Take a road trip through the desolate countryside of a dystopian nation as you lead several teens in risking their lives for a chance at a new one.
Release date: 16 August, 2021
Adventure games have never been one size fits all. While some have you collecting items with the classic point n’ click gameplay, others are more heavily narrative with less manual control throughout. No matter the style though, it’s the story that drives the experiences found within this genre forward and determined whether each title will be talked about for years after its release or flop so hard that it’s forgotten within a week.
Road 96 succeeds in providing an interesting tale spun within a fairly unique setting. The few flaws that it has tend to come not with the territory the game itself covers, but with the expectations that have been established for some beforehand.
A Variety Pack of Adventures
Road 96 takes place in a faux-republic ruled over by an authoritarian leader. Though many have been pacified by this government’s harsh tactics, two groups stand out for their resistance: the revolutionary Black Brigades and the idealistic teens. This may come as a disappointment to some, but you’ll be playing as the latter.
What stands out the most in Road 96 is that you take on the role of seven teens who are road tripping to the border to escape the nation. These teens are nameless and faceless and all that differentiates them at the start of their stories is their distance to the border, the money in their pocket, and how much energy they have left to make the journey. You’re in control of their dialogue and defining what their goals and values may or may not be. Depending on your choices, some of these stories are likely to end in tragedy, so be prepared for that.
This title tells its story through your teens’ interactions with the colorful cast of characters. Each character shows up plenty of times throughout your seven stories and by the end, you’ll understand them as well as if you were playing them yourself. Whether it’s the faux news talk show host, the mentally unstable cab driver, or the goofy bank-robbing duo, their stories are revealed through the eyes of your characters as you encounter them. I enjoyed my run-ins with just about every character and the scenes through ranged from light-hearted to surprisingly dark. I’ll never forget where I literally helped to hide a dead body from the law.
A Road Trip All Your Own… Sort of
Road 96 plays out in independent scenes that begin with you arriving at a location and end with you choosing how to leave it. The peanut butter and jelly between those slices of bread tends to be a localized plot that ties in with the greater narrative with events that give you plenty of options, though most lead you to the same place. Some have an impact though, like the time I was shot and killed by my cab driver, or the other time when I was shot and killed sneaking through border security.
While the story unfolds, your characters’ own fates are determined by a few big choices as well as, strangely, your energy. Though a single bad choice can lead to your capture or murder, your long road trip requires that you maintain your energy levels by eating, drinking, and resting. These are most easily managed when you have money as sleeping in motels, buying food from vending machines, and traveling via taxi cab will strain you far less than sleeping on the ground, scavenging for rotten food, and walking long distances in the desert sun. This is the primary gameplay element of your stories, though a surprising variety of one-off mini-games spice things up as well.
Road 96 is one of the better adventure games that I’ve played in a while and it’s certainly one of the more unique. Its story is told as you travel from varying starting points in the nation to the border and it’s one that runs the gamut of emotions like any meaningful story should. Though it may not be as open-ended as is hinted at on occasion, it’s a choices matter-lite where you may not drastically alter the overall events of the story, but you can drastically alter the fate of the teen that you are currently playing as. If you’re into adventure games that focus on story and character development, you can’t go wrong with Road 96. I’d caution you against getting your hopes up for having a truly unique or challenging experience as you play through it though. If you sit back and enjoy the ride for what it is, you’ll have a good time.