Is there any experience that brings a family closer together than a road trip? Open Roads explores that concept, with mother-daughter duo Tess and Opal Devine hitting the road to visit locations significant to their family and solve a compelling mystery related to Tess’s recently deceased grandmother. It’s a tale both heartwarming and thrilling that centers around themes of familial bonding, learning from one’s past, and moving together into the future. Open Roads doesn’t sugarcoat things: the relationship between a mother and a daughter isn’t always perfect, but it is filled with moments of beauty and profundity, sometimes at the most surprising of times.
GameRant recently attended a brief preview of Open Roads hosted by several members of the team: executive producer Amy Fincher, art director Noel Clark, engineering lead Aaron Freedman, operations manager and associate producer Sarah Robinson, graphic artist Harrison Gerard, and representatives from publisher Annapurna Interactive. The preview focused on the first section of the game and highlighted elements including the relationship between Tess and Opal, the 2D-3D art style, and the creation of a 00s-based setting meant to elicit nostalgia in many players.
Open Roads kicks off with Tess Devine and her mother Opal cleaning out the rest of Tess’s grandmother’s belongings after an estate sale. Tess, voiced by Kaitlyn Dever (Uncharted 4, Justified, Last Man Standing), is a free-spirited girl with a love for movies and a natural curious streak. Her mother Opal, portrayed by Keri Russell (Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, The Diplomat, The Americans) is a loving parent who supports her daughter’s endless questions, although she is clearly affected by the recent loss of her mother and her strained relationships with both Tess’s father and her sister August.
Kaitlyn Dever and Keri Russell make the characters feel extremely true-to-life, with their dialogue coming out as real conversations a mother and daughter might have rather than a stilted parody. Tess’s chattiness and constant flow of words means that she often forgets proper terms in her eagerness to speak, for example looking for the “attic hook thing” when needing to get up into the house’s attic. Opal is calmer and more soft-spoken, although she definitely has her moments of humor. In particular, we laughed when Opal attempted to ask if “ska” (a genre of music) was a type of drug and Tess went along with it rather than correcting her, insisting that ska was absolutely the worst and most dangerous drug. Small conversations between Tess and Opal can be sparked by examining many different items in the game, so players are encouraged to be nosy and poke around as much as possible.
The house where Tess and Opal live at the beginning of the game is filled with small personal touches that ground players in the game’s 2003 setting in many ways. As the team showed off the contents of Tess’s room, they discussed the process of making long lists of items that reminded them of the early 00s. “I bet some of you had these,” said Freedman delightedly as he uncovered a Scholastic Book Fair eraser and off-brand Dr. Pepper-flavored LipSmackers lip gloss in Tess’s desk drawer.
We also got a chance to listen to Tess’s vintage boom box, which plays a variety of original tracks inspired by movies popular during that era. Little touches like that make Open Roads feel real and grounded—players who were alive during the 00s will clearly remember friends writing “HAGS” (have a great summer) in enormous letters in their yearbook or hearing a specific default ringtone on their chunky “brick-like” cell phone. (Plus, those familiar with earlier decades will find plenty to love – for example, Tess pulls out a Pirates of Penzance Playbill from her grandmother’s dresser and unsuccessfully attempts to remember the lyrics to “I am the Very Model of a Modern Major General”).
The house is filled with items not just significant to Tess and Opal, but to the Open Roads Team as well. Several times during the preview, a team member interjected to explain how an element of their own life was brought into the game. An adorable painting of a dog, who had in-universe been named Lady and was Opal and August’s childhood pet, was revealed to depict one team member’s Pekignese-Pomeranian hybrid who was described as having a “most unusual” look. Drawings on the wall, made by a much younger Tess, had actually been drawn by one member’s child because it was, the entire team agreed, glaringly obvious when a “child’s drawing” was actually made by “an art director using their left hand.” These touches brought a real sense of heart to the game; the house felt lived-in both by the characters inhabiting it and the real designers who had created it.
Open Roads’ decision to blend 2D and 3D art is a fascinating one. Tess and Opal are portrayed in a bright, colorful style that clearly shows off each woman’s unique fashion sense and personality. They’re surrounded by interactable items that have a much more solid, 3D design that leaves them feeling very real – weathered, worn, and well-handled. The resulting fusion is a world that has much of the realistic in it but also an element of whimsy and fantasy, an element that only becomes stronger when Tess begins to become aware of secrets lurking in her family’s past.
Unfortunately, the preview showed off the barest hint of the mystery that forms Open Roads’ central story, but we were already fascinated by what we did see. As Tess explores the house, she gradually begins to feel that something is just so slightly off. She finds a broken china plate, but Opal is quick to brush it off, insisting she doesn’t remember what happened to it. Then, when the duo discovers a hidden chamber in the house’s attic, filled with items including the grandmother’s diary, Opal attempts to minimize it as “just some junk from the summer cottage.” There’s something much deeper to discover here, and learning exactly what it is will serve as the bulk of the game’s story.
We ended the preview feeling intrigued, desperately wanting to know what happens next – just what are Opal and her late mother hiding? What does the long-lost diary reveal? Is there more to Opal and her sister August’s strained relationship than there seems to be? What will mother and daughter discover along the road ahead? There’s a big mystery to be solved, and players will have to wait for Open Roads’ full release to hop in the car alongside Tess and Opal and set out in pursuit of the truth.
Open Roads is set to release on February 22 for Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X/S.