Road 96 Review
THIS. GAME. IS. A. MUST. TRY.
Road 96 has been one of my most anticipated games to play in 2022, and ever since I saw it on Steam. When I found out that it was being released for the PS5 I made sure to snag a copy of it as soon as I could. Road 96 is one of those few indie games that get pushed out to be mainstream and somehow still manage to bring up emotions and thoughts about reality from that mirrored screen. Everything this game has to offer can be a pro point towards trying it out, and any indie fan will find it to be charming and thrilling. Of course, mild spoilers ahead.
Let me begin by bringing up what this game is even about. You would think with a name like Road 96, this would be a game about driving, maybe some southern/western adventure, or even a zombie game. This game is actually a choose-your-own-adventure that takes you from places all along the northern United States or assumed to be, renamed Petria. You find yourself as a teenager in a world where teens are being persecuted by a corrupt and unjust government during the election, and the only way to escape is north on Road 96. Yet, some teens choose to fight against corruption and begin a movement that could turn the tides of the way teens are perceived. The game takes you on several scenarios, making death essential to the progression of the game, meeting interesting and colorful characters that in their own way touch the lives of those around them and make huge changes to the long empty miles of desert and forest. You can choose to be a pacifist, and side with the democracy and system; you can side with the revolt and fight the system; or you can be indifferent, choose no side, and float through the world indifferent to what others do around you.
The game is filled with long winding landscapes, forgotten and demolished buildings, and a cozy car ride through the arid landscapes of an American Midwest desert. There are moments of peace and moments of thrills. There are quick action responses and some require thinking through potential fate changers. While playing I found myself holding my breath countless times and growing to hate characters for the way they responded to the world around them. I came to wish that those searching for more got their chance and tried my hardest to give them the opportunity when I had it. I wanted to get in my Prius and drive thousands of miles out into the middle of nowhere and maybe find someone who reminded me of the many faces I had grown to appreciate. John and Alex, whose stories intertwined by tragedy, gave me plenty of laughs; Zoe, a wildfire-hearted teen, made me want to join the revolt and fight for a bigger cause; The robbers, made me crave danger and adventure; And the taxi driver made me want to never leave my house (definitely too many late night true crime documentaries). These are just some of the many characters whose stories you can unlock and I, unfortunately, did not completely learn about their stories let alone earn their trust but I know that with a game like this, with such excellent replay value, I’m not too far from achieving this. There was one moment and keep in mind reader of the mild spoilers, where you get into a serious car accident after being arrested by Fanny with a teen on the run. I thought that there was no winning, I was done for, and that I would have to start again with another playable character, but then the tides changed and for a brief moment I thought I saw a change in Fanny. I thought that maybe she would revolt against the police and the government, I thought she would fight alongside her son and John and maybe the story would take a wild turn, but then nothing. Nothing happened and even though deep in my heart I wanted to be disappointed, I wasn’t. I knew that Fanny was just doing what she needed to and I continued to play, rooting for her along the way.
Now reader, let me get into the negatives. This wouldn’t be an honest hobbit review if I didn’t talk about the cons too. Even though the style of graphics for this game is phenomenal, I did notice it was a bit glitchy, especially towards the end of the game (which in itself is a whole topic of conversation that I’ll get into later on in this review). The characters are very stagnant and rigid which, even though it adds to the charm, can get a bit old after a while. I can’t help but wonder if the game was updated or patched or even remastered, even though it’s a new game having only been released on the PS5 in April of 2022 and officially in 2021, it would have a stronger emotional impact on the player. The topics mentioned in this game, whether it be family or love or politics, are HUGE in the world today and even if ignorance can be fought in the smallest way, this game would be one to bring forth the conversation. Another issue I had, more a personal one since being a completionist while gaming is a major flaw of mine, is that I can’t help but wonder if choosing certain teens at certain points of the game affect the gameplay that much? I do plan on playing this game a few more times, test the waters you might even say, but I don’t see how it would be relevant being that how are you supposed to know before completing it once where and when a certain teen or distance of start point could be useful. Would the major events and interactions also change in the timeline of how the game is played? Would the inevitable outcome of Petria remain the same? But most importantly, is there somewhere I can get the soundtrack for this game to listen to it on repeat while I drive to work and contemplate all my life decisions?
Road 96, though rudimentary and new, is a breath of fresh air in a year of games that seem to focus too hard on competing with its predecessor. This game makes me want to replay it, it makes me want to live life outside of the tv screen but also works through as many scenarios as possible. I want to keep pushing the boundaries of this world and worst of all I want to know more about this world and how it became what it did. This game is not set up for a sequel but goodness knows that Digixart has the eyes of the indie community on them with anticipation in any other projects they push through. I, reader, give this game a 4 out of 5 mushroom caps. Even with graphical issues, and any other cons mentioned in this review, Road 96 gives a great escape during a time of uncertainty and conflict. Even with it being out for a while across several consoles, this game is great for a casual gamer looking for a cozy holiday night in. In the end, we all just want to hear John call us “youngblood” one last time.