Road 96: procedurally generated road trip adventure put to the test

Road 96: procedurally generated road trip adventure put to the test

Road 96

Do you still remember those "Choose your own Adventure" books from the 80s and 90s? Imagine the whole thing in video game form and you have roughly the concept of Road 96: You experience a personal story, the outcome of which you alone determine with your decisions! Instead of going to the island of 1000 dangers or even the moon, the indie adventure takes you to the fictional land of Petria, which is riddled with political tension.

After a terrorist attack, President Tyrak rose to become the elected dictator and controlled himself the people with an iron hand. The border is now adorned with a huge concrete wall, citizens toil in forced labor camps, all media have been brought into line and only spread the finest propaganda. In short: not a nice place.

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Country Roads

That's why you made it into your head to turn your back on Petria as soon as possible. For this you go on an adventurous road trip with your nameless teenage protagonist, at the end of which (at least ideally) there is a successful escape. But it won't be easy, because your path to freedom is generated procedurally. This means that you will repeatedly come across random obstacles such as police officers, resistance fighters or crazy taxi drivers with hostages in the trunk. Most often, however, you will probably lack money and energy. These are the two central resources in the game that determine success and failure. With your hard-saved dollars, you can afford bus tickets, food and drink or just call mom so that she doesn't worry. On the other hand, you consume energy with every section of your journey. Sometimes more, sometimes less - depending on how you cross the country. If you hike through the desert on foot, it is of course more strenuous than hitchhiking in the sidecar of a motorcycle. If you run out of energy, your trip is over. But it could just as well be that you get caught or even killed on the way.

Everything you do has an impact on the outcome of the story. If you spoil an election poster, it can radicalize the people further and lead to revolution. Source: PC Games But this is not a final game over. You just start with a newly created character, try your luck on a different random route and learn more and more about Petria and her inhabitants. For example, there will soon be elections that will decide the future of the country and the results of which you can actively help shape! Each of your actions has an impact on the game world. Whether you mess up a poster of President Tyrak or speak out in favor of his opponent Florres in a conversation: Everything influences the outcome of the story - which is always made clear to you with a less than subtle hint at the top right of the screen. That makes the story of Road 96 (buy now € 47.99) incredibly exciting and interactive, especially since the developers managed to implement the politically charged setting very well. The adventure is sometimes really serious and does not stop at gloomy scenery. Sometimes people are dissolved in a bathtub full of acid or defenseless young people are shot by the border patrol. That's tough stuff.

Freedom and Truth

On the other hand, the journey through Petria can also be wonderful. This is mainly due to the many lovely characters you meet there. With every new character, on every new road trip, you get to know them better and understand the context of the story: What is trucker John hiding from the police in his trailer? Who's targeting news anchor Sonya, and why? That only becomes clear bit by bit. However, you will not get the complete overview during the first playthrough. After all, the structure of Road 96 is still based on chance. You only get to see some situations, settings and figures on the second try.

This hunt for missing pieces of the puzzle not only brings variety to the action, it also keeps motivation high and ensures a lot of replay value. In the New Game Plus you can tie the last open ends of the story together and even rely on the advantages you have previously collected. Some NPCs not only have exciting things to tell you, they also give you helpful things along the way. Computer genius Alex bequeaths you a hacking tool, for example, and you get a lockpick from the thief duo Stan and Mitch, which you can then use with every new player character in the future. That causes a few small logic problems: How does my protagonist suddenly have an item with him that his predecessor took across the border? Overall, the tools and skills give the title some depth.

The gameplay in Road 96 is rather shallow. The focus is clearly on the numerous dialogues, which are occasionally interrupted by mini-games. Source: PC Games

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More walking simulator than adventure

Otherwise the gameplay is rather thin. In terms of play, Road 96 can best be compared with the first season of Telltale's The Walking Dead: You can walk through the different scenes and interact with the people and objects in the area. The focus is clearly on the detailed dialogues, in which you have different answer options to choose from. The creators only occasionally sprinkle a few mini-games to loosen up. For example, you can play a round of air hockey or try your hand at a trombone in guitar hero style. But that's at most a nice gimmick and not really worth mentioning.

The dialogues in Road 96 are only completely set to English. Unfortunately, the German subtitles are not always very stable. Source: PC Games One can also argue about the graphics. Road 96 is kept rather minimalist, the action takes place in a coherent comic look. But there are always annoying problems: The frame rate drops, characters glide through the area, animations look out of round and textures look muddy. There would have been a little more in there. In addition, there are partially incorrect subtitles, which is a bit unfortunate, especially in view of the exclusively available in English, and a rather imprecise control, in which your character continues to walk two steps, even though you have long let go of the analog stick. These small flaws pull the overall impression down a bit.

On the other hand, there is the successful setting, the unique game concept and the atmospheric staging. The soundtrack in particular is really outstanding. So I would definitely still recommend Road 96 to others. The extraordinary road trip, despite all the criticism, a very special gaming experience and definitely one of the indie highlights of this gaming summer that you shouldn't miss. So likes to access it on the PC or the switch, the title has been available since August 16 for just under 20 euros.

My opinion

By David Benke


[email protected] An emotional road trip with a strong political message Road 96 surprised me when I was playing. I had expected that you would only experience one big road trip here, which you can then repeat over and over again. The fact that an overarching story is told instead about the course of several smaller game runs works even better for me! This is also due to the fact that the developers keep you in line: The politically charged setting makes you excited about the end, the characters are so charming that you want to get to know them better and the procedural game structure with small permanent upgrades always opens up interesting ones new ways. Oh yeah, and the soundtrack is bombshell! Home Call from The Toxic Avenger, which is also running in the Reveal trailer, went straight to my personal playlist. The isolated problems are annoying, I admit that, but no absolute brakes on the fun of the game. There are at most deductions in the B grade. Road 96 (PC) 7/10

Graphics - Sound - Multiplayer - Road 96 (NSW) 7/10

Graphics - Sound - Multiplayer - Pros & Cons Unusual game concept Exciting story with a political message Your decision will influence the finale High replay value Hardly any repetitions despite the procedural structure Outstanding soundtrack Hardly any gameplay, more dialogues and mini-games Small logic gaps in the narrative Occasional errors in graphics, technology and subtitles More pros & cons ... Conclusion Road 96 has errors, but ironing them out skilfully out again with its great game concept.

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