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Xbox Game Pass Just Added A Great Road Trip Game You Can Play In One Night

On the road again.

screenshot from Open Roads
Annapurna Interactive
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There’s nothing like a road trip to really test the strength of a relationship. Spending hours together in a car watching the scenery roll by can be a great bonding experience, but it can, just as easily, end with both parties needing a long break from each other. Add to that the stress of moving and the passing of a loved one, and Open Roads’ mother-daughter protagonists seem primed for a bumpy ride. But while Open Roads ultimately takes too safe of a path to its conclusion, its two leads and a wealth of well-observed details of the difficulties of daily life still make it a trip worth taking.

Open Roads started development at Fullbright, creator of Gone Home and Tacoma, but after developers alleged mistreatment by co-founder Steve Gaynor, some of the developers spun off a group simply called The Open Roads Team to finish the project. There’s a clear shared lineage to the team’s previous games, especially Gone Home, running through Open Roads.

Open Roads’ underwhelming mystery plays second fiddle to its compelling heroines.

The story begins with 16-year-old Tess cleaning out her grandmother’s house with her mom, Opal. The family matriarch has just passed away and the bank is foreclosing her home, where Tess and Opal also lived. While clearing out the attic, Tess discovers hints of a possible affair involving her grandmother, so she and Opal set off on a road trip to discover the truth.

The opening scene sets the tone for the entirety of Open Roads’ run, which takes around three hours to complete. Playing as Tess, you can spend as much time as you want searching through grandma’s house, Gone Home-style. By examining mundane objects from VHS tapes to newspaper clippings, you can piece together the details of Tess and Opal’s lives simply through inference, or through short quips Tess makes about the items’ meaning to her. When she finds a particularly important item, she can call her mom over for a quick chat about it, which can lead to some tense, character-revealing exchanges, move the game’s plot along, or just offer the chance for a light-hearted joke.

Soon enough, the pair set out on the road. Here, Tess’ options are limited to playing with the radio, fumbling around with what’s in the glove box and back seat, or talking to her mom. Where the opening scene in grandma’s house explored the past, driving in the car is an opportunity to take stock of Tess and Opal’s current relationship and plan for the future. It’s also where Tess can text her absent father, who she’s planning a trip to visit, unbeknownst to her mother.

The relationship between Tess and Opal is Open Roads’ greatest strength.

Annapurna Interactive

This pattern repeats all the way through Open Roads. The two women explore a new environment by examining objects in the environment, then drive to their next destination, with plenty of chances to talk the whole way. More than a decade after Gone Home, the same formula feels a bit worn out, and it’s not helped by the fact that the game’s central mystery just isn’t that compelling.

What gives Open Roads its drive is the relationship between Tess and Opal. Even if the plot falls flat, the two protagonists feel lively and real. Their relationship is strained, as many between teenagers and their parents are, but they have a palpable love for each other. Both are keeping secrets from the other, as well as frustrations that they sometimes keep under wraps and sometimes let boil over. Some of their dynamic is driven by which dialogue options the player chooses, but those decisions don’t have a lasting effect beyond the current conversation.

While you’re not able to steer their relationship much, just getting to watch Tess and Opal interact is Open Roads’ greatest strength. Tess, voiced by Kaitlyn Dever, is a funny, sometimes snarky teenager who takes every opportunity to joke with her mom despite the obvious tension between them. Opal, voiced by Keri Russell, is clearly a caring person trying to reach her daughter, but can’t resist sometimes scolding her or poking at sore spots in their relationship. Their dynamic is realistic, though their habit of easily making up after fights prevents Open Roads from reaching its dramatic potential.

Open Roads is far from a perfect game, and even fans of games like Gone Home might be disappointed if they go in expecting a similarly compelling mystery. Despite its flaws, Open Roads held my attention through its well developed characters, aided by strong voice work by Dever and Russell. Its central plot may not be quite enough to fuel the entire journey, but as a low-key exploration of a relationship between a likable mother and daughter struggling to connect, Open Roads can still be a journey worth taking, if you’ve got a few hours to spare.

Open Roads is available on Xbox Game Pass, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, and PC.

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