Open Roads review: Family business

Annapurna delivers a strong story about family and history in Open Roads.

Annapurna Interactive
2

Annapurna Interactive is known for its narrative-driven stories and that’s especially true in Open Roads, its latest publishing effort, and the debut title from Open Roads Team. This story dives deep into themes of family, loss, and the weight of time.

The person I knew

The interior of Tess' old bedroom.

Source: Annapurna Interactive

Open Roads follows the story of Tess, a teenager who goes on a journey with her mother to learn more about her family’s history after the death of her grandmother. It’s clear from the start that they didn’t know nearly as much about the woman as they thought they did, and the narrative follows them as they look to get to the bottom of a mystery and uncover a potential family treasure.

One of the best-executed parts of Open Roads is its environmental storytelling. The game opens with Tess in her bedroom, packing items for a move. I lost time as I grabbed countless objects and documents. Birthday cards, letters, report cards, childhood toys, and other items shed light on her past, her personality, and her motivations. I felt like I already knew so much about her before I even stepped out into the hallway for the first proper dialogue with her mother.

A flip phone with an outgoing text message that reads: we found this weird stuff n my grandmas attic & now were going 2 my familys old summer house.

Source: Annapurna Interactive

It’s a true walking simulator in that you’re encouraged to take your time, inspect every item, and learn more about the characters through the environment instead of combat or action sequences. Just about every object placed feels intentional, an important piece of storytelling that further characterizes Tess, her mother, or her grandmother.

While I enjoyed exploring various environments that Open Roads has to offer, I felt a bit of a pacing issue with how the game handles progress. As you travel the road and explore different areas, Tess keeps a list of tasks that she needs to complete. In some instances, you need to overturn nearly every stone in an area to actually “complete” a task, many of which trigger individual cutscenes or dialogue sequences with Tess’ mother. I appreciate that there’s a lot to see and do, but the fact that it often feels mandatory makes some sequences drag on.

The beauty of life

Opal (Tess' mother) says to her,

Source: Annapurna Interactive

A game like Open Roads lives or dies by its writing and characters, and Open Roads is packed with stellar writing. The two leads feel earnest and genuine, thanks largely in part to two stellar performances from Kaitlyn Dever and Keri Russel. While the latter is making her video game debut, Dever has dabbled in games once before (in 2016’s Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End). Both actors bring a great deal of warmth and rawness to their roles that anchor Open Road’s most emotional moments.

Open Roads also nails its funky blend of 2D and 3D art. While the world and objects go for a photorealistic look, the characters are given a hand-drawn 2D art style, animated at a slower frame rate than the world around them. Not only does it visually drive home the idea that these characters are stepping into a world they never knew about, but they pop off the screen during their many dialogue sequences.

The interior of a kitchen. There are markings on the wall indicated the height of different children throughout the years.

Source: Annapurna Interactive

While I loved the Open Road’s art style, I did notice a detail about the animation that kind of took me out of a few scenes. The characters have minimal animation; they blink, briefly move their lips, and sometimes gesture with their hands, but they aren’t fully articulated. This is fine! But Open Roads has moments where a character has a lot to say, will move their lips for the first two seconds of dialogue, and then stare blankly with their mouths closed as they deliver the rest of what they have to say. It’s a result of the game’s minimal approach to character animations, but one that leaves some conversations feeling awkward.

As far as music goes, I love the way Open Roads plays with Diegetic and nondiegetic sound. The radio in the car often plays catchy tunes, but there’s also an original score (composed by Garry Schyman) that’s excellently woven into the game’s quieter moments. I’m always impressed when a game can pull this off without feeling awkward or disjointed.

Love is a long road

A printed picture of Tess and a friend at a football game, both turning back to look at the camera.

Source: Annapurna Interactive

Open Roads is the quintessential Annapurna Interactive video game. There are prominent actors giving authentic performances in a story that’s beautifully written, there’s a unique approach to art direction, and the music is top-of-the-line. I didn’t vibe with all of the design decisions, but it’s impossible to walk away from Open Roads without feeling at least a little contemplative about your own life journey and relationships.


This review is based on a Steam code provided by the publisher. Open Roads launches on March 28, 2024, for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Nintendo Switch.

News Editor

Donovan is a young journalist from Maryland, who likes to game. His oldest gaming memory is playing Pajama Sam on his mom's desktop during weekends. Pokémon Emerald, Halo 2, and the original Star Wars Battlefront 2 were some of the most influential titles in awakening his love for video games. After interning for Shacknews throughout college, Donovan graduated from Bowie State University in 2020 with a major in broadcast journalism and joined the team full-time. He is a huge Scream nerd and film fanatic that will talk with you about movies and games all day. You can follow him on twitter @Donimals_

Review for
Open Roads
8
Pros
  • Beautifully crafted dialogue
  • Great performances from Kaitlyn Dever and Keri Russell
  • Eye-popping art style
  • Strong themes of family and grief
Cons
  • Some sequences drag on for too long
  • Animation is awkward during some conversations
From The Chatty
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    March 27, 2024 9:00 AM

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      April 2, 2024 4:09 PM

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