Road 96 encapsulates the feeling of youth and a desire to bring about societal change brilliantly, and its migration to home consoles is flawless.
A lot of video games try to capture a sense of revolution, from the likes of Homefront through to the Red Faction series. However, it’s fair to say that although some manage to showcase the end actions of revolution, very few are able to portray the day-to-day society that leads up to that point. This is something that Road 96 from developer DigixArt is able to do excellently, and the title is now being released for further platforms than its initial PC and Nintendo Switch launch.
Road 96 is set in the fictional totalitarian state of Petria in 1996. The authoritarian regime is grasping onto power in spite of protests and the behind-the-scenes machinations of a group of freedom fighters, while at the same time there is an epidemic of teen disappearances that the government knows more about than they ever let on to the public. This is where the player comes in, picking up the journeys of multiple teens as they try to get to the border and escape into freedom.
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The gameplay itself is split into different procedurally generated journeys to the border. In their travels, the player will need to keep an eye on their character’s health bar and the amount of money they can get their hands on over the course of the road trip, as well as picking up vital skills and items along the way such as lockpicking or credit cards. The player will have a choice of how they want to travel, from hitchhiking to hiring a cab, and end up in a random event after each bit of travel where they can learn more about Petria and its struggles.
This leaves Road 96 in a unique position as a cross between The Oregon Trail and Beat literature like Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. The game is all about the road trip itself, as the various teens remove themselves from the previous structures of their lives and try, for a brief moment, to find both a moment of freedom and a hope for the future. Road 96 encapsulates that sense of teenage rebellion extremely well, and meeting other would-be escapees along the way helps the player feel like part of a much wider movement.
The procedurally generated structure of Road 96 really helps in this regard. The player never knows exactly what is around the corner for them and what events are about to unfold, making the game feel exciting, spontaneous, and at times dangerous. Perhaps the player will end up at a campsite and talk about the bright hopes of the future with a fellow teen, or maybe they will take a cab journey with a driver who very clearly has someone in the boot of their car.
It’s these non-playable characters that really help cement Road 96’s world. There is a cast of figures who will reappear throughout the game on different journeys, and help the player explore the reality of the totalitarian state they live in, those who help to prop it up, and those who are fighting against it. There’s some great variety to be found here too, from the satirical angle of state TV reporter Sonya and the slapstick comedy of criminal duo Stan and Mitch, through to the heartfelt, kind-hearted revolutionary John and the journey of fellow teen Zoe.
It’s these moments where Road 96 is at its best, giving the player the chance to both explore small areas of the world like festivals and motels while interacting with these odd characters. There are more bombastic moments too, which are a bit of a mixed bag. The final sections of each journey, when the player tries to cross the border, can have a sense of speed and urgency that works extremely well, but some of the bits along the way are less enjoyable, such as taking part in high-speed chases on the road.
Thankfully these moments are few and far between, and overall Road 96 is fantastic. It certainly helps that the game is such a joy to look at, with cartoonish, exaggerated character models, varied locales that tap into the idea of the road trip, and natural sections that bring to mind Firewatch. Meanwhile, there is a fantastic soundtrack that propels the game along, giving the player the opportunity to collect tapes along the way to add to their audio collection.
As such, Road 96 is incredible. It was an indie hit on its release for PC and Switch last year, and that success has easily converted over to other home console platforms. This is a fascinating, compelling, and immensely replayable experience that is certainly worth exploring.
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Road 96 is out now for PC and Nintendo Switch, and releases today for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. Screen Rant was provided with a PS5 download code for the purposes of this review.
4.5 out of 5 (Must-Play)
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About The Author
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Rob Gordon is a writer and musician from Brighton, United Kingdom. A Creative Writing Masters graduate from the University of Exeter, Rob has his roots in fiction writing but also has extensive experience writing about video games and the video game industry. As well as this, Rob is at home with a focus on film and television, particularly when it comes to the realms of horror. Alongside his writing, Rob plays in two UK-based musical acts, the electro-pop band Palomino Club and rock band Titans & Kings, and also lends his vocal talents to the Big Boys Don’t Cry podcast, which reviews and discusses romantic comedies. The bands and the podcast can be found on all good digital distribution platforms, and Rob can also be found on Twitter.
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