Open Roads is a short family drama video game that leaves a big impact

Tess and Opal ride in a car in Open Roads.
Annapurna Interactive

Sometimes, it takes a tragedy to connect with your family.

That idea kicks off Open Roads, the latest indie published by Annapurna Interactive. The short narrative adventure begins with Tess, a young adult growing up in the wake of September 11, 2001, sorting through her grandmother’s belongings after she passes away. That somber process gives way to a domestic mystery that sends Tess and her mother, Opal, on a road trip to discover the family’s secret past.

But it’s not just about unearthing some juicy gossip; the road trip provides a key bonding moment between mother and daughter. That heartfelt story powers a modest narrative adventure game about how confronting the past together can strengthen our connections with one another.

Leaving home

Open Roads, which experienced some upheaval when FullBright co-founder Steve Gaynor left the project after being accused of fostering a toxic work environment in 2021, doesn’t waste a second of its tight, movie-length runtime. As soon as I start it, I’m introduced to its narrative gameplay hook, which plays like an evolution of Gone Home. The first scene has me walking around Tess’ room and packing up objects. Each one I pick up reveals a bit more of the backdrop. A news clipping about September 11 tells me where I am. An invoice for Tess’ design work gives me a sense of what she does. Every object and stray note has a story to tell.

A kitchen appears in Open Roads.
Annapurna Interactive

That idea escalates when I head up to my grandmother’s attic and discover a suitcase carefully hidden in a wall. When I open it, I discover what appears to be a note from a secret lover. Tess convinces her mother, Opal (voiced by Keri Russell) to try and figure out the truth. An impromptu road trip commences, one that begins to unravel the strained relationship between the two. Key to that tension is Opal’s ex-husband, who Tess quietly texts with from the passenger seat. It quickly becomes clear that Tess and Opal need to talk.

That’s exactly what happens over the course of the story, which takes the duo from an old family house to a dilapidated houseboat in search of answers. Every time I find a potential clue, like a lost letter, I can call my mother over so we can break it down in a motion comic-like segment with a few dialogue choices. That isn’t just a storytelling mechanism to dole out more plot development; it’s a chance for Tess to ask her mother about what life was like for her growing up. Through that, she gets to hear endearing anecdotes, like the time the family van broke down in the yard so Opal decided to turn it into a bedroom.

Tess holds printed directions in Open Roads.
Annapurna Interactive

Each conversation brings them closer together. At the start of the story, Tess finds herself lost. She’s not sure if she wants to go to college and has no general direction. By closing the distance between her and her family, she’s able to see how Opal faced the same challenges growing up. She’s even continued to face them as an adult, both in her divorce that she works up the courage to explain and the surprising discoveries about her family history that are turning her world upside down. I’m left with a sense that Tess doesn’t quite feel as alone when the credits roll.

It’s a familiar feeling, one I’ve had plenty of times in my life. From watching my father cry for the only time after his mother’s death or having a long conversation with my mother about her history of depression after getting my own diagnosis, every little personal moment born from pain has helped bridge any distance between us. Open Roads serves as a valuable reminder of that truth. When the ground beneath our feet is at its most unstable, that’s when it’s most important to grab on to our loved ones for support.

Open Roads launches on March 28 for PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

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