Open Roads Review – Stuck In First Gear

Tess and her mother, Opal, have a lot on their plates. In addition to losing their grandmother/mother, they must quickly move out of her now-foreclosed home. Tess is graduating high school and is conflicted over whether to go to college or pursue her personal web design business. Opal is cross at her sister August’s refusal to help with the move. She also finds herself playing the “bad cop” in the complicated relationship between Tess and her father. And if that wasn’tenough, they also discover a secret surrounding their grandmother that could change everything they thought they knew about their family. Compelled to learn more, Tess and Opal embark on a road trip to learn the truth. I was as captivated by the mystery as the characters at the start, but this road trip peters out after a few miles. 

Open Roads’ hooks are initially enticing, and strong performances from the lead actresses – Kaitlyn Dever (Tess) and Keri Russell (Opal) – drive the story forward. Open Road’s art direction is also a highlight, with Opal and Tess depicted as 2D hand-drawn characters against 3D environments. It gives a fitting, distinct look, but the lack of lip sync and limited facial animations sometimes diminish the weight of more emotional line deliveries. 

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Players control Tess, and despite the premise, sitting in the car and chatting with Opal only accounts for less than half of the adventure. The rest of the game unfolds as a first-person adventure more in line with The Open Roads Team’s first title, Gone Home, in that you explore a few densely detailed environments to inspect objects for clues. I enjoy the personal hand-crafted touches of these items (such as the team member’s actual handwriting on notes) and how they immersed me in 2003 Michigan without the need for words. Playing on PC, controller support feels hit and miss as the camera sometimes snaps to odd angles after inspecting items. 

Open Roads’ laid-back atmosphere means no problem ever evolves beyond finding the right object to advance the plot, looking for keys to open doors, or finding alternative routes into areas. I hesitate to call any obstacles true puzzles, as solutions boil down to picking up everything until you find what you need. Some items prompt Tess to call Opal over to have a discussion about it, which can lead to some humorous or serious anecdotes. More often, however, an ashtray or cup is just an ashtray or cup. 

The story is king here, but its initial intrigue gradually loses steam. The central mystery results in an underwhelming revelation, and the resolutions of other threads are largely left up in the air. Even Tess and Opal’s relationship doesn’t evolve much. By design, dialogue choices don’t meaningfully alter the story’s trajectory or Opal’s view of you. You may elicit a particularly terse response, but nothing Tess says, nor the big reveals, changes the overall dynamic of their contentious but loving relationship in a significant way. The result is a story with stakes that feel lower and less impactful than I initially expected, and while it has good moments, it left me wanting more. 

With a brief runtime of a couple of hours, Open Roads is a respectable tale that sometimes feels ready to hit that higher narrative gear before easing off the gas again. Although visually pleasing and well-acted, the emotional impact is muted. While I didn’t mind sitting shotgun as Opal and Tess had lighthearted debates over the semantics of trailer vs. mobile homes and reminisced about old flames, it’s not a road trip that will stick with me for the long haul.

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