It’s often said “it’s not so much about the destination that counts, but it’s the journey getting there” and in Road 96 that is very much the case. The latest game from French studio DigixArt – the team behind titles like Valiant Hearts: The Great War and 11-11: Memories Retold – is half epic road trip, half coming of age tale as you fill the high-tops of a number of teenagers who are hitchhiking whilst attempting to flee from the nation of Petria. This is a sort of twisted look at the South Central region of the U.S. which is being ruled by a tyrannical dictatorship, though while you trying to escape the country, there is an upcoming election which you can influence in different ways.
On your journey you’ll meet a cast of colourful characters through procedurally generated interactions. Ranging from a fellow runaway teen, a big rig driver and a highway cop – each of them has their own tale to tell with plenty of baggage to unload over your multiple play throughs. Road 96 is far from a one and done title because if you want to get the most from the tale and get to the bottom of what’s happening, you’ll have to make the trip with a good five or six teens bidding for freedom. On top of all of this there is a tale threaded through the core that not only overhangs the game as a whole, but includes a disaster that actually links most of the cast of characters in some interesting ways. It works to show how they handle dealing with guilt and self-blame from the impact of that day.
Gameplay in Road 96 is very much a walking sim affair with a few twists along the way as you’ll journey across Petria with limited cash to your name. Stealing cars and finding cash or scavenging food at each stop becomes a key feature. You could always walk or hitchhike, but this does come at a risk as you never know who you’ll meet, or if you’ll burn out your energy, which gets dangerous as you may need your strength for future goals. You’ll also spend a lot of your time talking to the people you meet and working out if they’re with you or looking to use you, as not everyone is a friendly face. Along the way you’ll also unlock a few skills that will help with general gameplay, like lock picking and the ability to hack a safe, which all help line your pocket. Road 96 mixes things up a bit though as there is no guarantee your teen will see the border, as it’s quite easy to firstly die of exhaustion in the middle of nowhere, or get arrested by the law for saying the wrong thing. Even if you make it to the border, getting across is a challenge as there are a number of paths to take and picking the right one for your current situation is key.
Visually Road 96 has a striking art style that flows from the locations to the characters. This is all backed up with some outstanding voice acting, as well as a stellar soundtrack that vibes heavy on 80’s synth tones. Plus to unlock the full soundtrack you have to find cassettes hidden around the world, which adds a nice bonus for exploring. It delivers an interesting and gripping tale that as it unwinds will have you questioning your moral compass – are you really looking after yourself or the greater good? – as well as throwing a light on some truly heavy real world questions about politics, refugees and daring to help others… all of which make this a journey well worth taking.
An Xbox review copy of Road 96 was provided by DigixArt’s PR team, and it’s available now on Xbox, PC, Switch and PlayStation for around £25 depending on platform (boxed copies are significantly more expensive for this game).