THE opening act of this five-part adventure series begins with a delivery van pulling into a dimly lit service station, while an attendant sits out front, letting the evening slip slowly away.

Kentucky Route Zero: Act One

Publisher: Cardboard Computer

Price: £4.50 for first episode; £16 for all five

Format: PC download from www.kentuckyroutezero.com (also on Mac)

Age rating: 12+

THE opening act of this five-part adventure series begins with a delivery van pulling into a dimly lit service station, while an attendant sits out front, letting the evening slip slowly away. The driver's name is Conway, who is in need of some petrol and directions to the last address on his list, but that's all we find out about him before the game hands control over to the player.

Essentially, Conway is a blank slate. His back-story is revealed through a series of branching dialogue trees, firstly during a chat with the old man at the rest stop and, latterly, with some of the other characters you meet on your travels. It's not clear if any of the choices you make will have a lasting impact, or whether they're simply there to add a little mystery, but that's something we'll discover in subsequent chapters.

For now, all we know is our hapless driver is lost and needs to find the on-ramp to 'Route Zero', a road that everyone seems to know exists, but no-one is exactly sure how to get there. As a result, you're forced to drive your lorry across a black and white map of country roads, littered with all sorts of tempting side-stories and text-only vignettes, as you make your way to the next slice of interactive fiction.

Unlike conventional point-and-click adventures, there are no real puzzles to solve, apart from guessing a computer's password and finding several locations on the map. If there were more they'd just be an irrelevancy, as the real thrill comes from exploring the world around you. Whether you're stumbling down an abandoned mineshaft, visiting a creepy house on top of a hill or calling in at a run-down TV repair shop, you'll have some of the oddest conversations this side of Twin Peaks.

The game's minimalist art style perfectly compliments a playful camera that zooms in for a close-up shot one minute, before carefully peeling back the walls of a house the next. Certain scenes outstay their welcome, but the running time of a little over an hour-and-a-half is just right to whet our appetite for the remaining four acts, which will be released over the next 12 months.

Score: //4/5 stars//