Open Roads Review – Family Matters

Out on the open road...

Road tripping plays a pivotal role in so many landmark works of popular culture. Some people’s minds might go to the journey of decadence in Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, mine races to one of the finest films ever put to celluloid, A Goofy Movie. Whatever the application, the open road is inherently conversational, providing the downtime for a deep and meaningful jaw session. Save for a few important pit stops, Open Roads is a back and forth between a mother and daughter with plenty to work out, least of all being the mystery that emerges as a convenient distraction in a moment of mourning and change for the pair.

As Tess Devine, portrayed with an unguarded, charming youthful exuberance by Kaitlyn Dever, you unearth decades-old correspondence from a man that isn’t your grandfather while packing up the remains of your grandma’s home after her recent passing. Along with her mother Opal, voiced by the venerable Keri Russell, you follow a breadcrumb trail through a series of your family’s abandoned, ruinous homes—each with its own buried memories—that eventually leads to Canada in hopes of figuring out the truth of this supposed affair.

In the end, the mystery and its resolution feel unremarkable yet wholly lifelike. I did expect an Edith Finchian twist toward the fantastical, however the story grounds itself right at the last beat and places focus back on its characters, on the circle of life, and how children can be doomed to inherit the misfortunes of their parents. Like a Richard Linklater film, it’s decades-spanning in its scope and serves up an emotional resonance that I didn’t expect at all. 

Russell and Dever’s chemistry throughout flourishes as more and more dirty laundry is aired, and while Russell shoulders more of the dramatic work, I do think they make for a believable mother and daughter duo that’s sold through both writing and performance alike. Hearing the weary Opal endure her sarcastic teenage daughter’s goading and ribbing serves as a surprisingly frequent comedic break in the drama.

Conversation is only half of the Open Roads experience, the other half is made up of areas to explore that feel as calm and contemplative as a Fullbright title. It manages to tick all of the regular “walking simulator” boxes within these beautifully lit, gorgeous slices of autumnal suburbia. There are plenty of items that contain their own miniature, self-contained narratives that build out the world at large and serve as kindling for the bigger picture. And there are even more items to simply inspect and turn over in Tess’ hands, all of them rendered with lovely detail.

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It’s on top of these rendered vistas that your person-to-person chats will take place with Opal, with both characters presented as hand-drawn, seldom animated sprites. It’s a juxtaposition of detail and minimalism that shouldn’t work as well as it does, and I admire the choice having seen it in practice.

The story unfolds like a puzzle of several steps which are all, in-world, catalogued in Tess’ journal which is an elegant means of tracking the adventure. Oftentimes, it’s a mundane task like finding a use for the key found inside a long lost diary, or finding a safer path through the collapsing mobile home. There’s no duress in what Open Roads demands of you, it simply is what it is. Pretty much every break in play leading into dialogue comes from finding an item of interest and calling out to Opal, who invariably delivers a greater context. The game does little to veer from this gameplay loop before credits roll, though it doesn’t have a chance to grow tiresome with the game only being a couple of hours long. 

And with no branching dialogue options to revisit, there isn’t really a lot of reason to replay the game at all. Although certain dialogue choices do expose character flaws not before known so there may be some value to be found in fully understanding these women. 

While the few days in Open Roads pass in a couple of real-time hours, it’s absolutely a road trip worth taking. It showcases nostalgia and emotion in a way I didn’t exactly expect, its characters bare their souls as we pick apart and leave open the wounds of their lives. But it’s the many small details, like using the radio to drown out the deafeningly quiet fallout from an argument, that makes Open Roads an evocative impromptu jaunt.  

Conclusion
Although Open Roads gives no reason to make this game’s North American road trip an annual fixture on the calendar, the adventure itself is one worth experiencing. It’s a family affair that welcomes you into its inner sanctum and leaves you in a state of adoration over its leading ladies’ sincere performances.
Positives
Excellent family drama carried by Russell and Dever
Beautifully rendered environments beg to be explored
Love the road trip framework for how the narrative unfolds
Negatives
It's short and offers little to no replay value
7.5