Road 96 is a story-driven adventure game following in the footsteps of games such as the Life Is Strange games with tis similar gameplay and style. Focus is on conversations and making the right choices along the way. Every decision made by the player affects the story and the outcome.
The game is set in the fictional country of Petria which is ruled by a dictator named Tyrak. In the story, the elections are set to be in a couple of months and the resistance is growing stronger day by day. The country has a problem of teens going missing, which is because they are trying to flee the country to live a better life without the tyranny. Many teens lose their lives trying to cross the border, some make it across. The player takes control of a teen trying to make their way to the border. The journey starts from thousands of kilometres to the border, and it is to the player to choose how they want to travel through the country: either by foot, hitchhiking, taking the bus, or calling a cab. Going by foot depletes the energy meter the most, whereas a cab costs the most money. The energy meter is one of the most crucial elements of the game as exhausting actions deplete it whereas eating, drinking, or sleeping increase the amount of energy. When finally crossing the border, the amount of energy might be a deciding factor whether the person makes it across or not.
The story spans across several episodes, each of them focusing on a different teen’s journey. An episode ends when one teen’s story in the country comes to an end. The player does not get to know the character they are playing as much at all, but they do meet several reoccurring characters throughout all the teens’ journeys: Alex is a 14-year-old computer genius looking for his biological parents, and Jarod is a mysterious and creepy killer going after a journalist known for her pro-dictator views. Every playable character meets most of these people although in different scenarios. The game randomly selects the next sequence based on the players method of transportation and earlier choices. These small often 10-minute chapters come together to form a coherent yet complex story. The gameplay combines the known multi-choice decision-making technique with several mini games, which keep the gameplay interesting throughout the story and repetitiveness is not an issue in an otherwise simple genre gameplaywise. A special shout-out belongs to the soundtrack, combining indie pop with synthwave and a cinematic soundscape, which all beautifully complement the story and the visuals of Road 96.
Road 96 is political, very political. The main goal of the game is not only to flee the country, but to take sides on whether to help the resistance or help the dictator win the election. The gameplay leans towards the resistance being the good guys, and although the player can make decisions to go against them, supporting the dictator is mostly about being silent and passive. Sometimes the political messages are way too loosely connected to the dialogue and come across as superimposed. The political approach of the game might be as relevant as it has ever been with a dictator running a country silencing people disagreeing with them, and even coming to power through making a fictional enemy for the country. Calling for political activism is a strong message to the world and countries living in tyranny. Some elements are directly connected to the US political climate with the two-party system in place with the blue candidate being the moderate and red the dictator (the main parties in the US using the same colours), and media channels trying to affect the election result and skewing the narrative to fit their agenda.
Road 96 is one of the most inventive and important stories of the 2020s gaming industry. Combining comedy with wholesome moments and even tragic destinies, the story is incredibly immersive and gripping. The political activism as a game theme makes the player question their own values and role in the society. If one is not afraid to take a stance, and make drastic, even life-or-death decisions, Road 96 is a must-play for fans of story-driven games.
Publisher: DigixArt Entertainment SAS
Developer DigixArt Entertainment SAS
Platforms: Windows (reviewed), Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Windows Apps, Xbox One / Series
Release Date: 16.8.2021
Images are screenshots, taken by the author
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