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Open Roads Review (PS5) – You Can Never Gone Home Again

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Open Roads Review (PS5) – Open Roads is the latest game from Annapurna Interactive, and the Open Roads Team, formerly known as Fullbright.

This studio is best known for Gone Home, a seminal game within the history of video games, that continues as a prime example of how video games are amazing works of art.

Following that, the same team released Tacoma, which whilst didn’t blaze a trail quite like Gone Home did, I always felt it was equally as good for different reasons.

As a big fan of their work, I have been eagerly awaiting Open Roads, and now it’s here.

Open Roads Review (PS5) – You Can Never Gone Home Again


A Trip Down Memory Lane

As with Open Roads Team’s previous games, Open Roads is also a walking sim, which is still quite a reductive name for a genre that simply focuses on story telling. Immediately, it feels closer to Gone Home than you might expect.

You start the game in the room of the player character, 16 year old, Theresa “Tess” Devine, played by Kaitlyn Dever.

Tasked with clearing out her belongings in her room, I was hit with this wave of nostalgia, and memories of my own past. It really captures the early 2000’s, and put me in that headspace instantly.

Seeing the old Mac computer, the tamagotchi in the drawer, and the DVD cases. With just a few intractable objects I was transported right back to where I felt they wanted me to be.

Creating a lived in space, that reminds you of the space you grew up in, gently relating to you in a manner of ways is where the studio shines. It’s in part what made Gone Home so great, and that same craftsmanship is here in the first chapter.

Shortly following the initial clearing out of Tess’ room, you will be introduced to her mother, Opal, portrayed by the always excellent Keri Russell.

Their relationship feels every bit human, relatable, and is expertly brought to life by the two lead actresses.

Exploring what is essentially an ocean of nostalgia captured within the walls of their family home, you quickly transition from clearing out the house, to unraveling a family mystery that works as the core storyline to take you through a handful of locations on this short journey.

Summertime Blues

Setting off on the road trip, towards the summer house, felt like to me it was going to be a longer part of the game.

As in, I thought the drive itself was going to be the focus of the story, where most of the mystery unfolds, perhaps through conversation, and dialogue choices, where the destination doesn’t necessarily matter, but ultimately, its over just as quickly as it begins, and I found that to be somewhat disappointing.

While the mystery doesn’t unfold during the road trip, you do learn more about the family, the relationships, and the tribulations they’re facing and have faced.

Quite often, in areas where you explore, and in their previous games, they delivered this storytelling in a very natural and sometimes passive capacity, that once again, is something this team excels at.

Exploring the characters histories by reading a letter discarded in a trashcan, texting your friend on your flip phone, or simply finding an object and asking Opal about it, is excellent.

It’s these finer details that make the game feel relatable and almost reaches out to you, but it all too often forgoes its strengths for the sake of the overarching mystery, which isn’t necessarily as interesting as those smaller, more relatable details.

Fortunately the performances and mother, daughter relationship do enough to keep you invested in where certain narrative threads are going, even if it’s not the intended through line.

Without spoiling where the mystery goes, the next location is a rundown summer house, and once again excels with its environmental storytelling, but simultaneously is increasingly less interesting than the previous location.

Unfortunately this is essentially a trend for the rest of the game. Progressively depleting what they do so well, that ultimately ends with an anti-climatic ending to the mystery. But with the consolation prize of a wonderfully captured relationship between mother and daughter.

When you steadily take away so much of what made their previous games so great, you’re left with only the characters, and they are definitely enough to experience this game.

However, I was left feeling like I would’ve wanted Open Roads to be structurally more like a visual novel, focusing more on the storytelling through details in the way The Open Roads Team does so well.

What Could Have Been

Walking around the few locations there are to explore, you can pick up mostly irrelevant objects, and progress the story by finding the next key item that applies to the core mystery. Some objects can of course spark conversation with Tess’ mother, Opal.

Sure; you will make choices in regards to the dialogue but it doesn’t feel that drastic, nor does it feel like I am really in control. I would rather have just been told the story than given this semblance of choice.

Open Roads is a game that does feel at odds with itself a lot of the time.

I really enjoyed the hand drawn aspects of the art style, which once again made me think it probably would have worked better in a different genre overall. The hand drawn style lends itself to consistency, in a game that does feel segmented, or disconnected between chapters.

Also, it can be quite jarring when sometimes the characters mouths move when they talk, and sometimes they do not.

Even though Open Roads is only two hours long at most, I did repeatedly run into an issue that pulled my crosshair in a direction, and then snapped me in another, which was really quite annoying.

The platinum trophy is very easily attained, and won’t take you longer than an extra 30 minutes after the fact via chapter select.

The two main characters keep you invested, but you’re left with that feeling that you can never go home again.

You can’t necessarily recapture that magic, but they could have perhaps went in another direction, and explored another genre, where the focus was entirely the characters.

Open Roads started strongly, and it felt like an old friend in a sense, reminding me of old times, bringing about memories both good and bad, excelling at what the Open Roads Team does great.

However, as the game progresses, and begins to feel more disconnected than their previous titles, and it started to feel more distant from what I expected.

Open Roads is available now on PS5 and PS4.

Review code kindly provided by publisher.

Score

7

The Final Word

Open Roads often feels like a game at odds with itself, that probably would have been best served in a different genre. Whilst it starts off strong, it progressively loses what makes it good and feels more disconnected. Despite that, the two main characters have an engaging mother, daughter relationship that make the game worth playing, in no small part thanks to the excellent actresses, and their performances.