A narrative adventure with Keri Russell and Kaitlyn Dever is a selling point on its own. But Open Roads, developed by Open Roads Team and published by Annapurna Interactive, doesn’t rely on it’s famous voice cast. Instead, the developers understand the significance of dialogue and art as equal partners in developing an immersive narrative and, ultimately, a game.
Open Roads begins one fall day when Tess Devine and her mother, Opal, discover a cache of old notes and letters carefully stashed away in the attic of their house. The notes hint at deep-rooted family secrets, decades-old burglaries, and a lost treasure somewhere near the Canadian border. When the mystery is staring at you, why not follow it? Embracing a classic road trip structure and atmosphere, the game is a journey through the past and the present.
Over the course of your road trip, explore a series of long-abandoned family properties, unearthing the past along the way. Opal and Tess search the ruins of these places that hold buried memories. And this includes things Opal has tried for years to forget. However, Open Roads isn’t just about places; it’s about the relationship between Opal and Tess and bridging the divide between them.
Open Roads is gorgeous. Its simplistic gameplay is entirely about immersion. It prioritizes a tenderness that pays off in the moments between Tess and Opal. This is true whether in humor or in reflection. Instead of feeling like a grand and tense mystery, the intimate touch to every conversation heightens your connection to the game as you learn each character’s flaws, secrets, and buried pasts. The hand-animated character work highlights the important role artists play in the development process in progressing the narrative.
The game has a thoughtful dialogue system that will yield different paths as you choose responses. In true narrative adventure style, Open Roads offers a wealth of choices and branching paths based on how much information you choose to get from each interaction. If you don’t dig deeper into some questions, the paths you can take will change. The game is all about digging deeper and doing so with purpose.
You’ll pick up notes and pictures as you explore the buildings and learn from them. It’s a tactile experience that has long made adventure games fantastic. Each environment has been crafted to be looked at and learned from. While the gameplay we saw was limited, the potential was undeniable, especially for those who have explored their own family through questions.
It’s easy to say that Open Roads is cozy and simple. Truthfully, though, its simplicity is its strength. Switching between interacting with your environment in first-person and having conversations in third-person builds layers of connection between the player and the characters. This allows the humor to feel natural and awkward like it does with family, and it also makes every inspection of every box in the rooms feel personal.
Open Roads doesn’t only embrace the emotional atmosphere it is trying to create. Along with the score from composer Garry Schyman, it also embodies the early aughts with thoughtfulness. From the choice of patterns in houses to the fashion, all of it feels close to now but firmly situated in the past.
While this was a hands-off session, Open Roads immediately reminded me of talking with my mother. Our family history is one that’s kept in its people. We know who we are because of questions we’ve asked over the years. And now that our grandparents have both passed away, much of our time with family is going over the answers all of us were given. Learning about who you are and who your mother is is an adventure worth exploring. Open Roads captures this beautifully. Even with the small amount of gameplay, the premise is engrossing.
Open Roads will be available February 22, 2024, on Xbox Game Pass, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PlayStation 5|4, Nintendo Switch, and Steam.