HomeReviews3.5/5 ReviewKentucky Route Zero: TV Edition – Xbox Series X|S...

Kentucky Route Zero: TV Edition – Xbox Series X|S Edition Review

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Episodic games were an interesting period for gaming, weren’t they? Telltale Games went all in on them whilst IO Interactive did similar with part one of their Hitman World of Assassination trilogy, only to revert back to norms for the second and third part. 

As did Cardboard Computer for their initial release of Kentucky Route Zero. Thankfully, their TV Edition – the version released on consoles – was done in bulk, and now that version has had an Xbox Series X|S upgrade to boot. But with a game so stylistically impressive, how much does a current-gen update benefit it? Let’s find out.

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So impressive stylistically…

Kentucky Route Zero is two parts point-and-click, one part roadtrip and 100% pretty damn weird. Your journey starts with a delivery driver called Conway attempting to deliver one final antique in his ramshackle van. We know little about Conway or the item he is delivering, but it all adds to the intrigue.

In order to deliver this item though, he needs to traverse the mysterious Route Zero. Only no maps make reference to it, nor does anyone really know what it is when speaking to them.

It is firmly in the magical realism territory, very much in the same vein as Haruki Murakami, Neil Gaiman and David Lynch. It achieves this by having you – as the player – learning to accept things as they are, having the various characters only vaguely answer questions when posed to them in conversations or by using imagery as effective storytelling devices.

In fact, I’d go as far as to say Twin Peaks is a massive influence on Kentucky Route Zero. A section has you arrive at a bar where a band plays a song in full. It feels very much like the end to many of the episodes of Twin Peaks: The Return, and even the genre of music feels purposefully alike. 

And then there is the fact that Route Zero’s surreal nature shares themes between Twin Peaks’ red room.

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Where will your Kentucky Route Zero adventures land?

Kentucky Route Zero: TV Edition on Xbox Series X|S is told primarily from a 2D perspective, at times giving you the impression that you are watching a stage play. The issue here is that many of the environments are in 3D, and navigating them isn’t always the easiest thing to do. Often you will need to walk in front of or behind objects and walls to find where you need to go, and the 2D plane limits your view of this.

This is compounded by the main avatar you control – a man named Conway – not exactly being in a rush to get anywhere. And then, early on he suffers a wound to his leg, which slows him down even more. I fully appreciate that Kentucky Route Zero is a slower paced game, where you are expected to explore and fully integrate yourself into the world, but let me do that at a pace that at least keeps things interesting. Particularly if I am having to retrace my steps by revisiting certain areas, as is often the case here.

Conway isn’t the only character you control though. He encounters a woman called Shannon early on who is also playable; the seemingly random interludes between story acts also feature different characters. And there are others on this journey too; they seem to appear from the strangest of places. There is a kid who suddenly appears alongside you after you discover his parents seemingly abandoned him. Then there is a singer and her keytar-playing friend who decide to offer you directions, then tag along for the journey. It feels like you are recruiting party members for a JRPG at times, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Kentucky Route Zero crawls around at a pace slightly slower than zero mph, but it does draw you in over time. Whether it is the opening moments looking for a d20, the flying eagle named Julian, the full stage-play in between Acts II and III or the delayed musical interlude that follows, there are moments of brilliance that really draw you in. 

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Yep, Kentucky Route Zero TV Edition on Xbox Series X|S is a bit weird

Unfortunately, these are interspersed with moments that claim to be point-and-click but without any of the hallmarks of the genre. There is no inventory, so no items that seem insignificant but that actually move the narrative on, or anything like that. Instead, the screen is dotted with prompts that you simply cycle through.

But this is now Kentucky Route Zero: TV Edition for the Xbox Series X|S, so has been updated somewhat from its initial release. A revamped UI has been added to make things a little clearer. This has come about with the higher resolutions now possible rather than simply upscaling. This new UI is known as Modern mode, but there are changes to the original one too. They can be switched between in the menus depending on what your preference is. After having a play around with all three – Modern, Classic and Retro – Modern one is by far the most polished and in keeping with the improved resolutions.

New translations have been added too, for Arabic, Brazilian Portuguese, Chinese, Polish, Swedish, Thai and Turkish, alongside some updates to existing translations.

On PC, this is known as The Postmodern Update – a name that is very in-keeping with how Kentucky Route Zero holds itself. There is a pretentiousness to the game; it proudly displays a title screen every time you enter a new scene for reasons unknown and the soundtrack is predominantly that hipster folk music that spawned a thousand imitators.

However, these are the only real noticeable updates. This is very much a heavy stylised game, and was previously enhanced for Xbox One X consoles, so any graphical updates to current-gen are negligible.

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It already looked great

Kentucky Route Zero: TV Edition for the Xbox Series X|S is a bit of a strange beast. The narrative is engaging as it meanders to an end goal, but the journey from A to B is pretty abstract. It explores themes by gently pulling at a thread, and then the next minute they’re almost forgotten about. And it presents itself as something more than it actually is. At times more visual novel than a point-and-click adventure, any dialogue choices have little to no impact on the story you are being told. 

Sadly, the moments of escapism where you are fully absorbed are spaced too far apart, and that’s exacerbated by trying to move around in 3D on a 2D plane in places. Kentucky Route Zero: TV Edition on Xbox Series X|S is a bit too much of a slog rather than true interactive escapism.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Some real standout moments
  • Strong visual identity
Cons:
  • Lack much in terms of gameplay
  • Lots of padding
  • Navigating 3D areas in 2D is never good
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Annapurna Interactive
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch, PC
  • Release date and price - 17 August 2023 | £20.99
Richard Dobson
Richard Dobson
Avid gamer since the days of Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Grew up with the PS1 and PS2 but changed allegiances in 2007 with the release of Halo 3.
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Some real standout moments</li> <li>Strong visual identity</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Lack much in terms of gameplay</li> <li>Lots of padding</li> <li>Navigating 3D areas in 2D is never good</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Annapurna Interactive</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch, PC <li>Release date and price - 17 August 2023 | £20.99</li> </ul>Kentucky Route Zero: TV Edition – Xbox Series X|S Edition Review
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