Review: The Entertainment (PC)

Before I begin, I would strongly recommend that you check out The Entertainment for yourself, as it is best experienced knowing as little as possible in advance. That’s actually one of the best things about it: You don’t quite know exactly what it even is when you first make your way to its website. When Cardboard Computer posted a link to it on their Facebook page, one of the commenters simply asked, “Is this a game?”

Like everything else about Kentucky Route Zero, that isn’t an easy question to answer. The website for the “game” resembles the inside cover of a Playbill, with a cast and crew listing and a brief history of the play’s production. As you begin, the scene fades in on a bar, and a conversation between the bartender and his sole customer. One of the first things you notice is that you’re able to rotate the camera around freely, but that is the extent of your movement within the world. During my first playthrough, I spent much of the opening minutes simply immersed in their dialogue and only slightly moved my field of view beyond them (as their speech halts whenever you aren’t looking at them). The lights fade down and back upon again at several points, with other characters appearing and disappearing during the blackouts.

Again, though, there is a lot more going on here than simply passively watching a play, which you need only look around to discover. The first thing I noticed that deviated from the play and its dialogue was when I looked down at the table I was sitting at. As I did so, what appeared to be stage directions for a character called “Bar-Fly” were displayed. Coincidentally, the other characters make several references to a drunken man sitting off in the corner of the bar, which I then realized was me. It was around this time that I decided to see just how far my field of vision reached, and as I panned around I saw an audience behind me. I wasn’t watching a play – I was IN a play. As I scanned the audience, I was shown a review of the play, which made sure to make special mention of the bar-fly character (and was quite critical of my performance). The next thing I discovered was our director, sitting near the audience, and when I looked at him I was able to read his production notes. It was here that I discovered one of the threads confirming that this play does indeed take place within the same world as Kentucky Route Zero, but I won’t spoil it for you.

I eventually swung back around and watched the rest of the play, which ended with another very surreal KRZ-esque touch. I suspected that there must’ve been a lot more to this whole production than I found on my first playthrough, and without hesitation I dived right back in. I was a little more adventurous this time and sure enough, I discovered a lot more. Looking at the bar’s jukebox revealed the scene’s sound cues. Glancing up at the lights displayed a detailed description of the set. And upon further investigation around the room I found a few other neat little touches, like the actress who had yet to enter the scene standing just off stage waiting for her cue. Still, I’ve now watched the entire thing three times and I’m still not entirely sure I’ve gotten my head around it yet or even found all there is to discover. For example, what’s the deal with the sandwiches with bricks between the bread (that are also the primary part of the play’s art on the original website)? And what of that wild ending?

As a huge fan of Kentucky Route Zero, who like everyone else is waiting as patiently as I can for Act III, to get this brilliant (and free) little piece of that world was such a satisfying treat. Whether The Entertainment ends up playing a bigger role in the overarching narrative of KRZ or whether it’s just its own little slice of Zero, it is still one of the most engrossing pieces of digital fiction I’ve experienced since, well, I finished Act II. And I’d also like to add that since it IS free, and you don’t even need Steam or anything like that to play it, even if you haven’t played Kentucky Route Zero you should definitely check it out. It is self-contained enough that no prior knowledge of KRZ is required to enjoy it. Just don’t blame me if, after you’ve experienced it, you’re playing Act I by the end of the night. You should’ve already done that anyway.