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Review: Kentucky Route Zero Act III



What can I say, sometimes it takes a really long time to produce something, you know?

Kentucky Route Zero Act III (Linux, Mac, Windows)
Developer: Cardboard Computer
Publsher: Cardboard Computer
Released: May 8, 2014
MSRP: $24.99 (All Acts)

[This review contains minor spoilers from previous episodes]

Things pick up right where Act II left off, and Conway has his new limb in place. It also immediately sets up one of the act's central themes: debt. This has been a central theme so far throughout all acts, but things really come to a head in the third. It explores what it truly means to owe somebody something, and not just in the financial or material sense. There's a real sense of dread that accompanies the feeling of debt, and that dread is given a very real presence in Act III

It definitely spurred a lot of introspection and reflection on my part. It's easy to think of student loans and feel hopeless, but what about the things that aren't in an online account? I owe a lot of people for helping me get to where I am today, which didn't make me feel hopeless, but rather thankful. 

Two new characters join the party for their metaphysical ride on the never-ending bizarre roller coaster of life. Their names are Johnny and Junebug, and they somehow fit in perfectly. At times I struggle knowing how to eloquently convey what makes this world so interesting and unnerving, but I certainly know that these two jaybirds are perfect for it. Right from their introductory scene, it feels like you've known these characters forever and yet want to know all about them at the same time. These two also create what I'd call one of the most wondrous scenes in video games.

Okay, so I'm going to be annoyingly vague on this one. This one scene, which happens rather early on in the episode, is something I simply cannot forget about, even if I wanted to. Luckily I don't want to because it's beautiful. It's a scene that, in any other game, would seem standard or even mundane. But because it's in Kentucky Route Zero, it's got that flavor to it that cannot be denied. Another big part of this moment is everything that has lead up to it. It's a spectacularly average moment in an otherwise obtuse world.

Another exemplary moment of Act III comes with a throwback to the genre's origins. Without going into great detail, the "Xanadu" segment of the game puts a lot of things in perspective. It serves as both a device to move the plot forward and a brief "history lesson" of the genre that Kentucky Route Zero has taken to a new level. This element, while important, does tend to drag a bit more than perhaps it should. Though, I think that may be intentional, given the throwback nature of it.

One of the greatest achievements of Act III is its ability to make the abnormal feel normal. When players first experienced the Zero, it was a strange, bizarre, and slightly confusing way to travel. However, when the players are expected to travel using the Zero now, it's nothing to bat an eye at. When I was told to go clockwise past an object and turn around, my reaction was "got it, will do!" when any normal thinking person would stare blankly in confusion. 

There did seem to be a lot of areas this time around that were inaccessible without a clear visual reason as to why. Worse yet, clicking in these areas would sometimes still put the "go-to" marker somewhere else, making the character go where I had no intention of them going. I also encountered a strange save bug that seemed to skip progress for me. I saved and quit in one area, but when I reloaded the game, I was ahead a scene. Luckily it wasn't on my first playthrough of the act, but in a game as short and filled with significance as this, it can be frustrating. 

Now that we're in the third act, a lot of the characters that the player has been dictating lines to are starting to really come into their own. Personalities are becoming brighter and more vivid. I no longer felt like I was making my best guess as to what a character would say, but rather making important choices for what they should say. The player's role as a director starts to feel solidified and important.

The final scene of the act further cements that the player simply cannot predict what will happen next. It uses what would otherwise be seen as a simple (and possibly poor) joke and slaps them across the face with it as if to say "your predictions will always be wrong." It's also impressive that the game can leave the player on what is more or less a cliffhanger, without instilling the primal need to know immediately what happens next. Which, given the time between acts, is a good thing.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]

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Kentucky Route Zero: Act III reviewed by Patrick Hancock



A hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage.
How we score:  The destructoid reviews guide


Patrick Hancock
Patrick HancockContributor   gamer profile

During the day, he teaches high school kids about history. At night he kicks their butts in competitive games like Rocket League, Dota 2, Overwatch, and Counter-Strike. Disclosure: I've persona... more + disclosures



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