Road 96 PC Review

The journey to Road 96 is filled with bumps, detours, and tedium.

By Fragnarok, Posted 16 Aug 2021

Road 96 is a first-person political narrative game from Digixart. In the westernized country of Petria, a presidential election is approaching in just over three months. The two main candidates are the incumbent and conservative Tyrak and the more progressive Florres. In addition, the planned election date of September 1996 marks the tenth anniversary of a devastating terrorist attack on Petria’s soil. Players take control of not just one, but a whole myriad of disillusioned faceless teens hoping to make it across the border and out of Petria before chaos ensues. Who from this group of younglings makes it and which fail along the trek will depend on a mix of player choices and random chances.
 

Road 96|Digiart|Omen|Politics
 

The game opens with a series of questions regarding the player’s preference for road trips, films, and political viewpoints. Characters are then given a random gender and aesthetic of different multicolor avatars. From there, an opening scenario is selected from various possibilities. Players may find themselves in the company of a few potential companion encounters: fellow teen runaway Zoe, rebel leader John, child prodigy Alex, highway police officer Fanny, bandits Mitch and Stan, television news reporter Sonya, or taxi driver Jarod. It is also possible to be fully solo and run into either generic characters or meet a few main personalities based on actions.

Players will watch story segments detailing characters or the history of Petria, some with various dialogue options that may impact where players wind up next. In most cases, different main characters will want to engage in some kind of mini-game or activity. This may include air hockey, connect four, soccer, shell game, a rhythm game via playing their trombone, or more. Other times the task may be more laborious like mining, hot pursuit car chases, passcode input, or map navigation. Results are rather inconsistent; failing in these objectives may lead to alternate dialogue, different paths, or complete road blockers until they are finally won. Towards the end of a particular scene, a final major choice may affect a story's character or political sentiment.
 

Road 96|Digiart|Omen|Politics
 

While traversing Petria, players will need to manage their energy and conserve money. This can include sleeping, eating, stealing, and performing odd jobs. Players will even have chances to gamble in certain locations, which immediately grant more cash even if it narratively makes little sense (such as finding a winning lotto ticket in the middle of nowhere). There are also instances of dialogue choices yielding free items or unexpected losses. If a player does pass out, it could lead to surprise outcomes like arrest or death.

Even if one manages to escape Petria, it isn’t a typical ending. Players will be informed that something tragic happened to that previous teen, and will now have the option of selecting another randomly generated protagonist aiming to leave before the election as a new “episode”. Only by playing enough episodes totally 90 in-game days will there be a conclusion. Even though this new character doesn’t retain the same money and inventory, they will still have any unlocked traits from their last adventures. This may include hacking skills, extra energy, political ties, and more that can be used during different scenarios.
 

Road 96|Digiart|Omen|Politics
 

It’s in these second, third, and beyond play-throughs where Road 96 starts to show its flaws. Many of the same locations can appear all over the world map, making lots of geographical impossibilities. It also becomes very confusing why characters are zigzagging all across the country in a matter of days or sometimes hours. Because story segments are non-linear, each player will have a different perspective on characters interacting. For instance, one might encounter an altercation between Mitch and Jarod while already having a bias on which party to trust (or both might be complete strangers who haven’t yet established a connection), but the scene will maintain only a single narrative tone.

There can also be story beats that are immediately contradictory when they are generated from a batch. An example includes Alex warning players of danger, only for one to willfully waltz right into it as the random follow-up scenario. Additionally, each protagonist does not share universal knowledge. This can lead to frustrating times where players know the dirt on someone like John or Sonya, but can’t reveal it due to gaining the information on a past teen.
 

Road 96|Digiart|Omen|Politics
 

The country of Petria is clearly inspired by The United States and its political climate over the last 20 years. Road 96 does nothing to onboard players, with the assumption that they are already fully versed in Americana. This can make a lot of Road 96 feel alien to non-United States citizens as cultural norms, national laws, and social-political systems are never explained. Even native English speakers from other countries like The United Kingdom, Australia, Singapore, and more may be baffled at the jargon and slang littered into the writing, especially from younger characters like Alex and Zoe.

Road 96 does have some graphical bugs, such as poor weather effects and jittering lighting. There are also strange times where the camera will snap or whip around after dialogue choices, which can be very disorientated as dialogue boxes float dynamically around characters, not in a static heads-up display; players who want to explore and take in the view might not even know there are available prompts. Road 96 is very keen on showcasing its soundtrack, which may drown out more important sound effects and voice lines if the default settings are not tweaked. Finally, the game aggressively uses invisible walls to keep players railroaded towards the next dialogue choice despite the seemingly vast open road.
 

Road 96|Digiart|Omen|Politics
 

Players looking to complete the game’s presented objective of leaving Petria will find Road 96 an extremely short and inconclusive experience. Only by playing through multiple episodes and attempting to reach the final election date will one unravel the entire plot. However, this may lead to a lot of repetitive actions without much underlining substance.

Kurtis Seid, NoobFeed
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General Information

Road 96

65/100

Platform(s): Switch, PC
Publisher(s): Digixart
Developer(s): Digixart
Genres: Cinematic
Themes: Politics, First Person, Narrative, Teenagers
Release Date: 2021-08-16

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