Preview: ‘Open Roads’ delves into a different type of nostalgia


Tess, left, and Opal ride in a car in 'Open Roads'. The road trip adventure game features voice work from Kaitlyn Dever who plays Tess and Kerri Rusell, who stars as Opal. — Annapurna Interactive/TNS

When gamers talk about nostalgia, sprite-heavy graphics, chiptune music and enormous square telvisions often come to mind, but for the developers of Open Roads, it means crafting a world from their collective past. They recreate their memories and put it in a video game.

That project happens to be a mother-daughter road trip adventure, featuring Keri Russell as the mother Opal and Kaitlyn Dever in the role of the daughter Tess. It takes place in two decades ago in 2003. The era becomes obvious as players explore the world in the girl’s first-person perspective. They see a creamsicle-colored iMac sitting on the desk. A hulking CRT television sits atop a dresser. Everyone still reads the newspaper.

In a hands-off demo, the developers showed off the early parts of the campaign, which takes place in a home that’s about to be sold. It’s full of family drama after Opal and her daughter are forced to leave the place after it’s been sold. The introduction offers a way for players to explore the environment and it’s intricately designed setting.

The house looks lived in with furniture from different eras and childhood scribbles hidden in closet walls. One of the developers said it was done by one of their kids. Wandering around, players will notice that even the music is era appropriate.

Tess' room in 'Open Roads' comes straight out of 2003, with big CRT. television and papasan in the corner. — Annapurna Interactive/TNSTess' room in 'Open Roads' comes straight out of 2003, with big CRT. television and papasan in the corner. — Annapurna Interactive/TNS

As players the world as Tess, they discover more about the situation. Opal doesn’t get along with her sister and Grandma Helen has a hidden past that appears to have some importance later on. It sets up story beats and mysteries that are explored later.

Open Roads has a different vibe, a slower pace from other adventure games. It looks like an experience that rewards players for exploring and delving into the details of the narrative. One of the more notable elements is that though campaign takes place in the first-person it does have moments when the camera goes into the third-person and players see Tess and Opal.

They look like they’re characters from a Don Bluth project. That deepens the sense of nostalgia. Don’t expect animation of that caliber though but players can appreciate the character design.

With a stellar cast, the voice acting is good, and it will make players want to interact with everything. When Tess (Kaitlyn Dever) picks something up, her mother (Keri Russell), who follows her around, will offer commentary or insight into the object. Initially, that sounds intriguing, but having a game where one’s mother constantly looks over their shoulder could be trouble.

Russell’s performance and charm and the rapport between the two characters will have to carry the campaign through. Some of that shows up in the dialogue choices that players have. Just remember to pick any response regarding ska.

With its grounded vibe, “Open Roads” has the potential to offer a different type of story and experience for gamers. Few titles explore a mother-daughter relationship and fewer still mine nostalgia in a personal way.

“Open Roads” is scheduled for release Feb 22 on PC, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X and Series S and Nintendo Switch. – The Mercury News/Tribune News Service

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