REVIEW – Released recently for PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4, DigixArt’s game may be able to get players’ attention with a storyline that can be tied to actual political events these days. For a few players (depending on where they originate from), it might even have a domestic angle, which could make this game somewhat spicier than what it wanted to be.
The longest road, the longest road, the longest road (I swear I did this reference once before. Oh well, no harm done I believe, and it still somewhat fits.).
A faceless teenager on the run
The main character of Road 96 is a teenager with pretty much an empty slate, which can be said here to be somewhat of a shortcoming of the game, as there is no backstory, so we can’t connect to the story through this person at all. The young generation is trying to escape from an authoritarian nation, crossing its borders (when the time comes, I will do the same) because they are fed up with being divided. Petria is a fictional country, and its president, Tyrek, is tightening the belt around the people’s throats, oppressing those who would rather flee, and here one might ask why. The problem is that Road 96, to put it mildly, does not have much to show beyond the rudimentary steps because it could have been a little more rigorous in its approach. Okay, there are the homeless teenagers, but perhaps the door shouldn’t have been left open to the question, “exactly WHAT is society running away from?”. And there are no border controls as strict as, say, in the second half of December 1989, after László Tőkés was tried to get rid of by the Romanian authorities, but let’s not go into historical details here…
So there is food and money, and the borders are open. In other words, it doesn’t precisely sound like something inexplicably bad to live through. Also, there is no racial or religious cleansing in this country, so emigration comparable to a shock wave does not seem justified. So we should trust in the game’s narrative that something terrible is happening. There is information about a failed revolutionary attempt, but that was a decade before the game’s events. It was perhaps too late for serious evidence of the country’s status (as in, the quality of life) to emerge. However, there too, the definition of discreditability might apply. My point is that if one leaves their home country, their nation behind without any ties left, there has to be a serious reason, and Road 96 has not clarified why the main characters decided to stand up and flee somewhere else. I am not saying that the game is terrible, but it would have been better to have been more transparent.
Back on the beaten track
So it’s a political commentary with a narrative that unfolds in at least an unusual new way. Let’s just say that no one’s playthrough will be the same, as it will be procedurally generated (e.g. No Man’s Sky). There are, after all, seven main characters, and our mission will primarily be to push the story bar to full. Each of our journeys to the border will result in encounters, and it will go on until we get to the election. Because of the procedurally generated approach, we will never hear the full story of any character, which means replayability (one run requires about five and a half hours).
Still, not everyone may be willing to do this, and if you want to see everything, you may have to play through Road 96 several times, with three possible outcomes. One is a revolution, another is voting, and the third is total apathy (and each of them has the positives and negatives, and let’s not go into further detail here). A few things break up the repetitive gameplay: there are puzzles and mini-games, but these alone are not enough to save everything. Our character has, so to speak, no impact on the story but just goes with the flow, created in one form or another by the seven main NPCs. That’s the problem, in my opinion; the game could have been far more daring than it did.
9 – x – 6 -> 7.5
I give Road 96 a seven and a half out of ten because the backstory doesn’t have the foundation, so it’s just for decoration without any explicit (and, to me, welcome) elaboration. The idea can be called an experiment, but it still ended up in a cage because it was not brave enough. It would perhaps have been better experienced in the form of a book or a short story. That is to say: it would have been better in a linear concept. Petria remains undeveloped, but the rating falls into the “good” category for a reason: for fans of adventure games, I can safely recommend Road 96, and for them, I will give the usual second rating: for them, this is more like an eight and a half out of ten. It has twists and turns, you can spend time with it (although not everyone will play the story through twice or even more, let’s not argue about that), and for the most part, the NPCs themselves are likeable. Therefore, I can safely recommend the game. However, I have a question. When will the game’s inevitable Xbox Series and Xbox One ports launch?
+ Has a modern, relatable theme
+ No one will ever experience the same thing
+ It has all the replayability…
– …but some people won’t play it through more than once
– Not brave enough with the commentary
– Petria should have been much more detailed…
Publisher: DigixArt/Plug In Digital
Genre: MotoGP license video game adaptation
Release date: August 16, 2021 (Nintendo Switch, PC), April 14, 2022 (PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4)