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May 2024

Open Roads

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Developer: Open Roads Team
Release Date: March 28, 2024

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PC Review - 'Open Roads'

by Andreas Salmen on March 27, 2024 @ 9:00 a.m. PDT

Open Roads is an interactive movie mystery/thriller about a mother-daughter road trip adventure.

Open Roads is the latest narrative adventure game published by Annapurna Interactive, so it joins the ranks of indie gems like Outer Wilds and What Remains of Edith Finch. With a distinct visual mix of hand-drawn character art against fully rendered 3D backgrounds, Open Roads explores the relationship of daughter and mother on a road trip to uncover a family mystery. While it's a relatively short trip, there's plenty to enjoy about Open Roads' mother-daughter story, even though it left me wanting much more once the credits rolled.

Announced almost five years ago and planned to be released in 2021, the project has taken some time to see the light of day. Initially developed by Gone Home developer Fullbright, the project eventually transitioned to a new team (Open Roads Team), which didn't necessarily sound like things were going smoothly. Even considering the sizable delay, there's a lot to love about Open Roads, from the professional voice cast in Keri Russel and Kaitlyn Fever to the art style and presentation. It also makes sense that this game started with the Gone Home developer, since both games share a particular core DNA of storytelling and exploring personal relationships through forgotten or abandoned places. The critical difference is that we're not snooping through our abandoned house like in Gone Home, but we're going through a string of abandoned family properties to solve a mystery involving our recently passed grandma.

In Open Roads, players take on the role of 16-year-old Tess, who's in the process of packing up her belongings after our grandmother's death. A child of divorce who's torn between two estranged parents and now recently grieving her grandmother's passing, things are not necessarily looking up for Tess or her mother, Opal. Amidst teenage angst, existential uncertainty, and general family tensions, they discover a briefcase in the attic that starts their adventure. The briefcase contains a collection of letters and trinkets involving an unknown person and a string of robberies directly connected to your grandmother. Who's the mystery man writing love letters between robberies to your grandma, and what does that mean for your family? To find out, Tess and Opal go on a road trip to their family's long-abandoned summer house to hunt for further clues, and they uncover a lot of forgotten emotional family baggage along the way.

Disclosing more details could spoil the fun. Open Roads is all-in on narrative and feels somewhat like an extension of Gone Home in spirit. From a first-person perspective, we explore the world as Tess and interact with various objects. Some are mandatory to progress the story, and others add flavor and context, but they all make the story of Open Roads believable. The entire narrative is told mainly through objects that you find and the dialogues they trigger. An old pottery vase might lead Tess and Opal to reminisce about the memories of their (grand)mother, but another object might bring up unresolved pain about Tess's parents being divorced. While Tess is the protagonist and goes through some character development, her mother, Opal, has the most meaningful progression throughout the two-and-a-half hour adventure. She relives and contextualizes her past through her daughter's eyes as they explore their family's old summer trailer and realizes that they are more alike than not. That is the core experience of Open Roads: exploring family relationships through memorabilia. One is discovering her parent's path, and the other is rediscovering her own, and they eventually find common ground and understanding for one another.

Open Roads is about the narrative; gameplay takes a notable back seat. There are some very light puzzle elements that shouldn't get in the way, and otherwise, it's mostly about exploring places one item at a time. The reward for any given object is that it triggers more dialog that further fleshes out the story and characters, but it's a quiet and slow affair from beginning to end. As long as we look at the family relationship story at the core, it is believable and well-written. I thoroughly enjoyed following Tess's path and that of her mother, Opal. I can't say the same about the family mystery that started the adventure, but it's still an excellent catalyst. In the end, I was still unsatisfied with the short runtime. I would've hoped for more to do and see before the credits roll. As it is, it's a short and sweet narrative affair.

Open Roads is concise and linear, so multiple playthroughs are optional if you're thorough in your first playthrough. Aside from the excellent writing, one reason to replay it is the art style. Dialogue is always presented with full animated avatars for both Opal and Tess. It sets the tone well and sets it apart from other titles. It looks like Dragon's Lair intertwined with the color palette of Firewatch, but it's relatively sparsely animated at times. While there is no lip-synching, the broad animations convey a lot of subtext and emotion paired with the excellent voice cast. Keri Russel's Opal is undoubtedly the standout, and Kaitlyn Fever's Tess brings an outstanding performance to the table that enriches the experience. Open Roads runs virtually flawlessly on the PC and looks charming, so there is little to complain about. It's not a visual standout, but the appearance works well on most machines.

Open Roads is a nice little narrative adventure that scores through its visuals, good writing, and excellent voice cast. It's pretty short and linear, and not all aspects of the story were quite as well executed as others. Overall, it's a great narrative indie game that feels like a natural extension of Gone Home.

Score: 7.5/10

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