Road 96 Review – I Would Walk 500 Miles

Petria, the fictional country at the center of Road 96, is in rough shape. Throughout 1996, the country is gripped by political turmoil–now, a moderate-leaning candidate is threatening the long-standing regime of a totalitarian dictator while a growing resistance threatens to send the country’s youth boiling over and into a full-on revolution. Add to that a growing number of teenagers seeking life outside of the country’s walled borders and you’ve got a recipe for potential disaster on election day. This is what each of Road 96’s procedural journeys delicately build towards with some strong character writing and entertaining gameplay vignettes, even if the central conflict is too reductive with its overall messaging.

Each episode of Road 96 puts you in control of a faceless and nameless teenager–one of many looking to escape Petria by making the dangerous journey to its border and attempting to get over its oppressive wall. You’re given the choice between three teens before a run, each with different starting attributes that dictate how much cash you initially have on hand, your overall energy, and your distance from the border. The first two are the most important to consider as cash can open numerous interactions throughout the run–such as purchasing food, bribing cops, or paying off smugglers–while energy governs whether you’re able to continue a run at all or not. If your energy reaches zero, you pass out on the side of the road and await arrest, sending your teen to a labor camp and ending your run immediately. You replenish energy by resting or buying food, while completing small odd jobs or just scavenging for money, so finding a balance between the two is crucial to a successful run.

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Each run is segmented into short vignettes which take place in numerous locations, such as trailer parks, truck stops, or within a car you’ve decided to hitchhike in. The point-and-click nature of the gameplay makes each one relatively breezy to get through, letting you focus on the conversations with characters. You select responses in conversations using the game’s first-person view, which isn’t always the most elegant way to choose the option you want when a character you’re replying to is moving a little erratically. Choosing the tone of your response–whether it’s in support of the violent actions of the resistance or aligned more with the need for people to vote for the opposition, for example–has a direct influence on how long these vignettes can last depending on which characters are present, and, in some extreme cases, can end a run prematurely when you clash with someone dangerous. It means that choosing your words needs to be more measured than just picking whatever aligns with the role you’re choosing to play in the overall story, so each interaction has a suitable sense of tension.

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