Road 96 is one of the most beautifully crafted games I ever experienced, and it’s a game that shouldn’t be passed up by anyone.
Road 96 came out in August on PC and April for PS5, but it totally passed me by for the longest time. When I finally got my hands on the game, I couldn’t put it down. The way the story is crafted combined with a very likable cast is breathtaking in so many ways.
Platforms: PCs, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation (reviewed on PS5), and Xbox
Release Date: August 2021 PC, April 2022 for PlayStation
Road 96 takes place over several episodes between characters. Each episode begins with you selecting a “missing teen” who will have various amounts of money, stamina, and also be a certain distance from the destination. The goal is to take the teenager past Road 96 to freedom, but there are many obstacles along the way and your decisions alter the route dramatically.
The story itself takes place as teenagers are wanting to cross Road 96 to get to freedom. Meanwhile a tyrannical government is trying to keep them within the country and any caught trying to leave are sent to camps. There is a clear divide between the two parties running, and overall a very good message for political reasoning. I have to point out the game takes place in the 90s and is made by French developers, so this is an overall political message. It doesn’t really push aside any one party, it just has a clear message to go vote and be heard, or “fight for change” aspect to it. Which I found really cool.
If your character runs out of stamina you will pass out on the trip and be arrested, only to be sent away to a camp and the story will end for that character. Having money assists your journey greatly by making some shortcuts available. Money also makes getting assistance from other characters easier; plus food/drinks to purchase are helpful as well. This is a rather neat perk because if you don’t spend your time getting a job, or lose your money gambling, then you may be simply locked out of some aspects of the trip.
Along the way you will meet several characters ranging all across the spectrum of stories. Some characters are super friendly, others not so friendly, and others might backstab you when you help them out. It’s a careful trek you need to make as every line of dialogue has an effect on the story and your trip. Some lines of dialogue are blunt and have a direct impact on the overall story, but most lines of dialogue will only affect the specific playthrough you’re on.
This is what I found the most interesting aspect in the game. The overall game is a point and click styled adventure. Most of these games have a simple circle around where if you make the “wrong choice” eventually you’re led right back to the same road. With Road 96 you can literally veer off the intended path on accident and abruptly end several chapters early. What’s neat is the further along you go in the game, the more danger you realize these characters are in.
For example, early in the game my first character met a Taxi Cab driver. While the music was eerie, I didn’t really think much would happen. I ran through that part, but then a second character came up to him and I learned….well…. He murders teenagers. I had no idea I was in legitimate danger the first play through until a second character ended up dying. This meant when I came across him with a 3rd character I was extremely frightened that if I said the wrong things he would kill that character too. I was extra careful because at this point I had built up a lot of cash and stamina to get my character through to the end, so I didn’t want to lose any of it.
This is what I found so compelling with the game. There are areas where legitimate danger is present. The more you play the more you learn about these characters, so you start to get a sense of “I don’t want to be here.” You become very careful to choose words wisely, and simple tasks become rather stressful. Do I want to do that? No. But will it keep me alive? Yes. I mean, at one point late in the game (for me) I had a character doing extremely well and I came up to a hotel with the taxi cab parked in front of it. My first thought right away was “oh shit!” because of the experience I’d had with other characters.
To make it even more interesting is the fact that no person will play the game the same at all. Each character you choose takes different routes to Road 96, and there are only a few “key moments” in the game that will play out regardless. Everything else is up to you to discover, and so many things are easily missed if you don’t pay attention. Opening up characters’ back stories and exploring the world is important, so it’s important to replay the game to see if you can get some more details.
Much as I enjoyed the story and its message(s), I felt the undertones are kind of the weakest aspect of the game. The overall arching story of a totalitarian government is kind of pushed aside for each individual story of survival. Because of that the bigger plot arch kind of stretches thin.
Why is the current leader so bad? We don’t know. And the game constantly tells you this person is winning votes (unless you do some key movements) yet almost every adult you meet in the game doesn’t like him. There is some questioning if the secondary leader will be just as bad, but with certain endings the winner turns out to just be an angel and abolishes everything with an almost completely happy ending.
The game could have dove deeper into this to give the primary “bad guy” thoughtful reasoning, or human-like nature, to make you question which side to pick. Instead it simply is bad guy is bad, good guy is good.
The good news is that the overall story plays a backseat to the individual stories of the characters on this journey. Every character feels like they go on a unique adventure, and everything you do plays a part in their stories. These smaller stories really help connect with the gameplay and keep you interested right through to the end. It also makes certain easy decisions become complicated. For example a character that has to choose freedom, or to return and help another character, this decision might be easy based on how you played up to this point, or really hard on certain things you know.
While the overall game is a simple choose your dialogue adventure, there are several key moments with action sequences or mini-games that you come across too. While these games are pretty fun, they can also happen in really tense moments. Like trying to win a game of air hockey so you can impress a character and the score comes down to the very last goal.
Visuals are also a really bright spot of the game. The game’s visuals are not super high tech, ultra realistic, graphics. Instead the character models are more like a generation old sims game, and that isn’t a bad thing. The art style makes up for it because they didn’t try to make it look realistic, and instead the world has this older game art style to it. I enjoyed looking at everything and discovering the world, and the art style itself played really well into the 90s theme of the game. I also feel like by not spending so much time filling in small little details everywhere the team was able to spend a lot more time on the routes of characters and the story itself.
Lending to the overall presentation is the absolutely amazing soundtrack in the game. Every character has a song that plays when they are in an area, and I found that neat. The overall theme song for the game really draws you in as well and pairs nicely with the story. Every song is crafted so well to bring out a specific mood of whatever is happening, or what could potentially happen, and adds a totally new layer to the characters story. It’s one of the few games where I searched out the soundtrack and added it to my library.