Road 96 Review: A Perfect Little Game

What would you do If you were forced to flee your homeland? In the authoritarian regime of Petria, teenagers who dare to dissent are being abducted and subjected to mind-altering torture. This Road 96 review will tell you more.

As one of these youths, your only choice is to abandon your home and attempt to cross the treacherous northern border.

Along the way, you’ll encounter numerous others in similar predicaments. Will you assist them or focus solely on your survival to improve your chances of crossing?

Road 96 is an intensely political gaming experience, a rare gem in the world of video games. Step into the shoes of a teenager on a harrowing journey to the border. You’ll be making pivotal decisions that impact both the characters you meet and the ultimate conclusion of the game. 

Initially launched last year for PC and Switch, this indie masterpiece is now making its way to PlayStation and Xbox consoles. With its relevance to today’s political landscape, Road 96 is a one-of-a-kind adventure that warrants multiple playthroughs.

Road 96 Review: Gameplay

Road 96 is a unique rogue-like survival game with a strong emphasis on narrative. Set during the summer of 1996, each playthrough comprises around six runs. During these you assume the role of a teenager in the lead-up to an election.

road 96 review

The number of events you experience along the way is determined by your starting point and chosen mode of transportation.

The game features a straightforward survival mechanic, symbolized by a segmented health bar in the top right corner. While walking along the road may consume three segments, hitchhiking could use only two, and taking a cab may even allow you to rest and recover.

This simplistic survival system works well, given that each run lasts approximately an hour.

During your journey, you’ll encounter one of the game’s seven distinctive characters at every stop.

Road 96 Characters

Each character has their own set of events and dilemmas; for instance, the burglars Stan and Mitch are on a quest to uncover who plans to assassinate the Fox News-esque host Sonya, while Fanny, a police officer, grapples with balancing her professional duties and her personal convictions.

The small yet charming cast might not boast top-notch voice acting, but their peculiar speech patterns somehow make them even more endearing.

road 96 review

The connections and development of their often-tragic backstories become particularly engaging when events involving two or more characters arise.

A completion percentage for each character is displayed in the bottom right corner during loading screens, encouraging players to complete multiple full playthroughs to uncover every aspect of the story.

Road 96 Review: Story

While you have some control over the characters you encounter and their typical modes of transportation, the process remains largely random, apart from at least one primary story event per run.

These events often revolve around Zoe, who serves as the central character. Although it’s intriguing to witness her experiences and viewpoints based on previous runs, this aspect can become tiresome during repeat playthroughs when your goal is to complete the remaining character stories and obtain any outstanding perks.

A feature to prioritize unseen events would be beneficial, but at least the option to make distinct choices in each scenario provides some fresh content.

road 96 review

The events and actions you experience can vary significantly. Some instances involve casual conversations with main characters, while others may require breaking into a building, fending off-road pirates with a nail gun, or investigating a motel for potential terrorists.

These short and engaging events prevent the game from becoming monotonous, as it benefits from a range of brief activities.

Certain events also grant you permanent perks that persist between runs and New Game +, enabling new dialogue options or additional interactions with the environment, such as hacking electronics, lock-picking, or simply improving your luck with dice rolls.

This sense of progression when starting each run from scratch contributes to the game’s overall appeal.

Road 96 Politics

The game’s political stance is quite evident, but it can be disappointingly ambiguous when it comes to specifics. President Tyrak is a fascist, but the game doesn’t reveal much about his opponent, Florres, and her platform.

This leads to the three positions you can adopt in the game: independent dialogue options, favoring voting (encouraging people to vote for Florres), or choosing revolution and aligning with the Black Brigades to assassinate Tyrak.

I wavered between voting and revolution, ultimately siding with the latter, mainly because Florres’ potential for change remained uncertain. A little more clarity on her stance would have made decision-making more solid.

Road 96 Review: Verdict

Set in the mid-90s, Road 96 captures the era’s essence perfectly.

The visuals are vibrant and somewhat lower poly, while the music has a distinct 90s vibe with plenty of synths.

The game looks and sounds fantastic, except for the voice acting. Though it has charming moments, like Stan and Mitch’s unique pronunciation, the voice acting falters during more emotional scenes.

Characters, especially Zoe, tend to sound a tad too deadpan. Nevertheless, if you can overlook this minor flaw, Road 96 is an enjoyable journey.

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