Open Roads review: Take it slow and savor the drama

Open Roads Review Take It Slow And Savor The Drama

Solar Kat Gadget Deals

Open Roads is an easy game to get lost in. It tells a twisting tale about generational trauma — the tension, lies and love between mother and daughter — with all the comfort and warmth of an early 2000s network drama like Gilmore Girls or Charmed. As a former suburban teen myself, this game left me feeling equally exposed and understood.

Open Roads is set in 2003, and through environment and character design alone, it captures an authentic slice of life in this post-9/11, pre-Razr era. In the early aughts, I spent my teen years bouncing between Dad’s apartment on the outskirts of the city and Mom’s house in a dusty development site surrounded by grocery stores and Blockbuster Videos, and I had big dreams of escaping both. All this is to say, I relate to Open Roads‘ main character, Tess, who’s finishing up high school and planning a future in the hot new market of webpage design. Her parents are newly divorced and she’s been living with her mom, Opal, and grandma, Helen, outside of Detroit. Helen recently passed and her home is being sold against Opal’s wishes, so she and Tess are begrudgingly clearing it out and looking for a new place to stay.

A screenshot from Open Roads.

Open Roads Team

The details of Tess’ family history are slowly exposed as she explores Grandma Helen’s home, told in old newspapers, photographs, books, postcards, heirlooms, phone calls and pottery-making materials. Tess and Opal eventually discover a suitcase hidden behind a false wall in the house, and it spurs them to embark on a road trip to long-lost locations from Opal’s past. Helen was a popular advice columnist and writer similar to Dear Abby, and her leftover letters, scattered around each environment, steadily peel back the layers of secrets that have enshrouded her, her daughter’s and granddaughter’s lives.

Every character in Open Roads has something to hide. I actually clocked the big twist about halfway through the game, but there was enough drama, doubt and emotional heft to keep me invested in the narrative regardless. Do yourself a favor and don’t look up any story spoilers — just enjoy the Open Roads ride.

A screenshot from Open Roads.

Open Roads Team

This is exceedingly easy to do. Open Roads has expertly written dialogue, and its characters are infused with rich histories and complex motivations. The back and forth between Tess and Opal feels genuine for a teen daughter and her mother who’ve been trapped together in a car for hours on end: They quickly spark to anger and reconciliation, and just as easily act supremely silly around each other. A foundation of tenderness underlies their interactions. The voice acting, provided by mainstream television actors Keri Russell and Kaitlyn Dever, is superb, adding to the game’s immersive pull.

Open Roads uses a mix of 3D and 2D art — the backgrounds and interactable objects are 3D, while Tess and Opal are animated in hand-drawn 2D, moving in a floaty manner that reminds me of the early Disney classics. The styles work well together, for the most part. I found the visuals jarring in one section, when Tess and Opal were having a conversation in direct sunlight and the brightness of the scene made their 2D avatars look unfinished, unblended with the setting. Generally though, Open Roads is filled with engaging environments and beautiful details, with plenty of items to investigate and small puzzles to solve. The story unfurls naturally with every action prompt, and dialogue choices alter Tess and Opal’s trajectory throughout the game.

A screenshot from Open Roads.

Open Roads Team

The sound design in Open Roads is particularly spectacular. Each object that Tess interacts with has a sound specific to its texture and weight. When Tess sets a cookie tin down on a kitchen countertop, it sounds like hollow metal scraping against wood; when she picks up a discarded cigar, the audio cues are soft and papery; Tess’ footsteps sound distinct on bare floorboards, carpet and rugs, with changes in density, bass and sharpness for each new material. Picking up Tess’ flip phone to text her BFF, I can hear the groaning of thick plastic hinges and the padded creaking as she rapidly presses down on the number pad. These sounds are crucial aspects of the game, louder than the bed of acoustic guitar or light synth that make up the soundtrack, and I’m entirely here for it. Open Roads is proof that ASMR exploration games should be a thing.

The features that will stick with me after finishing Open Roads are its sound design and its authenticity. There aren’t many games focused on the everyday lives and conversations of women, let alone mothers and daughters, and Open Roads is a testament to the power of these stories. The game oozes warmth and camaraderie, and its writing displays an abundance of respect toward the characters that drive its narrative. Every person with a voice in Open Roads is a woman, and Tess, Opal, Grandma Helen and Aunt August are each dynamic, sympathetic and flawed in unique ways. Considering the developers of this game broke free from a studio whose co-founder was reportedly hostile toward women, this accomplishment is even more significant.

My suggestion for fully enjoying Open Roads is to set aside a lazy afternoon, grab your favorite drink and some snacks, and make sure your headphones are on nice and tight. Turn up the volume so you can hear every plunk and tap of Tess’ world, and don’t try too hard to decipher the game’s secrets. Trust in the story and take it slow. This is a game worth savoring.

Open Roads is out now on consoles and PC, and it’s part of the Xbox Game Pass library. It comes from Open Roads Team, published by Annapurna Interactive.


the authorsolarkat

Leave a Reply