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Review

Road 96 (Switch) Review

Road 96 is clearly a reaction to America under a certain former President. It is a simplified thought experiment about societal pressure, corruption, generational change and herd mentality. You play as several different teenagers attempting to reach the border of the fictional country of Petria. You see, Petria is a country run, ostensibly, by a dictator, and there are elections on, but it looks like it will be a landslide once more for the bad guy, and teens are disappearing across the country ‚Äď either hitchhiking their way to the border in an attempt to cross or (as legend would have it) being arrested and shipped to work camps, never to be seen again.

This is not a subtle representation of border escape and homelessness. Each journey ‚Äď should it end well or badly for the character you inhabit ‚Äď is peppered with black or white options. It is a world where there are convenient cardboard shelters to rest in, and no one else seems to bother you, and where candy bars sit unclaimed for you to gain some energy. Each vignette will present a tight situation, be it the opportunity to man a camera for an arrogant reporter to earn some cash, or a conversation on a bus that escalates when the police become involved. Each chapter presents a different facet of what this journey might be like for these teens, and how the society is dealing with its pressures, how there might still be good people forced to do bad things. But it‚Äôs all very upfront and blunt and compressed, which is kind of fine for a small videogame experience. To give an example of the cringe-worthy level of the writing, characters will ask you weird stuff like, ‚ÄúAre you political? I think you are political.‚ÄĚ

This is clearly from a small studio with limited resources, so while it plays a bit like a Telltale Games title by way of Life is Strange, it is nowhere near that quality level, graphically or in terms of narrative depth. That said, this is still a game with a few interesting characters and you genuinely do want to click through conversations to see what will happen. It rarely feels like you have more than two options ‚Äď good result or bad ‚Äď to each situation, so I found it fun to try and push to the extremes, opting for conversation paths to incite characters and build tension.

The strong suit of Road 96 is that each chapter sees you doing something different, almost like a mini-game compilation. As you play, it becomes clear that each run is pulled from a tumbler of parts, yet it is still impressive how there is little repetition. Some permanent skills or buffs become unlocked as you play, such as increased luck or the ability to hack electronics or pick locks. These open how you can interact with the world in subsequent runs. However, this is not a rogue-like, per se, because there is an overall narrative that will play out, you just experience it from a handful of perspectives picked from a randomiser. This does cheapen the gravity of each life a little bit, as the whole thing starts to feel a bit like an elaborate play being acted out in similitude.

Survival depends on a combination of what you say and do, with the way forward offered as a choice between paying for a taxi (which costs money and there‚Äôs rumour of a bad driver out there), hitchhiking (again, with risk), catching a bus or simply walking. I managed to cross the border in the first chapter by using a combination of these, but subsequent runs revealed the random danger of each, with no real guarantee either way. You will often be better off spending your money on food or call home to a loved one. The game will also present pressure situations towards the end of each teen‚Äôs journey, and these will always force you to choose between helping others or being selfish. If you help others with money or pay for them to cross with you, a guard will inevitably ask for a bribe that you cannot afford. I came to expect these ‚Äėtwists‚Äô in a way that directed me to play selfishly if I had any hope of getting my teen across the border.

The more you play, the closer the election date looms and the more you discover about the small roster of recurring characters whom you encounter along the way. Conversations with them will reveal their relationships with each other, often with touching backstories that are delivered with concordant soft music and decent vocal performances. It all feels contrived, but in an acceptable way ‚Äď this is a game made to defined resource limits.

Performance is quite average on Switch, with the frame rate noticeably struggling during most scenes. This isn’t too much of an issue unless you need to select dialogue options while characters are moving around and the lag between this and your movement/button inputs results in either nothing being selected or the option you did not intend. Road 96 feels like it was designed to be played with a mouse on PC and this port has not quite managed to iron out the small control and interface aspects.

Although it may not bear repeat playthroughs, Road 96 is an engaging adventure around heavy themes that resonate in today’s world. Its simplistic characters and situations are equally charming, and each scenario is just long enough to urge you to press play on the next one.


Although it may not bear repeat playthroughs, Road 96 is an engaging adventure around heavy themes that resonate in today’s world. Its simplistic characters and situations are equally charming, and each scenario is just long enough to urge you to press play on the next one.

Rating: 3.5/5

The Good

+ Compelling vignettes
+ Each mini game is short & fun
+ Story evolves across encounters

The Bad

- Performance issues on Switch
- No subtlety in the writing
-Seams start to show the more you play

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Although it may not bear repeat playthroughs, Road 96 is an engaging adventure around heavy themes that resonate in today’s world. Its simplistic characters and situations are equally charming, and each scenario is just long enough to urge you to press play on the next one.

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About The Author
Dylan Burns
Artist. Fiction writer. Primary teacher.

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