2013 IGF Finalists: Seamus McNally Grand Prize
Kentucky Route Zero
Kentucky Route Zero is the closest game that the IGF has to a sweep this year. Nominated in four of seven major finalist categories is no small feat in any competition, much less the IGF. It deserves it, though. Kentucky Route Zero is one of the best adventure games I’ve ever played, and just by existing it gives me hope for the ongoing revival of the genre. Magical realism is a genre you don’t see often in literature, much less games, so having a game that embraces it so thoroughly is exhilirating.
Kentucky Route Zero follows a deliveryman as he sets off to deliver an antique and ends up encountering all sorts of strange scenarios. A group of disappearing tabletop gamers, a computer that doesn’t know the information it should, and a perpetually burning bush guide you and your dog through this mystifying landscape of subjective reality. The atmosphere and plot all feel straight from the annals of Americana. Distinctly American stories and fables passed throughout our cultural unconsciousness.
What makes Kentucky Route Zero so effective is that every element feels linked back into this overriding theme of “tall tales as reality.” The visuals have a distinct style that is crisp and minimal. Some objects, like people or structures, have plenty of detail. Others, like trees, are partially abstracted, lending a sense of unreality to the visuals. The soundtrack is quiet and haunting, serving more to subtley accent the events on-screen rather than force emotions onto the player. Descriptions are interesting without being verbose, odd without being surreal. It may be a game of pure ambiance, but you won’t ever hear me complain when the ambiance is like this. You can purchase Kentucky Route Zero straight from the developer, and a Steam release is coming soon.
Little Inferno is a game with a healthy pedigree. After all, the artist behind the oddly gruesome little toys of Little Inferno’s setting was also the artist on the similarly-nomianted World of Goo. A few of the other collaborators have changed, but that quirky and vaguely upsetting style is out in full force for all those who wish to torch toys for their amusement. It’s fun in its own particular way, and those that bother to bite the proverbial bullet will find a game that comments on both games and people while showing off some neat tricks.
You play a child who has just received his Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace. You very much need this fireplace, as the world outside has been frigid for so long. This doesn’t stop you, however, from ordering plenty of toys to burn to cinders. As you do so, your neighbor begins to talk to you from the other side of your wall and the two of you form a friendship. The resulting story, while critical of gamer culture and consumerism, doesn’t attempt to make you feel terrible for liking what you like. Rather, it encourages you to try new things and dream big instead of settling for the small, petty, and immediate.
Little Inferno is not by any means a game I would call traditionally fun, but it has its own charm. There is a checklist of combos that you can perform by burning objects in tandem, and the only clue you have is the name of the combo. Almost every object has some sort of behavioral gimmick, from creating clones to changing the fire into green pixels. Simply watching the gradual movements of the flames as they devour everything they touch can be a nice way to pass the time, especially when the flames refuse to go out. It may not have a goal, and it may explicitly have systems designed to annoy the player (I hate you, stamps), but Little Inferno still manages to be engrossing in spite of it. You can buy Little Inferno on Steam.