Open Roads review

Whenever the term ‘road trip adventure’ is used, it’s easy to conjure images of unscheduled pitstops, backseat arguments, unforeseen accidents including vehicle breakdowns, drab motels, and gas stations frequented by dubious individuals. Open Roads is pitched as a road trip where a mother and daughter discover a startling family secret, and while it does include an argument and a motel pitstop, it’s also noticeably low on action and drama. It may even be the first ever video game road trip where everything goes to plan.

It’s structured similarly to a three-act movie, with a runtime of around 1.5 hours and a distinct beginning, middle, and end – signified here by the three small explorable locations. Environments are in full 3D and viewed from first-person, while conversations involve cartoon-like animated cut-scenes, often with two or three dialogue choices to make. You may see different responses to some, such as amusement or anger, but the next scene will always continue unchanged regardless.  

Taking place in the early noughties, we’re introduced to Tess and get to discover her personality traits – along with her part time job at the local video store – by packing up her bedroom, ready for a house move. Her grandmother recently passed away, and while rummaging through her belongings, Tess and her mother Opal discover old letters that hint at a possible family secret.

Open Roads review

Hitting the road, the journey takes them back to Opal’s family home – a discarded mobile property, with a rusted ‘hippy van’ outside – where they try to unravel the past, before heading to a seaside location in a bid to learn the truth. Between these events, Tess and Opal spend time in the family car together, while making an uneventful overnight stop at a motel. Tess needs to squeeze in homework while on the road too, still being in the final years of high school.

While this may sound like a reasonable set-up for a linear narrative driven adventure, there’s nothing here intended to shock or surprise. Conversations in the car are brief, fixated on a single topic, while the motel pitstop merely involves Tess interacting with objects in the tiny room before completing her homework while snacking on a burger. As for the surprise family secret, it’s something that most can likely see coming after finding the first of many family photos.

The ’meat’ of the experience lies within exploration. The three key locations are suitably realistic, littered with items to pick up and examine. The disused trailer appears genuinely lived in, with remains of the grandmother’s life left behind. The floors, ceilings, and walls are starting to deteriorate, adding further realism. Tess’ bedroom is also true to the era, with a few nostalgic touches – something Open Roads never goes overboard on, with only the occasional reminder of the early 2000s setting. While far larger, the final location isn’t quite as distinct and memorable as the mobile home, which is where the story peaks – and after just thirty minutes.

Open Roads review

Progression can also be quite chore-like in places, requiring you to rummage through draws and cupboards to locate keys and tools. Overlooking something often resorts to picking up nondescript items in hope of finding whatever is needed underneath, such as a key under a letter.  So many useless objects are presented, yet in one location there’s a hunting rifle– the one thing that may have led to a spot of drama – but it can’t be interacted with. Open Roads is grounded in reality, I’ll give it that, but this also means there’s nothing here to stir the imagination. There is at least a journal to try and keep you on track, which may prove useful if you choose to experience Open Roads over a couple of evenings. Chances are, though, that the majority of players will finish this in one sitting.

Despite its numerous shortcomings, it’s still easy to see why Annapurna Games picked up Open Roads for publishing. It’s polished visually, the level of detail within the environments can be impressive, and the voice acting is a cut above most narrative driven adventures. The nostalgic touches, as infrequent as they are, are pleasing too. But the story never really goes anywhere, merely ushering players from point A to B, and eventually C in the most linear of fashions, with nothing other than a single predictable revelation at the story’s end. Being able to examine old TV guides and photos doesn’t help fill the void where something more substantial should be, such as a puzzle or a conversation that steers the story in a different direction. If this were a movie, this would be one shown on Channel 4 on a sleepy Tuesday afternoon.

Annapurna Games’s Open Road is out now on all formats. Developed by Open Roads Team.