|Platforms||Switch (reviewed), PC|
|Release Date||August 16th, 2021|
Road 96 was revealed earlier this year in a Nintendo Direct and stood out as an adventure game with randomly generated storylines and a unique experience each playthrough. Having spent the last couple of weeks with the game, I can say with certainty that it’s one of the best indie games to come out on Switch in a while, and it freshens up the adventure genre in new and exciting ways.
Violence: There is violence, but most happens off screen in a cut away to the next scene or a fade to black as you hit someone over the head. There are action sequences with some first-person shooting involving nail guns, but no blood or gore to be found.
Language: What you’d expect from a T-rated game. No F bombs, but lighter expletives like s**t or d**n.
Drug Use: Some characters smoke cigars and cigarettes, and there are a few scenes with alcohol and even the ability to drink some yourself
Sexuality: Hardly any; some characters are slightly sexualized, but as the game is rated Teen there isn’t really much beyond a slightly tight-fitting but flattering dress on a specific character.
Spirituality: There isn’t much mention of religion—surprisingly, considering the themes and story of the game—but at the same time there is no criticism of it either.
Road 96 is set in the fictional country of Petria, which is rife with political unrest and in the middle of a contentious election. The incumbent Tyrak and his tyrannical regime have the people living squalor and the media—led by TV personality Sonya, one of eight main characters players will encounter in each unique playthrough—acts as the propaganda arm for the government. With the regime challenged by hopeful new candidate Torres, the country is on the brink of collapse as teenagers keep disappearing after a devastating terrorist attack by rebel group, The Brigades.
Players take on the role of one of three randomly generated teens trying to reach the border of Petria and reach Road 96. To make each chapter unique, players will encounter a diverse and quirky cast of characters and engage in a plethora of activities to aide in their journey. There are four unique means of escape, and more can be unlocked by completing each of the eight main characters’ stories which are spread across multiple chapters and playthroughs.
With each new character that the player meets, they can choose dialog options to inspire anarchy, voting for Torres, or voting for Tyrak to continue his reign of terror in Petria. This acts as a light morality system, though there is not much payoff regardless of each choice. Likewise, characters encountered on each journey don’t recall some events from previous playthroughs, and players choose a new teen for each chapter. Chapters are completed by escaping Petria or dying along the way.
By default, there are about four different ways to progress throughout the journey. Hitchhiking allows anyone to pick up the player, and a dialog encounter or random chase sequence will occur, with each offering a different gameplay experience. Bus stops will take players further along the road but don’t really offer any cool experiences. Cars can also be stolen so players can drive to their destination if they find the appropriate set of keys at their current location. Lastly, a mysterious stranger can be called pick you up in a taxi and take you to the next stop along your route. Walking is also possible, but each method depletes the player’s stamina, which can be replenished by resting or eating food.
Each new playthrough will also randomly drop the player at one of several locations along the highway. For example, my most recent teen started his journey outside of a diner. After exploring around for a bit and chatting up the patrons, I ordered some food. It wasn’t long before the diner got robbed by two colorful and zany robbers who were also Sonya’s biggest fans. They gave me the option to help them rob the place, and once I did they gave me a cut of the loot and disappeared into the night. From there, I caught a bus to my next stop and continued on my journey. All in all, each playthrough probably takes about an hour, and they’re split up between chapters with story sequences in between. There are six chapters total, after which player choices and decisions will be factored in to the ending and the results of the country’s election will be revealed, determining the ultimate fate of Petria and its remaining inhabitants.
Road 96 feels a bit like Firewatch with procedural elements that freshen up each “run” to the border. A diverse and interesting cast of characters, each with their own reasons for wanting to escape the country, come together for what is a fun, somber, and unique exploration of the life of a normal teenager trying to escape a tyrannical regime.
The Bottom Line
Road 96 delivers unique and interesting stories with each randomly generated story it creates.