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  • Writer's pictureSofi

Open Roads (2024)

Developer: Open Roads Team

I think this is my first review for a game played on my Xbox Series S – oh, did I mention I got an Xbox? It was a good deal and I excused it as just getting a “Game Pass” machine to play from a huge library of games, but I think I just extended my backlog even more… Anyway, I heard about Open Roads when it was first announced as a Fullbright game over a year ago. As a fan of Gone Home, I was looking forward to a similarly emotional, self-paced pensive journey. Open Roads is a point and click narrative adventure about a teenage girl and her mom on a roadtrip to uncover the secrets left behind by her grandmother’s death. Open Roads tells a relatable story about the complexities of family and the secrets they keep from each other, but it took a step backwards by making the gameplay feel more like a chore than fun exploration.

 

You play as teenager Tess who is currently in the process of packing up all the personal belongings in her room. Through this process of packing, you get to learn about who she is and the setting of our story - early 2000’s in suburban Michigan. Once Tess is finished packing, she heads downstairs to catch up with her mom, Opal, and we learn more about the reason for this move. Tess’ grandmother Helen recently passed away, leaving Tess and Opal in a house with overdue mortgage payments that they can’t afford. Tess and her mom Opal must now figure out where to live and what’s next for them. During this packing process, Tess and Opal begin to discover secrets about this grandmother who apparently wasn’t always who she appeared to be to her family. After finding an unexplained postcard in a hidden briefcase, Tess convinces Opal to track down leads of grandma’s big secret by taking a road trip to an abandoned family vacation house. This extended roadtrip serves not only as a way to find answers and get closure regarding their family, but along the way it also brings to the surface a lot of the unresolved feelings and grief that both Tess and Opal are going through after Tess’ parents’ divorce.

The vibes are absolutely perfect for 2003. Also, this is a painfully accurate depiction of how friends would "claim" a page or pages on your yearbook.


It’s a little funny (and disorientating) to think about how nostalgic a game set in the early 2000s feels to millennials playing it in 2024. There are so many little details, down to the fashion and art style of the characters, that felt accurate to that time. I loved the colorful, hand drawn portraits of Tess and Opal. However, the combination of that art style with the very realistic, 3D environments was a little bit funky and didn’t quite work for me.  I felt like the game should’ve committed to either one or the other. The soundtrack wasn’t particularly memorable and I have trouble thinking of any highlights, but I did appreciate that the functionality of the car radio allowed you to stumble on to actual (emo pop) hits from the era. 

Finding this song on the radio actually felt like it transported me back. Yes I had to upload this directly to the blog in fear of YouTube coming for me.


I think it’s important to mention that the development for Open Roads underwent a tumultuous set of changes. What originally started as a Fullbright project became a split-off team from the original studio, now called just Open Roads Team. I’m not sure how much this disrupted or changed the original direction of the game, but it’s worth acknowledging the conditions that led to this. It is technically not a Fullbright game, but it is made by many of the developers originally from that studio. Gone Home was one of the first games I reviewed on Sleepy Toadstool and it really introduced me to a genre of slow-paced “walking sims” where most of the story comes from discovering personal items. Open Roads went in a different direction, as a bit of the exposition came from the details found in a house but most was revealed through further conversation between Tess and Opal. This isn’t a game where you learn all the details from the little notes and items you choose to interact with, but instead from the character interactions that come as a result of finding those items. It’s much more “linear” than Gone Home in that way, and therefore takes away some of the freedom of discovering things in your own way.


Wow, grandma, that's... awful advice.

The biggest flaw, in my opinion, is there isn’t enough detail in the house or in the environments to justify this point and click gameplay. With the reasoning that the family is moving out of this home, a lot of the rooms feel somewhat empty. Many of the items you see don’t really add to the narrative. Also, my own petty complaint - why you can’t drop items on the floor? As simple as it sounds, leaving a room a little messier than when you came in was part of what I enjoyed about Gone Home. This game just felt like going into a “museum” of items, where you couldn’t disrupt anything. For this reason, I felt at times that as I was exploring a room and trying to find meaning within all the items I was picking up and putting back, I was also getting a little bored and sleepy. The first hour or so of the game felt like a bit of a drag to get through, and it was only once things got on the road that I began to feel interested in the story. Things get a bit more interesting after this point when you explore newer places, but I still felt it was somewhat restricted as it keeps you somewhat on rails while finding the bits of story it wanted you to find.

The choice to make this a mostly-moved out house makes for somewhat sterile, generic-looking environments with few details to find in drawers.

Early on, some of the dialogue between Tess and Opal felt a little awkward and gave me a hard time understanding the context and relationships of these characters. Everyone has a different childhood, of course, but I did feel like “we never get to do stuff together” is not a believable thing that teenager has ever said to their mom. Even the star casting couldn’t help with some of this. However, the conversations did eventually get to the “meat” of the story I was hoping to see Open Roads tell. Single mother-daughter stories resonate strongly with me, and this was the case when we see the dynamics of Tess’ relationship with her dad coming face-to-face with the reality of why her parents’ relationship ended. There is a marked moment in my life, as a teenager, when I learned the reality of why my parents actually broke up. Up until this moment, I had a childish understanding of it and still believed things could be different if they could just choose to make up. This moment shaped who I am as an adult and how I relate to my mom as a person and as a woman, so it was interesting to see Tess come to some form of that same enlightenment and growth.

One of the complications of divorce is a parent wanting their kids to understand but also wanting to protect the child's relationship with the other parent.

I had higher hopes for Open Roads, in terms of how the game would feel to play and how engaging the story would be, but overall I still feel that I gained something from playing this. I’m all about these set-in-early-2000’s, emotional, mother-daughter stories, so it resonated with me nonetheless. I recommend this game if you like slow-paced point-and-click games. I would just point out that it is less open-ended than some others in this genre, but in exchange it also has some interesting choice-based dialogue that allows you to slightly shape the way these characters feel about and respond to each other. Also, if you’re a fan of Kaitlyn Denver (yes, Booksmart is good, but the real question is have you seen No One Will Save You?), her voice acting is a good reason to check it out. 


Open Roads is available on PC, Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S


Played on: Xbox Series S

Finished: 3/29/2024

Playtime: 5 hrs

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