Kentucky Route Zero: TV Edition Review

Richard Walker

Nine years in the making (seven years of waiting for players), Kentucky Route Zero is that rarest of things – something utterly unique. It can also be a remarkably difficult thing to get into, so much so that it almost defies classification as a 'game'. Commonly described as a 'magical realist adventure', Cardboard Computer's five-act yarn is unflinchingly verbose, loaded with symbolism and meaning, and ethereally pretty.

Clearly inspired heavily by the works of David Lynch (most notably Twin Peaks), Kentucky Route Zero aspires to something lofty and literary – at times it can feel like you're immersed in reading a novel, as sprawling prose slowly strafe across the screen in their text boxes. Often, the glacial pace at which events unfold can prove confounding, but sticking with it brings about a genuine sense of gratification, even if ultimately, the game gives few (if any) resolutive answers.

Instead, Kentucky Route Zero is essentially all about the journey, this complete TV Edition finally delivering the story in its entirety, connective interstitial sequences and all. What you get is a knowingly strange and esoteric mystery, gilded with eye-catching, distinctive art direction comprising pin-sharp lines and compelling geometry.

It's an experience that's studded with memorable moments, like when the ceiling of a spit and sawdust bar slowly dissolves away to reveal a starry sky, as nomadic electro act Junebug and Johnny (who you'll meet on the road) perform a soaring, synaesthetic piece of music that will give you goosebumps. Constructed like an elaborate stage production, Cardboard Computer executes some deft sleights of hand from a visual standpoint, the game's grounded and relatable world rendered fantastical and unusual.

From the moment Act 1 begins, the sight of the Equus Oils gas station with its silhouette of an imposing, gigantic horse head dominating the scene, is an early indicator that Kentucky Route Zero is going to be something refreshingly different and uniquely intriguing. Flat textures and shapes are imbued with vitality and character, and even though none of the game's protagonists or supporting cast are voiced, it's better that you're left to form your own interpretation.

Indeed, Cardboard Computer leaves plenty of threads dangling by the time you reach the game's denouement, which can be a mite frustrating given the time you'll have invested, hoping for a satisfying payoff. But again, it's worth reiterating that Kentucky Route Zero simply isn't about that – it's a human story preoccupied with death and loss, tinged with a persistent sadness. That's not to say that there aren't moments of levity and relief. KRZ is fantastically written; a resolutely American story that has echoes of J.D. Salinger, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, or even Mark Twain.

Initially centred upon driver Conway's last delivery job to 5 Dogwood Drive, Route Zero's narrative changes tack from episode to episode, seeing new players enter the story at various junctures, until you've assembled a motley band of helpers. As Conway, you'll encounter TV repair whizz Shannon, abandoned kid Ezra, and a host of other unconventional characters during your travels. Together, you're searching for the elusive Zero, a highway that seemingly exists outside of the game's conventional mapped region, which grants Cardboard Computer carte blanche to conjure all manner of surreal and peculiar happenings.

And it can be an awful lot to take in. Having the whole thing delivered as a single package is almost slightly too overwhelming – early adopters had to wait an inordinate amount of time before a new episode released, and perhaps leaving breaks of a few days between each Act might be the best way to enjoy Kentucky Route Zero without experiencing a cerebral overload. Conway, Shannon, Ezra et al.'s story is better enjoyed piecemeal, given room to breathe, allowing ample time for you to absorb what you've just played.

Ponderous and difficult to digest it may be at times, but Kentucky Route Zero is something to be savoured. A perfect marriage of visual artistry and superlative writing, it's the antithesis to practically every other game you could care to think of. Kentucky Route Zero might not be for everyone, and many might be completely turned off by the reams of text and deliberately slow pace, but stick with it, and you'll be rewarded with a touching, dreamlike, and completely unforgettable tale.

Kentucky Route Zero: TV Edition

A transcendent magic realist adventure, Kentucky Route Zero: TV Edition is a singular experience that rewards perseverance and commitment to its vision.

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Voiceover is confined to phone calls, but the music and songs are superb; guaranteed to make your hairs stand on end.


A stunning and unique game, Kentucky Route Zero is all crisp lines and flat geometric shapes, full of life. It looks gorgeous.


Kentucky Route Zero isn't always the most engaging experience from a raw playability standpoint, but stay for the long haul, and the payoff is more than worthwhile.


Five acts of varying duration with interstitial sequences sandwiched in between, each with their own bizarre set of events and characters. Do yourself a favour and don't play it all at once – leave yourself some time between episodes.


A solid achievement list for this sort of game that's not too intrusive, but prods you towards carrying out some light exploration to uncover secrets.

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