Kentucky Route Zero is an episodic point-and-click adventure series released in five installments. The first act was also made available separately along with the five-act bundle, but with the release of the second act individual purchases were no longer possible and the option to purchase the first act separately was removed. Development of the full game took over seven years as the fifth and final act was released on 28th January 2020.
It is an adventure game with dream-like characters and locations in the magic realist tradition. The story follows Conway, a driver for Lysette's Antiques, Funiture, Glassware and Curiosities who ends up with his truck in the rural part of the state Kentucky in the USA. The game starts with him asking for directions at the Equus Oils gas station as he is looking for the Kentucky Route Zero highway to make his delivery. As Conway explores the environment looking for the Zero, he meets different characters where the line between dream and reality is often blurred. Travelling between locations is done through a top-down map with various highways. It is usually up to the player to figure out where to go next. Certain conversation elements are stored in a separate notes section. Acts are divided into different scenes. Not all game elements are shown with visuals. As much of the game is heavy on text, many events are only shown through text similar to interactive fiction, combined with an ambient soundscape. The 3D visuals are reminiscent of Flashback or Out of This World.
The gameplay is similar to a 3rd-person point-and-click adventure. Conway can be moved around and objects or persons that can be interacted with are highlighted with actions such as examine or use. The game has no inventory and only minor puzzle-solving elements. Most of the gameplay is narrative driven with dialogue options in conversations that influence the events. Rather than telling the player the story, the player is the one to determine the characters' emotions and approach. New characters are often introduced with the player determining their thoughts, feelings and actions without any prior knowledge. It also plays tricks with the perspective, having the story told by outsiders that are not introduced, or narrating in the past tense for events that are yet to take place. There are also many visuals tricks and illusions. The goal of this approach is to adapt the story according to the player's choices. Many solutions to puzzles also need to be deducted through conversations rather than direct item combinations.
The choices can be carried over to the next episode. At the start of a new act, the player can choose to continue based on the choices of the previous act, replay the previous act, or play the next act right away.