Open Roads Review: A Journey of Memory and Mystery

Open Roads captures the essence of a journey not just across the country but through the labyrinth of family history and interpersonal dynamics. Developed by The Open Roads Team, comprised of ex-Fullbright developers, this narrative adventure game weaves a story of three generations of women, each grappling with their destinies in a world that often seems indifferent to their struggles.

Starting the Engine at Home

The adventure begins in a quaint, lived-in home, where Tess and her mother Opal are found amidst boxes and memories in an attic. This opening scene sets the stage for a game that is deeply introspective and resonant, touching on themes of loss and legacy. As they sift through old belongings, the duo uncovers a family mystery that sets them on an unexpected road trip, one that promises to shed light on their obscured family history.

As Tess, players navigate this journey, interacting with objects that serve as keys to unlocking the past. It’s 2003 in Michigan, a detail subtly revealed through a casually placed newspaper clipping, adding a layer of authenticity to the game’s setting. This mechanic, reminiscent of Gone Home, feels like revisiting an old home, where every object tells a part of the story.

The Road Less Traveled

As the journey unfolds, Open Roads reveals itself to be a game about the intricate dance between mothers and daughters. The game’s strongest asset is undoubtedly the dynamic between Tess and Opal, portrayed brilliantly by Kaitlyn Dever and Keri Russell. Their interactions are the vehicle through which much of the story is told, enriched by their considerable acting talents which bring depth and nuance to the dialogue.

However, this focus on character interaction sometimes sidetracks the game from its narrative potential. While the environments are beautifully rendered in 3D, with the character models strikingly drawn in a 2D style that beautifully contrasts with the backdrops, the game’s format as an interactive narrative sometimes feels at odds with itself. The frequent exchanges between Tess and Opal, meant to add context and depth, can occasionally feel like detours from the main storyline, leading to a fragmented narrative experience.

Navigational Challenges

Open Roads is set not in one static location but across various locales, each with its stories and secrets. This sprawling setting allows the game to explore the extensive and tangled histories of Tess’s family, but it also presents challenges. The stories from different times and places often feel disjointed, and the thematic elements introduced throughout the journey sometimes struggle to coalesce into a cohesive whole.

The game attempts to address these narrative challenges by employing a series of dialogue-driven scenes that aim to stitch these disparate elements together. However, these scenes can come across as expository rather than revelatory, telling rather than showing. This approach undermines the game’s potential to fully engage the player in its mystery, making the experience feel more on-rails than one might expect from a game that promises an open road of exploration.

The Road Ahead

Despite these bumps, Open Roads does succeed in delivering an emotionally resonant story. The moments when the game allows its environments and objects to speak for themselves, without the interjection of dialogue, are when it truly shines. These moments allow players to feel like detectives piecing together a puzzle, which is when the game feels most engaging and immersive.

Unfortunately, the lack of player agency in navigating these stories is a recurring roadblock. Unlike Gone Home, where the player’s interactions with the environment drive the narrative forward, Open Roads often feels like it’s leading the player by the hand, with Tess and Opal’s conversations serving as signposts that are too explicit and directive.

Conclusion: A Scenic Route Worth Taking?

Open Roads is a game that treads a fine line between being a compelling narrative adventure and a guided tour through a scripted drama. For those looking for a game that offers profound character studies and emotional storytelling, it offers a poignant, if sometimes uneven, ride. However, for players seeking an interactive experience that allows them to unravel mysteries at their own pace, Open Roads might feel a bit restrictive.

In conclusion, while Open Roads may not offer the smoothest journey, it’s a road trip that’s worth taking for its heartfelt exploration of family, memory, and the roads we travel to find our place in the world.

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