Date: April 14, 2022
With Road 96, Digixart set out to create a procedural road trip game, in which you can have an unpredictable journey, while also making choices along the way that will influence the larger story. The result is a game that, while not perfect, does a good job of telling a compelling story; and manages to do something new in the world of gaming.
Story and Setting
In Road 96, you play as several faceless, nameless, and silent teenagers over the course of a few playthroughs. Your goal with these teens is to escape the fictional nation of Petria (which has a totalitarian government), by making it to the border on Road 96. You can either successfully cross the border, get caught, or even die in your attempt. Once any of these results happen, you will be given a choice to pick one of three new teens to begin their road trip.
While this is happening, there is a larger story taking place, involving the leadership of Petria, and whether or not the nation will change during the next election. While making your way down the road, you can make several choices that will affect both your journey to the border and the game’s ending. Each teenager’s journey is a chapter of the game, slowly building up to election day when all your choices come to fruition.
On your journey, you will run into seven major characters. You will encounter these characters randomly, and each time you encounter them, you will learn more about them, and discover connections that these characters have to each other. However, while the specific times you meet these characters are random, the major parts of their story will play out the same regardless, taking away from the procedural concept of the games somewhat. Luckily, the characters are interesting enough that this isn’t a huge issue, and I found myself wanting to meet with these characters again to learn more about them.
Overall, the story of the game is surprisingly charming most of the time, given the premise is to escape a totalitarian nation in a potential life or death situation. It’s a lot of fun seeing how each road trip plays out, as there’s no way to tell exactly what’s going to happen next. Road 96 will throw some very serious and dark moments in as well, and the tonal shift feels appropriate for the situation when it happens. One of the most interesting things in the game is hearing about something that happened to a previous teen on your current journey.
The gameplay is pretty basic, but this isn’t a game genre that needs to have complex mechanics. As far as controls go, you mainly just walk or sprint around and interact with things. There are two main types of segments you will encounter throughout Road 96: ones where you will walk around an area and have to accomplish some kind of task – often involving NPCs and minigames – before you can continue. The other segments involve just sitting in a vehicle having a conversation with the person you’re riding with.
The gamplay’s biggest draw is the many choices you can make. In every interaction you have, you will have dialogue options to choose from. These choices have a wide variety of effects, from simply affecting the direction the conversation goes, to influencing which ending you will get. You will know which choices influence the ending, as they will have one of three symbols next to them.
The way you make these choices is by hovering the cursor over which choice you want to make and confirming. For the most part, this is fine, but there are some segments in the game where the choices move rapidly (because the character you’re talking to is moving), making it very easy to accidentally make a choice that you didn’t want to make. Luckily, this doesn’t happen very often, but it could be pretty annoying when it does.
Almost every segment of the game you play through will feature some sort of quick minigame. There’s a wide variety of these you will see, ranging from playing ‘pwong’ against a character, to chasing down a car while avoiding traffic. None of these games are particularly difficult, but successfully keep you engaged with what’s happening at the moment. The minigames are all fun, and keep the game from feeling stale or repetitive. Surprisingly, the minigames that involve you shooting something even take advantage of the PS5’s adaptive triggers.
There are two things for you to keep track of while you’re on your journey: stamina and money. Your stamina will determine how much physical activity your character can do, while having money will allow you to buy items or ride taxis and buses. After every segment, you can choose multiple ways to continue your travels. Some will be free, but require more stamina (like walking), or some will cost less stamina, but you will have to pay (like taking a bus). You have to make sure you have a good balance of both resources left when you finally reach the border, otherwise you will have a harder time in being able to cross.
As you interact with the seven major characters in the game, eventually you will gain perks that will open up more options for you. These range from being able to hack into certain electronics to having a higher cap for your stamina. These perks carry over to every new teen that you play as, so the closer you get to election day, the more options you will have to escape and influence the ending.
Longevity and Replayability
Road 96 is not a very long game. Each teenager’s journey will take around an hour to complete, and completing a full game will take around 6-8 hours. However, this game has plenty of replayability. The procedural nature of this game encourages multiple playthroughs, allowing you to have a completely different experience every time, and allowing you to make different choices to see how things play out. There is also the option of a New Game+ once you finish the game’s story, allowing you to begin a new game with all the perks you’ve unlocked. This will open up many options that were previously unavailable on your initial journey.
The game also encourages some light exploring. Throughout the game, you’re able to find collectibles in the form of cassette tapes. These tapes can then be played in car radios or boomboxes that you find in various segments. You can also find extra money or free food, which will help make your trip easier.
Road 96 is a very enjoyable game, with its random and choice-based nature allowing every playthrough to be unique. The colorful main characters you interact with help keep the game engaging, as you get to learn more about them and see how your choices will affect them. A narrative game like this may not be for everyone, however, but I would recommend giving this game a try if you have an interest in being able to shape your story.