“Kentucky Route Zero: TV Edition” is a lot of things — experimental, literary, strange — and it may come across as boring to players unprepared for what it’s trying to achieve. On the surface, it looks like a point-and-click adventure game, one of those classic Sierra titles from a 1980s childhood.
But that isn’t what “Kentucky Route Zero” is aiming for. The project is more like experimental fiction that happens to arrive in video game form. Players won’t encounter much in terms of gameplay. They won’t find many puzzles. The graphics are simple and stylized.
What “Kentucky Route Zero” has going for it is the writing, which throws players into a world of magical realism. Players initially follow a deliveryman named Conway who is looking for 5 Dogwood Drive — in vain. He uncovers a clue at a gas station, when the attendant says the only way there is through Kentucky Route Zero.
That path takes players through bizarre locales as they venture through coal mines, odd museums, distant forests and the underground Echo River. Everything verges on the cusp of a fairy tale fantasy, but it stays grounded in the sobering sadness of the state.
The Kentucky that players travel through is one of decay. It’s a neo-nerdy Gothic tale as Conway and his companion, Shannon Marquez, search for the Zero and at the same time pick through the remains of workers and residents who roamed its waysides. The two pick up other travelers on the way and together they snowball toward a finish that poses an important question about whether one should stay or leave home.
The way players answer that question is one of the better parts of “Kentucky Route Zero.” Although the narrative is linear, players have choices in how it’s shaped. In a way, the player becomes a co-author in how “Kentucky Route Zero” unfurls through its five acts. Like the magical realism of the novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” interludes seemingly appear out of place, but players discover the connections. For gamers, it’s not the most entertaining experience, but for those who like that thread of storytelling, it’s a piece of experimental fiction worth the read.
Kentucky Route Zero: TV Edition
★★½ out of 4 stars
Platform: Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC.