“Long and rugged is the road that leads from hell to light.” John, Milton, Paradise Lost
When released last year, Road 96 was a game set in the mid-1990s that examined real conflicts of that era in Central and Eastern Europe, such as Kosovo, the Balkan crisis and waves of refugees wanting to escape. ‘escape. It is also reminiscent of the migration crises we have experienced over the past two years. But the port to PlayStation and Xbox consoles released this week makes us look at Road 96 with today’s eyes.
And it is impossible not to see the refugees from Ukraine, from other countries or, why not say it, the Russians who no longer trust their leader in these stories of young boys who are looking for a way to escape a broken country and just want to reach a boundary beyond that Playing Road 96 today feels even more realistic, and that’s why the feelings are even more shaken.
‘On the Road Once More’
Raised as a journey more emotional than playable, DixiArt’s work surprises by opting for a title with a lot of narrative weight and procedural elements at the same time, that make each journey different depending on our choices in terms of character dialogues, transport used, etc.
The game consists of 8 chapterseach with a teenager seeking the same thing: to escape Petria, a nation worthy of the Soviet Union of the Iron Curtain era -or today, which also doesn’t have to go back that far- , combined with landscapes of the central United States and characters from a political sequel to Oliver Stone’s Turn to Hell.
In the analysis of its Switch version, we detail what Road 96 offers: a Road Game in which your vital objective is to reach the mountainous border of Petria – and a fortified custom that seems drawn from a Soviet retro-futuristic dystopia – , and cross it in all ways: hiding in a truck, daring to climb and descend a mountain, etc.
And on the way to the border, in each chapter you play as a different teenager who is wanted, and you have several options to get there, whether it’s hitchhiking, stealing a car – if you manage to get your hands on the keys -, call a taxi or simply walk.
Yes along the way you will meet one of the 7 main characters with whom you will interact and discover their stories (complex and well written). It’s up to you to stop and investigate their stories, or rather cross and try to reach the border on your own, while remembering to rest and eat -if the life bar reaches zero, you will be detained by the police-, to earn money, etc.
Road 96 is one of the games that best wields the asset of the contemplative beauty of its settings in Petria fiction, and it not only shines in the conversations you have with the NPCs, but in the small details: for example , give you an option for you to just watch the starry sky at night, observe the scenery from the road, or place a beach chair on a walkway so that you can sit down to see the beauty of a waterfall.
It also makes you make decisions like helping others, passing them by, finding refuge from others like you who are fleeing, and deciding whether or not to leave money hidden for them… You never get bored, because the mini-games are a constantwhether it’s guessing a bullet in a ‘rave’ in the middle of the desert, or shooting a nail gun at highway pirates, playing the trombone, playing very retro video games -Pong, a sort of Tanks on an Atari 2600-, or dodging traffic in a Sidecar.
Road 96 is a game that not only stays in a walking simulator -although it has moments of this subgenre-, but it builds a complex network of relationships, since each chapter starts in a different region of the country, so you cross different territories on the way to the border, but finding those 7 characters at different times in their lives. And every time you take your current child across the border from Petria, you gain a new ability that opens up more options for you – not just deciding whether to take a bus or hitchhike, for example, but try to steal a truck.
There’s something Tarantino in certain moments and dialogue, but mostly there’s more of the Coen brothers in Road 96, characters that wouldn’t be out of place in films like O, Brother!, Arizona Baby or The Big Lebowski. Or in Natural Born Assassins and Turn to Hell by Oliver Stone. Or David Lynch’s Wild at Heart. Even this game of intersecting stories of disparate characters of which Gonzalez Iñárritu (Amores Perros, Babel) is an expert. The title drinks up many Road Movies and at the same time manages to compose its own. And rarely will we see this, but so well applied the concept of “road movie”, in a playable experience, emphasizing freedom, travel and solitary scenarios.
Visually, it’s clear that the PlayStation 5 -the console on which we did the analysis- is a good fit for Road 96, since The game runs at 60 fps with no frame drop or tearing. -on Switch it was the case, especially in portable mode-, no stuttering. And although its textures are very simple and the character animation basic – it looks like a Telltale game in this section -, this Cel-Shading touch gives personality to the graphics, in addition to being one of the most beautiful and most varied of the year market on stage In fact, it even has a slight support for the DualSense controllerusing vibrations and triggers but not too much.
The BSO is like the characters: a collage of styles, although New Age and Synth Pop predominate, with Indian themes as beautiful as those of the first Life is Strange. As musically successful as their dubbing voices, which give personality and depth to each of the characters you will meet. And in order not to get lost, we have all the texts and dialogues localized in Spanish.
Road 96 is one of those Indie games that doesn’t appeal to everyone, since its tempo, its proposal, can set you back – especially if you’re not a fan of adventure type games. It’s not about leveling up and winning, it’s not about reaching the end of the road, it’s about whatever happens along the way. Its characters, the relationships you can build, the moments you face… It’s typical indie that can touch you emotionally and you won’t forget it. And while it has a procedural narrative and things change upon replaying it, a second game can get repetitive in some sections, totally new in others. But nothing, nothing like this first round without a doubt.
- How technically good is the jump to PlayStation and Xbox, performance at 60fps is very good
- The dialogues, the crossing of the stories
- Mini-games and the variety they give to gameplay
- The OST, beautiful, and photography
- Moments like the first time you cross the border using the mountain pass.
- Still some plot gaps that the procedural narrative causes.
- Replaying it is almost obligatory and allows you to discover new things, but many events are repeated too much and the feeling of the first round is lost
Remarkable finishing game that we will enjoy and remember. A good buy, highly recommended for fans of the genre. It is well maintained at all levels.