Open Roads Review – No Forks In This Road

Open Roads Review

Narrative adventures – often dunked on as walking simulators – account for a significant portion of the games released by smaller teams. They focus on the art of game making, and are often visually stunning or emotionally resonant. Though they may lack mechanics, a well constructed walking sim often finds its way onto my yearly list favorite games. Open Roads is the latest entry into the genre: can it hang with time tested standouts like Firewatch and Kentucky Route Zero?

Open Roads tells the story of Tess and Opal Devine, voiced by Kaitlyn Dever and Keri Russell. Their mother daughter relationship is tense but loving – The kind of bond that’s formed specifically from shared trauma. Sadly, that trauma is only superficially explored. I found it hard to relate to the characters based purely on the content of the story, and the experience suffers because of its narrow focus. Through the powers of millennial wisdom I enjoyed the nostalgic nods, but desperately wanted Open Roads to find ways to dig deeper. Into Opal and Tess’ relationship, their families, and their lives more generally. I completed the experience in around 3 hours: a lot of opportunities were left on the table.

open roads

A Predictable Narrative

Unfortunately, the adventure is predictable to a fault. Twists were few, and I generally saw them coming well in advance. The writing is serviceable, but does very little to stand out. It serves a purpose, but completely misses generating any emotional resonance. I’m a meticulous pick-it-all-up kind of player, but fell off that habit while playing. I just… didn’t find anything too compelling. Interactions between Opal and Tess feel stiff and disconnected, though the flip phone era texts did make me smirk. Kaitlyn Dever is no stranger to video games and does well enough with the content she was given, while Keri Russell suffers a little from the Hollywood actor in a voice booth phenomenon.

open roads

Art, On The Open Road

From a visual art perspective, Open Roads is lovely. The environments are well realized and pack an impressive amount of detail. Picking up and looking at objects often serves little mechanical purpose, but the models are lovingly crafted and realistic. Conversations are starkly contrasted, appearing as lightly animated 2D art. It’s a talking head situation, but the aesthetic has a whimsical charm I quite appreciated.

As with the story, the environmental experience – the actual ‘game’ – is entirely linear. Some objects can trigger side conversations that add some story flavor, but having a few more branches would have served the sense of place well. Progression is mostly gated by ‘finding’ the key to a door in an obvious location. Thankfully there are no adventure game needle in the haystack moments, but again, I wanted the impetus to examine more of the world and be drawn in.

open roads

Though it packs plenty of nostalgia and a lovely art style, Open Roads lacks the most important part of a narrative adventure – at least for me – a memorable and impactful story. Genre regulars may want to take a chance as the time investment is low, but for my money I’d much rather replay What Remains of Edith Finch or even one of this team’s prior efforts like Tacoma.

***PC Code provided by the publisher.***

The Good

  • Great visual presentation with contrasting art styles

The Bad

  • Misses the mark on emotional resonance
  • Boilerplate story construction and writing
  • Easily spotted ‘twists’