Open Roads Review (PS5) | Push Square


Things haven’t been easy for Fullbright, the company that most famously produced Gone Home back in 2013, a slice of indie narrative heaven that won plaudits. After the excellent (but less virally successful) Tacoma in 2017, it’s now back with another long-awaited game, Open Roads — except, in fact, the name Fullbright has been scrubbed from the final product after allegations of a toxic workplace culture sprung up a few years ago. Delays and slow progress have seen it slip years from its original release window, but the game is here at last: a short and sweet story-driven road trip.

Open Roads begins as high-schooler Tess Devine packs up her room — she’s getting ready to move house with her single mum, Opal. Picking up and stowing away the many accoutrements of teenage life in 2003 is a whistle-stop tour through what her life has looked like to this point. It’s the most Gone Home-ish segment of a pretty Gone Home-ish game, a similarity that shouldn’t be a huge surprise, but this is more of an active experience for the player character than that first title.

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Where Gone Home’s Katie was uncovering what happened to her sister, and we heard most of the story through the latter’s diaries and other notes, Tess comments more on what she sees. She reminisces and theorises, and, crucially, talks to her mum about it all.

In the wake of a family bereavement, and falling on hard times, it’s relocation time for Tess and Opal. However, in the act of packing up, they discover a potential secret that sends them on a road trip in the final days before their lives change. This takes us through a handful of short vignettes, each at a new location with a car ride in between, each offering a brief chance to explore the nooks and crannies, uncovering receipts, notes and letters that piece a story together.

It’s gracefully done, although if you’re hoping for any challenge or branching paths then you might come away disappointed. There’s something of the hidden-item puzzle game to this, as you open drawers and comb shelves for the interactive clue that will drive things forward. In all cases, you can pick up and manipulate those items to look at them, although almost none of them actually hold extra secrets once flipped around.

The back-and-forth exchanges that these items and notes prompt between Tess and Opal are the game’s real beating heart, though, performed very nicely by Kaitlyn Dever and Keri Russell respectively. These are that rare thing: star names that do a sterling job with their voice acting. Dever in particular brings a warmth and prickliness that feels true to life for someone young in a moment of real transition.

Indeed, more so than the experience of finding items to examine and letters to read, it was the moments where Open Roads lets you steer a conversation that most impressed us. There’s no RPG-like gamification here — you don’t have persuasion checks or intimidation rolls, just dialogue options to inform the tone of a chat. When, in one early talk, we accidentally offended Opal by rejecting the idea of wearing her wedding dress for Tess’ own hypothetical future nuptials, the tonal shift felt incredibly natural, as did the quick rapprochement that followed. This sense that Open Roads is telling a story with the gentlest of adaptations to your choices persists through its length, which runs somewhere between two and three hours depending on how meticulous you’re feeling.

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Open Roads’ visual identity is also an interesting one — its environments are three-dimensional but relatively simple, not so much painterly as they are low-fi. The two main characters are hardly ever visible in the game world as you move around, but in conversation scenes they’re represented as hand-drawn art. These portraits are characterful and lovely to look at, but they’re only very sparsely animated; lip-syncing isn’t much of a thing here, and only occasionally will the portraits emote in a particularly animated way. This feels like a choice, but it’s hard not to be a little disappointed by it, since those rarer moments do heighten and punctuate the conversations pretty superbly.

In that same more critical light, those occasionally barebones environments are also a little conflicting. They’re well-observed enough to speak to some nice design work. Still, sometimes the lack of detail feels suspiciously like it could have had less to do with artistic choice and more to do with constraints in that mysteriously long gestation period of delays while the game was being made.

That suspicion is raised further by the slight abruptness of Open Roads’ ending, which ties things up pretty neatly but lacks the emotional gut punches that made Gone Home and Tacoma so memorable. This isn’t helped by the fact that the heart of its mystery felt telegraphed to us, something we’d worked out from about halfway through.

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Instead, compared to those two games, Open Roads feels like something of a mostly finished sketch. It’s a story that has some nice angles to it, particularly around mothers and sisters, responsibility, and moving on, but it doesn’t necessarily offer up much real profundity on any of them. Its core plot isn’t artful enough to pick up that slack, either. Then again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a game of this sort taking a restrained approach and declining to shoot for the stars.


If you’re hungry for a quick slice of narrative, one that’s well-acted and has some smart dialogue to explore, along with a few secrets to uncover, Open Roads will feed that craving. In an age where walking simulators can be derided, though, it’s a bit pedestrian in some regards, with a visual identity that doesn’t cohere as it could, and some plotting that feels less than inspired. It’s hard to escape the sense that the story of how this game was made will be told in detail at some point down the line, and that it might just be the most compelling part of Open Roads’ legacy.

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