Open Roads Review – Road Trip

Open Roads is one of those games where it's more interesting to think and talk about it than it is to play it.

Posted By | On 28th, Mar. 2024

Open Roads Review – Road Trip

It can be difficult to talk about a game where, more than anything else, even more than the gameplay, the story and characters take center stage. And this is doubly true when the game in question is a relatively short experience. This is the case with Open Roads—a title I’d describe as less of a game and more of a short and quick narrative experience.

Let’s start off by addressing the elephant in the room. Open Roads isn’t exactly the kind of game where you’re here for the mechanics. It’s an incredibly simple game that focuses more on environmental storytelling, and interactions between characters. Its scope is so small, in fact, that there are a total of three characters throughout the game and there’s nothing in Open Roads that you “play”. You’re going to be walking around its beautiful environments and interacting with various things, often hoping to prompt some conversation between the two lead characters of the title.

"The more interesting aspects of Open Roads are its story and characters."

Even the controls of the game offer up little more than a way to move around, observe things by turning them around, and accessing your character’s diary where the current objective will likely be written. The few dialogue choices in the game aren’t particularly time-bound, and neither do they employ any interesting mechanics. It’s a simple case of picking each conversation option one by one until you’ve covered all of them. If deep gameplay is what you’re looking for, Open Roads is certainly not going to be for you.

The more interesting aspects of Open Roads are its story and characters. The game puts you in the shoes of Tess Devine, who’s helping her mother Opal pack up their house after it got sold. Since the house originally belonged to Tess’ now-deceased grandmother, it’s up to Tess and her mother to pack things up and move out. Along the way, they find a hidden compartment in the house attic with a bunch of knick knacks, and most interestingly enough, a key.

This sets the duo off on a road trip up north so that they can investigate the Devine family’s summer home and maybe figure out why Opal’s mother had hidden the key away in the first place. Without getting into too many spoilers, this kicks off a deeper investigation that involves, among other things, a small-time burglary ring from the 1960s, a house boat in Canada, and secrets regarding the grandmother’s life and her relationship with her long-dead husband. Along the way, there are plenty of other mysteries to unravel, such as the tenuous relationship between Opal and her ex-husband, and Opal and her sister August.

open roads 1

"Since the house originally belonged to Tess’ now-deceased grandmother, it’s up to Tess and her mother to pack things up and move out."

Open Roads doesn’t have a particularly grand objective where you’re going to be traveling all over the world and uncover some deep conspiracy. Rather, it’s a more human-scaled game, where the real villain of the story is a nebulous gap that pops up between two people when they don’t communicate as often as they should. While Grandma Devine’s main plot is fairly interesting on its own, the juicier bits lie in the conversations Tess has with her mother as they drive from location to location, and the text chains she has with her best friend Francine and father.

There’s a mindset that a player will have to adopt when it comes to experiencing Open Roads. Since the end goal isn’t exactly a grandiose adventure, the game instead asks the player to slow down a bit and really get to know its characters. This can range from simple environmental storytelling, like understanding Tess and her goals for the future as you slowly pack up her room, or getting to know Opal better as you rummage through the dilapidated old home where she spent her summers when she was a kid. Even August gets in on the characterization by having you explore her room and learn about the emotional and often frightened child that she was.

All of this is helped immensely by the stellar voice acting in the game. Both Keri Russel and Kaitlyn Dever offer brilliant performances, bringing Opal and Tess respectively to life and imparting the duo with a sense of grounded realism that can often be missing in games.

open roads 3

"This targeted nostalgia actually works quite well in capturing the mood of the era"

To that end, Open Roads also seems to bank quite a bit on the player having nostalgia for a certain era of their late-teenage years. Cellphones, for example, didn’t have touch screens yet, and outside of the initial shock of it, Tess forgetting her cellphone in a motel isn’t even considered that big of a deal, as was actually the case in the game’s late–90s-to-early-2000s setting. TVs still have tubes in them, and the world of web development as a valid career path is still on the rise. This targeted nostalgia actually works quite well in capturing the mood of the era, evoking memories of learning how computers worked back then, or even just having a clamshell cellphone in your bag right next to your homework books.

Of course, all of this is only really possible thanks to the fact that, most of the time, Open Roads looks really good. The vast majority of the “gameplay” in the title will let you explore largely-indoors 3D environments. The game makes use of a minimalistic art style, focusing quite a bit on sharp colors to set important things apart from the set dressing. This art style also works quite well in telling quite a bit of any given chapter’s story. Even the small interlude you spend in the confines of a motel room has plenty of story to it, be it as you text Francine, or just simply unpacking a suitcase.

While the environments themselves look great, the lo-fi 2D animation employed for conversations between Tess and Opal, sadly, don’t quite hit the mark. It’s obvious that they were going for a minimalistic style when it came to animating the duo, but sadly, it ends up looking more like concept art than a finished product. The strange pacing of the animations of Tess and Opal talking also often create weird, unnatural gaps in their lines that can also do quite a bit of harm to the otherwise stellar quality of the game’s voice acting.

open roads 2

"Most of the time, Open Roads looks really good."

Open Roads is a strange game where thinking and talking about it feels like a much more fun, interesting and engaging experience than playing it. The story itself is interesting, and the trail of breadcrumbs you follow as you unearth strange family secrets is certainly fun. The relationship between Opal and Tess is also quite engaging, and it’s surprisingly fun to actually unpack the strange secrets the two have been keeping from each other. Sadly, playing the game often feels like a chore; there isn’t really much in the way of interactivity other than looking at objects, reading notes, and occasionally walking around. The game might also look beautiful, and it certainly does have its moments of creating vivid tableaus that tell stories unto themselves, but then characters start talking and the illusion collapses in on itself.

Despite all of these problems, however, Open Roads still feels like a worthwhile experience. Since it isn’t a particularly long game—my first playthrough took me less than 2 hours, and going back to find some secrets added maybe 15 more minutes to the total—the shortcomings of the game tend to not feel as bad or as grating as they could have felt had the game been even just a little longer.

This game was reviewed on PC.


THE GOOD

Interesting story; Engaging characters; Stellar voice acting; Beautiful visuals.

THE BAD

Character animations feel more like concept art than a finished product; No real gameplay or interactivity outside of looking at objects.

Final Verdict:
GOOD
It’s a great thing that Open Roads is an incredibly short experience, because when it comes to actually playing it, there just isn’t much there. Thankfully, its story and characters do more than enough to make experiencing Open Roads worthwhile, at least once.
A copy of this game was provided by Developer/Publisher/Distributor/PR Agency for review purposes. Click here to know more about our Reviews Policy.

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