As Conway’s leg injury worsens following the first act, the delivery of antiques becomes a lot more laborious. His pain is made clear throughout the journey, and he becomes feverish as the story continues in this tragic manner. Although the pacing of this act is really slowed down, it is for the better. The game gives the player the opportunity to take in the surroundings that continue to be astounding. After all, this game wasn’t made to be a fast paced in the first place.
The surrealism that was hinted at within the first act has developed greatly here, Cardboard Computer did a great job with committing to that aspect of the game. With this, the developers have shown us dialogue in ways that has never been seen before. Truly original, and masterful.
In the search for the mysterious Route Zero and Dogwood Drive, the player can clearly see that the act doesn’t pick off exactly where the first ended. An unknown amount of time has obviously passed. Starting off in a typical office building, or should I say in a bureau, it almost seems as if Conway was beginning to lose hope in completing his delivery, yet his companions still stand at his side supportively.
Now what makes this bureau so strange is that it is both inside and outside, completed in terms of construction yet still incomplete. Our first task within The Bureau of Reclaimed Spaces is to navigate through the floors within an awfully slow elevator. But then again what really is there to an office building besides desks, working people, demanding bosses and a whole floor dedicated to bears?
The task of finding any information on Dogwood Drive is a grievous task. The limping Conway definitely isn’t enjoying himself either as he seems pretty desperate to leave the place already. His dialogue options were either to slowly drag along from desk to desk in pain or to rudely hurry the workers and give him the answers he wants.
Besides an entire floor dedicated to friendly bears, whose eyes follow your every step, one of the best parts of the bureau were the organs that remained from the cathedral now replaced by these offices. Funnily enough, these organs were played by an old bearded man in swimming shorts, who seems to be having a barbeque.
In a way the lack of much to cling onto made the space feel awfully dreadful. I feel like that really conveyed what Conway was going through. The developers did great in order to get the players to empathise with characters. Though once we do get out of there, and onto the adventure of driving around, trying to navigate our way through Route Zero for the first time, the journey begins to feel a bit more unnerving.
Lula, one of the bureau’s workers, sends Conway and Shannon to visit the previous location of the offices, where some documents may still remain. That location being St. Thomas Church, which is old and abandoned by everyone from the congregation besides the janitor, who replays the recorded sermons.
Shannon looks for any clues to finding Dogwood Drive through the piles and piles of unorganised documents while Conway speaks with the janitor. This is also the point at which they all realise that maybe Conway’s injury shouldn’t have been left unattended for this long. Spoiler alert, Conway momentarily blacks out. Right after that realisation they quickly went back to Lula in order to find their way to a doctor. Although, where his house should be, the two found the Museum of Dwellings.
This strange museum is still under construction, and there isn’t any staff there, but there are people who live in the houses that are on display. How do we know this? By reading the dialogue, in which it isn’t us but the neighbours discussing, Conway either looked like a drunk or a very shady character. That’s to the point where these unseen characters hid away from us to avoid trouble. Never thought a man with a bad injury like this could bring any harm to an entire neighbourhood.
After roaming through the museum and having each of these strangers describe our odd actions, we find an elevator, which is as equally slow as the elevator in the bureau. It takes us outside into the rain, where we meet a new character, Ezra, who is a child whose family suddenly disappeared. He also has a gigantic eagle for a friend, though he claims his name is Julian and it is his brother. What a pickle. This is where our journey to find a doctor truly begins. Flying through the skies, over rivers, seeing the world from a different perspective, it’s a new experience in this game.
Sadly, Conway isn’t getting better, constantly having to take a break on the way to the doctor, feeling so unwell he is forced to lean on Shannon for help. Yet no matter how bad things get, our faithful companion of a dog remains by our side. Once we finally reach the doctor, antiques begin to emerge, as I mentioned in my review of another act of this game, the history follows us. Here it is debt. It follows not only Conway or Shannon, but the doctor himself, who was unable to afford his education without selling medicine on the side.
Just by the end, some surrealism kicks in again when Conway is being treated by Doctor Turman under a strange anaesthetic. The world darkens, and the walls of the house pull away, leaving him sitting alone in the moonlit forest. It’s reminiscent of the first act, where the walls pulled away and showed us an illusion of the way to Route Zero.
All in all, from my perspective, this act aimed to close the distant gap between player and Conway by creating opportunities for us to empathise with the characters. By animating the way that the character was forcibly dragging himself along, and then had to be dragged, made it clear that this delivery isn’t going to be the easiest.
Magdalena Kolodziej is a freelance journalist and contributor to PN2. You can find her on Twitter @magda_0019