Annapurna has cemented themselves as a publisher of games with a strong narrative focus, often putting forward titles that make the definition of “game” all the more blurry. Their track record is solid, with more hits than misses in their long list of indie titles that they’ve published over the last 7 years. Open Roads, being their latest published title, caught my eye with it’s hand animated aesthetics and potential for a deep family drama narative. Unfortunately the experience itself is a little shallow, the emotional moments feeling unearned and the character’s interactions failing to draw me into their world. It’s one of those games that makes me question the choice of medium as I feel like there is a good story here, it’s just not well told via the platform of games.

It’s 2003 and Tess is packing up her room that she’s known all her life. It’s not a happy time for the family, with the recent passing of their grandmother they’re being kicked out of the house by the bank who’s come to collect on the loan. So she begins the task of packing everything away, readying herself for the future that’s coming. Going through the house she stumbles across an old suitcase, finding a postcard addressed to her grandmother who seems to be romantically involved. Not wanting to let this mystery pass her by Tess convinces her Mum to take her on a road trip to uncover this new side of her grandmother, and potentially uncover a family scandal that she took to her grave.

Open Roads is a combination of 2D characters embedded in 3D environments. The characters are hand drawn in a kind of Sunday morning cartoon style with minimal animations. This is then backdropped by stylized 3D environments which you’ll explore in first person. If I’m honest I didn’t expect this from the game’s trailers at all, thinking instead it was going to be a fully hand animated experience. The 3D environments are there to facilitate a more natural exploration experience, something that’s a bit more in-depth than your typical 2D point and click style adventure. It mostly pulls this off although I will admit seeing the 2D elements layered on the 3D backgrounds can be a bit weird at times.

Open Roads is your standard interactive fiction piece focusing more on the interactions of the characters rather than any particular mechanic. You’ll be put in an environment and given a vague goal to chase down which usually involves looking at everything in that area. Once you find the thing you need or uncover the detail that you were lacking the next section will unlock where you’ll do it all again. As you discover different items you’ll usually trigger short dialogue sections which helps to build out the world a little more each time. There are secrets and slightly more challenging puzzles hidden around the place to unlock an achievement or two, but they don’t add or detract much from the overall experience.

I think my main issue with the story was the pacing as even with the game’s short play length it felt like it went a very long time between reveals. Whilst it’s great to have highly explorable environments with tons of things in them the vast majority of them don’t really add anything to the experience. Picking up dozens of random items, most of which don’t trigger dialogue, does start to wear on you after a time. Couple that with exploration being a rather tiresome affair if you happen to miss something, requiring you to slowly walk back to another area, means that the game’s narrative suffers as a consequence.

I also found myself struggle to resonate with the characters emotionally. The story is believable enough, and the voice ating done well, but there’s never any real tension developed. To be sure, there’s points of interest throughout but they’re never really enough to get you hooked deeply into the characters. It does resolve its main plot thread well enough but, again, it just didn’t have the emotional impact on me that I feel like the developers were aiming for. I was really expecting more, especially given the setting (I was about the same age as the main character was around that time) and so maybe my disappointment is all on me.

Open Roads then is to be noted down as one of my decidedly middle of the road experiences. There’s nothing particularly wrong with it, but there’s also nothing about it that makes me want to sing its praises. I don’t know enough about the game’s development to comment on where they should’ve better spent their time, or what should be changed in the narrative to make it resonate with me more. No this is just simply a big shrug of the shoulders from me.

Rating: 6.5/10

Open Roads is available on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Nintendo Switch for $29.95 (also available on GamePass). Game was played on the PC with 2.6 hours playtime and 68% of the achievements unlocked.

About the Author

David Klemke

David is an avid gamer and technology enthusiast in Australia. He got his first taste for both of those passions when his father, a radio engineer from the University of Melbourne, gave him an old DOS box to play games on.

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