Have you ever had a song stuck in your head, one that just won’t go away no matter how hard you try? Well, if you have had the chance to play DigixArt’s latest game Road 96 then you might know what I mean… to be clear I am not talking about the one song that pops up in the game every so often, you know the one, the one you don’t know the words too but sticks in the ear.
Road 96 was initially released on the 16th of August 2021 for the Nintendo Switch and the PC. However, it has recently moved on to the other consoles and is one of the newer releases for Game Pass. As with any game that comes out on Game Pass there is always a bit of trepidation when downloading it. However, we here at the Robot Republic are here to give you the down low on the road trip of a lifetime.
Road 96 takes place in the fictional country of Petria and everything is…not okay. Your country finds itself gripped in the clutches of a tyrannical regime that kidnaps teenagers. Now, normally in this kind of plot, you would be the leader of the uprising hunting down the tyrant's men etc. This is not the case in Road 96, instead, you take control of numerous teenagers making the walk to the border to escape. This trip isn’t an easy one and is full of danger, but the characters you will meet on the way and the choices you make will either help or hamper you.
The game takes place over five episodes and, at the beginning of each one, you pick one of the teenagers to make the trip. Each of these teens comes with a different amount of money and stamina. Once you have chosen your teen your adventure begins. Each trip has you cover the country as your chosen teen tries to reach the border while controlling their funds and their energy. Throughout their journey, they will meet 7 different characters and interact with them in overarching storylines.
These seven characters are the strength of the game and their writing is, generally, fantastic. They range from the ex-leader of the freedom fighters, the host of the nationalist TV show and a psychopathic cab driver. Each one of their stories slowly evolves as the game progresses and they interact with each other and the player. These interactions range from endearing to…downright horrifying. Looking at you cabbie, looking at you.
There is more to this game than just sitting in a car talking to people. In truth, the variety of gameplay is quite staggering. I’ll give the best example I can by recounting my first trip (one that might be a constant in all replays) I started by waking up in a truck and soon had to grab a nail gun to fight off road bandits while advising the driver on romance. After I had been dropped off I passed out and found myself being picked up by the police. When I started my next journey I ended up riding in a limo with the host of the local chat show as we drove through the lines of protesters, then wound up controlling a motorbike as two criminals hunted down a killer.
The plots that are shown through these characters, like the hunting down the killer quest, follow through each playthrough. You’ll learn more about the characters and their interactions and slowly unravel the plots. It should be stated that this isn’t a roguelike, so everything you earn in terms of skills will be transferred to new characters. This arguably makes things easier, and it does take away from some of the danger once you have all the skills and can steal cars with ease. Thankfully, the game knows this is how the end game tends to play out and the interactions work around your chosen mode of transport. You will also be making choices, often in the form of dialogue. These choices will impact the ending you get and how some characters react to you.
There is one weakness with the characters and the writing, but it may be small depending on your mindset. You will meet characters that have a relationship in the world, but your character never really mentions it to them. For instance, you can meet a mother and son on the same trip but can’t use that knowledge to any benefit. It becomes frustrating as your character stands there mutely, but you the player are yelling for the chance to mention it.
Graphically the game makes use of a simplistic cell-shaded design and it looks good for what it is. The character designs aren’t amazing, and they can’t really emote in any way but the plot and the progression make up for it. The game's main strength comes from its plot and the music, especially the music. There are more than just songs, there are tones and melodies that fit with the emotion of the scene. It all blends together to make the adventure feel epic and the emotion all comes rushing forwards.
Road 96 is a niche game, that much is certain. It isn’t really like any game I’ve ever played and it does it all well. There are some faults and some failures, some of the accents certainly miss the mark, but even the missteps are easy to overlook. If you want a game that really isn’t like anything else you ever played, then this is it.
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