn't want any of the intricacy of their animations or level design to be missed. And it is a beautiful game. I was gradually won over, which is why I kept playing the game, but act three is where I really became a fan. If you have the patience, stick it out to the end.

Horrible video game analogy: This game is like Grim Fandango if it took place in a folksy acid dream.
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5 of 6 people (83%) found this review helpful
6.7 hrs on record
Posted: November 1, 2014
This has honestly been one of the most intrigueing forms of media I have ever experienced. It delievers something that no movie, music, or video game can show on its owm, but instead intwines them all together in a beautifully, haunting new world. For fans of point in click adventures, this is truely unique. For fans of people who view video games as a medium of art, this is made for you.
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5 of 6 people (83%) found this review helpful
6.7 hrs on record
Posted: December 18, 2014
The full review is below, but here it is condensed version:
Pros
- Interesting art style
- Great writing
- Amazing soundtrack
Cons
- Game isn't too challenging
- The songs feel awkward sometimes
- The whisperwave hipsters

Until now, I've never been moved so fully by a game so as to write a review. Kentucky Route Zero is one of the best and most intricately orchestrated games I've played in a long time, and,though the game is lurching at first, it's worth the investment.

The game is surreal, poetic, and funny but not to the point of excess in any of these aspects. It's riddled with memory, imagination, the surreal, and how they intersect with reality. And the way these things are portrayed in the game are sometimes quirky, sometimes beautifull, but don't usually seem out of place or forced.

The replayability of it is vast, just as the world the developers created. It's the most complete I've felt a game to be, and, there's so much in it that you will end up missing a lot. By the time you've omitted your first option in the game, you'll want to go back in to see what happens .
The writing, as well, is compelling enough to just be a text adventure. But the developers put an original and interesting art style into the game that makes it so much more worth while to sit and watch.

One might think that usually, games like this lack in any substance as far as soundtracks go. But the sounds of this game make such a complete atmosphere to a point where they seem so natural that it's an almost imperceptible addition to the game. The only portion that seemed awkward at first was the music they included in the game, but once you get past the fact that there's lyrical music in a sidescroller, you realize it's actually good.

The way the they develop the game is almost deceptively simple. You walk, inspect, check your notes, and follow simple tasks. The reality, though, is that this game is dense, and there's rarely a dull moment. The dialouge is compelling throughout, just as the art style is, and though the game doesn't challenge you with heavy puzzler aspects one might expect in a sidescroller, it does create a fluid environment and dialouge that lives inside of it.

This game is one of the best out of 2000's releases, and, hopefully, other's will believe it to be as well. I'd definitely say the game was worth the money I put down. Maybe more.

"Ezra: Do you think they'll start it over after the ending?
Shannon: Yeah, they do that sometimes.
Conway: You want to see the beginning after the ending?
Ezra: Maybe it's better that way."
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8 of 12 people (67%) found this review helpful
6.8 hrs on record
Posted: August 20, 2014
If David Lynch and Guy Maddin had a love child born in Kentucky and interested in deconstructing the codes and structures of adventure games, he would try to do something as uniquely brilliant as Kentucky Route Zero and probably fail.
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3 of 3 people (100%) found this review helpful
4.0 hrs on record
Posted: December 19, 2014
This game is hauntingly beautiful and plays really well in a dark and quiet room. It makes you feel like you're driving down an eery but calming country road.
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7 of 11 people (64%) found this review helpful
2.1 hrs on record
Posted: October 5, 2014
Great atmosphere. Interesting and silent quest.
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