For quite some time, I had my eyes on this game called Road 96. When it was announced, I was quite excited about the prospect of a procedurally-generated road-trip simulation game where you decide where to go next as you meet different kinds of people and get into trouble, have fun, or check out the landscapes. You can never truly know what freedom is in games due to their limitations but Road 96′ idea would potentially be as close to that ideal as it gets. Right after it launched, I played through it and… I loved it. It still took me some time to get to reviewing this but today, I wanted to share with you why I liked Road 96 so much and why you should check it out as well!
Developer: DigixArt Publisher: DigixArt, Ravenscourt Genre: Adventure, Exploration, Dystopian, Simulation, Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, Indie Release Date: August 16th, 2021 Reviewed on: PC Available on: PC (Win), Switch Copy was purchased.
In “Road 96”, you’re trying to escape from the fictitious country of “Petria”. The atmosphere in said country is tense as elections are coming up. The two candidates are essentially what will test your thoughts on border politics. Tyrak – who currently is in the lead – is a tyrant and dictator in the making. Because a lot of young people are not going to vote for him, they seem to “disappear” which is why you, the game’s protagonist, try to escape the country. You play as a teen making your way through the hot landscape, all the way north to escape the country. On the way there, you encounter all sorts of events and different people whose stories you may influence with your choices. Your choices affect everything as they can even influence the countries. You could say that this is a political sim, in a way, but in the end, it’s all about the road ahead and your way on there. You focus entirely on your survival or you go ahead and try to make a change.
The world of Road 96 is hot and dangerous. As you walk, hitchhike or take a bus through the desert, your energy might get depleted, which is why you’ll need to find food and water to stay alive. The distance will drain your energy and depending on how your choices play out (with various rolls and stuff), you may get a ride closer to the border or you may get dropped immediately. There are several different endings as well with the police catching you, you dying, or you escaping – to name a few. It highly depends on what choices you make! But it’s not all about politics and survival as you get accompanied by seven distinct characters whose events you’ll encounter as you go on. When you finish one run, you start up the next run as a different teen with more or less money, a higher or older age, a different gender, as well as a different amount of starting energy. Through the eyes of the NPCs, you may look like a new person but given that you played runs before, you may be able to see how your other run influenced a certain character, especially given how your escape attempts take place at different times, getting ever closer to the election day.
Meanwhile, you also can collect mixtapes to listen to while you’re on the road and even perks that make future runs easier. Most events award you one of those and it’s incredibly worth it. There is a lot of different music in the soundtrack from melodic and chill vibes to fast and electronic tunes to Synthwave-y goodness and even “Bella Ciao” because of course it’s in here, too, given how political this is. On top of that, the game is beautiful with its comic-like style and the somewhat minimalistic world that features vibrant colours. The colour scheme really works well to create beautiful environments but once you’ve seen some of it, you’ve most likely seen all of it. It eventually feels a bit too similar. Yes, some places repeat themselves – or rather, you encounter them again. Those places may change based on your decisions, so it’s neat to see that happening, but in the end, there is only so much a small studio like DigixArt can do. While I didn’t mind the lack of biomes, I could see how other people could potentially dislike that.
At the same time, the game presents you with minigames at times that don’t influence too many things but they’re fun to do. You may play match-4 or air hockey against a character or answer questions in another but in the end, it’s very hit or miss as to whether or not you may enjoy these comedic or light-hearted events. Given that the game is political, the minigames may disrupt the flow a bit so that you can take your time and breath. At the same time though, they aren’t worth mentioning, I’d say, as they only really present a small fraction of what Road 96 has to offer. One quiz that you take is btw based on an actual test you have to take in North Korea… and otherwise, the game doesn’t pull punches with how on-the-nose it is at times with its references. I found that to be a bit disappointing. More subtlety would have been great, after all. Similarly, the game is beautiful, yes, but at times the animations are getting wonky, the frames may struggle for a bit (even on good PCs) and there are times where you move forward and let go of the stick on your controller – but your character still moves a bit further. These little instances of issues have been somewhat annoying but I didn’t find it too bothersome.
My overall experience with Road 96 has been incredibly positive. I love the idea of a political Road-trip Simulation game even the gameplay-side of things is a bit thin. Overall, I’d argue that this might be the right game for people looking for an Adventure of sorts that puts them on a road and that offers an interesting cast and many dangers along the ride. I enjoyed my time with this game even if I was done already after about eight hours. I’m not sure if the replayability is there in the second playthrough but for the first time, it’s a lot of fun and it can get you invested quite a lot into what’s happening.