bestof2014-24

Every day between now and Christmas morning, we’ll share the twenty-five stories that engaged, enchanted, amused and amazed us the most in 2014. If you missed them, now’s your chance to catch up; if you’re looking for a gift for the wonk in your life, then these are our most enthusiastic recommendations!

Today, Kentucky Route Zero.

There’s a great pleasure to be found in stories which do old things in genuinely new ways. When I talked last week about The Babadook, I noted that it felt like the very first horror film ever made, so unbound was it by convention. Not every story, though, needs to discard what has gone before; sometimes, you can take the form and structure of a well-worn narrative and approach it from a new angle, or with a new understanding that recontextualizes everything around it.

Kentucky Route Zero is an adventure game in the old style — it feels at first like a combination of Another World and Day Of The Tentacle. By pointing and clicking, you explore a world of rich detail and characterization, unpicking a mystery that grows larger by the moment. It’s an extremely simple, bare-bones game; the art is simple, full of strict angularity and flat color, and the interface is a clutch of wireframe icons. The game is reliant upon text, most of which is written with a spare, light touch. It doesn’t seek to impress in the way that video games usually seek to impress; it demands to be met on its own terms. The first of five acts was released at the beginning of 2013; the third act was released in May of 2014.

The compelling thing about Kentucky Route Zero, though, is its atmosphere. It slyly evokes the spirit of sun-drenched Americana, peeling paint and faded colors, easy warmth and deeper secrets. It’s redolent of Stephen King and Garrison Keillor, of Southern Gothic and magical realism. It’s hard to imagine a less didactic game; rather than hit you over the head with exposition, it constantly draws you in, closer and closer until the smallest detail or encounter can set you spinning. It’s a masterful piece of work, and a genuinely fresh take on a mechanical system well past its prime.

If I’m being oblique, its only because the pleasures of this game are best discovered, rather than explained. Kentucky Route Zero isn’t for everyone, but if anything — anything at all — that I’ve said here sounds appealing, you owe it to yourself to investigate further.

Get it now: Kentucky Route Zero.