Hitchhike your way to freedom in this crazy procedurally generated road trip. No one’s road is the same!
Publisher: Digixart, Ravenscourt
Reviewed on: PC
Also available for: Nintendo Switch
Cast: Adi Alfa, Mikee Goodman, Ryan Highley, Mark Kaczmarek, Mirabelle Kirkland, Angela Leblanc, Christian Starr, Matthew Vanston, Emily Van Bel
Story by: The Whole Team
Creative Director: Yoan Fanise
Producer: Anne-Laure Fanise
Each time you press start in Road 96, you take control of a teenager attempting to escape their country of Petrie. They’re 1000+ miles from the border, and through decisions you make, what you say, and how you present their viewpoint politically, you may or may not be able to get them to the border, let alone safely cross it. If you fail, halfway to the wall, or at the edge, you’ll press start again and attempt a similar journey in the body of another teen. Petrie may not be America specifically, but the language, political unrest, and social commentary can not hide the most prominent influence.
The characters you play have little character or story outside of their one goal: cross the border. From a first-person perspective, you never see them and other characters never treat you differently depending on your age or gender. However, you can play each of these teenagers differently, although I don’t understand why you would. The game’s politics is very obvious and boils down to a simplicity of good vs evil, which is a very middle-school way to talk about any real-world country’s politics — it’s never so simple. But for this game, and for developer Digixart to land their thematic concept, it works.
Why these teenagers want to escape Petrie is never fully explained. This is possibly so you have the option to align with the President if you’d like, but again, I don’t know why you’d do that unless you’re a sadist. There’s an undeniable bad side of the narrative to be on.
Each time you play Road 96, you’ll encounter 5-6 events that will be randomly selected for your game although pre-determined scenarios. Which is to say, although my game began with the character I was playing sitting in the passenger seat of a bike with two bumbling criminals, your game could start with you in the back seat of a taxi or breaking down on the side of a road.
Stan & Mitch, the two mask-wearing friendly neighbourhood criminals that greeted me in my first run of Road 96, are just two of the game’s core eight characters you’ll be spending your time with learning about and interacting with when you begin a cross-country journey. They’re bumbling brothers with a desire to make it as famous big-time criminals, and their political ideology and place within Road 96 is one of the hardest to unravel. But as you play, each time you come across them, you’ll be able to learn a little more about them. The same is true for the rest of the game’s characters, which are the main reason to play Road 96. There’s a sweet-heart trucker, John; Fanny, a Police Officer, stuck between family and duty; Sonya, a very Fox News inspired reporter, a runaway teen named Zoe, a young tech genius Alex, and Jarod, a creepy taxi driver.
In one of my earlier journeys, I met Zoe and discussed life with her over a campfire. She wants to escape across the border as my character did, but she didn’t sound like she hadn’t any reason to care or want to help fight with the resistance. In my subsequent encounter, she ran into some trouble with the police, and with some pushing, she lashes out, leading her to take a more considerable interest in helping those in need.
As you finish any, scene shall we call them? You’ll notice the loading screen has a percentage completion for each of the game’s core characters, which represents how much of their story you’ve seen. Zoe’s was the first character’s story I completed, and where she left off made perfect sense for her character — well, at least in my game — but even after finishing the game, I still have a couple of characters in the high seventy percent. So, there is reason to go back and see their full stories through to the finish line. The interactions with these characters are the most exciting part of Road 96, and I don’t want to spoil their secrets, but there’s more than meets the eye of most of them.
If you make your way to the border, you’ll have several options and ways to escape, with some being more likely for you to succeed. If you want to pay a guide to help you reach the other side, you’ll need to have saved or found a lot of money during your trip prior. If you want to attempt to climb the mountain over to the other side of the wall, you’ll need to have paced your trip, found adequate food and contain the stamina for such a trip. Each failed trip doesn’t rewind time either, and your choices with one character will affect those around you and, potentially, the choices of characters who are aware of your past character. In one escape attempt, I was shot just a mere metre from the other side, and it became a hot talking point for teens in my next playthrough. Who caused the death? Was it the authoritarian President, Tyrak, or the uprising of rebel fighters pushing for a new candidate, Flores?