Open Roads offers a welcome return to a missed genre | Hands-on preview

by on January 17, 2024

There was a time not so long ago when first-person narrative-driven adventures like Open Roads were incredibly popular, but we’ve not had many in recent years. Developers like The Chinese Room put out Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and Dear Esther, Firewatch and What Remains of Edith Finch? were being talked about by everyone, and Gone Home was a revelation in gaming circles. I became a fan of the genre because they relied on the strength of the actors and the writing to carry the story, and almost all of them were so wonderful because of it.

Annapurna Interactive and the Open Roads Team have got something special cooking with Open Roads. The story follows mother and daughter Tess and Opal as they embark on a road trip to unearth the past after finding a bunch of old letters in the attic of their home. I was lucky enough to watch a preview of the game led by the development team, and it showed off the events that led up to the discovery of the mysterious box. Although the road trip elements of the game were left as a mystery to me for now, the tone and gameplay elements were on display, and it reminded me of how it felt playing Gone Home with a little bit of the original Life is Strange thrown in for good measure.

It’s all rather chill, as the opening saw you play as Tess wandering around her room and finding lots of different trinkets and items to interact with. One thing was clear throughout the entire preview was how much of the developer’s personal stories have become intertwined with Open Roads, from a hand-drawn picture done by one of their children and a flyer for the Pirates of Penzance which was one of the developer’s grandmother’s favourite musicals. It’s always more authentic when you get the feeling of how much care and attention has been put into something, and I got that a lot as Tess walked around her house.

While exploration is an important part of Open Roads, so is the dialogue. Your mother, Opal, is there with you, and while she’s not present on screen as you look around, she’ll often comment on things you find, triggering conversations where you can select certain responses and dialogue options. These lead to poignant interactions between the two of you, but also humorous ones, such as Opal thinking ska is a type of drug. Opal will also comment if Tess keeps leaving doors open or lights on, and as a parent trying to conserve as much heat and energy as possible, I can very much relate to this.

It’s a gorgeous game to look at, too, with various art styles fused together so well. The photo-realistic settings as you check out every room in the house like the bathroom and the kitchen look so good, but then you get the hand-animated characters during interactions that help make it feel that bit more personal. The voice acting is also superb from what I saw so far, with Tess being played by Kaitlyn Dever, who has recently been cast as Abby in Season 2 of The Last of Us, and Keri Russell, the superb actor from The Americans and The Diplomat to name just a few.

Although I’ve only seen around 30 minutes of Open Roads, it feels like this is going to feature an interesting story with fantastic writing and acting that could reignite a genre we don’t get to see all that much anymore. The unique dialogue options and how they can lead to uncovering secrets about Tess and Opal’s family, the beautiful art style, and the personal touches from the development team highlight just how good it could be. When you hear the name Annapurna Interactive, there’s always a sense of excitement, and with this, I feel it is no different.

Open Roads launches on February 22 for PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One (included in Game Pass), Nintendo Switch, and PC.