Road 96 is a game carried by it’s concept. Which, frankly, is a really good concept. Hitchhiking teens escaping a fascist government on the verge of becoming totalitarian. A mix of story driven not unlike a Telltale game with Roguelike starting over from scratch at each failed or succeeded run. As a story unfolds around you.
The games emphasis on hitchhiking is an apt metaphor for how both the game plays and how the story within it plays out. Exploring areas and maintaining energy so you can keep moving. While your actions do have great consequences on the events that unfold throughout each of your characters journey. You’re not really a personality within the story. You are really just in the passengers seat along for the ride. Which is fun. The characters are written well enough to be interesting and while some are more fun than others Stan & Mitch probably being the most consistently fun characters to run into on the road. Other characters simple existence invokes a constant dread and fear at all times considering you can never be exactly sure if or when he will show up. Jarod being a constant example of that ever present threat.
And like they say about road trips, it is really the journey here that is more exciting than the destination. Not to say the ending is bad, it’s good. I just found myself wanting to continue being passengers along for the ride with the characters. And the game does throw mini games at you in order to break up the constant talking. Almost all of which, are quite fun or at least visually interesting. In a way I almost wish the game was just being along for the ride. No grand destination, no overarching plot. Just being a part of fun small stories on the road. However, that’s really not what the game is trying to be.
The overarching narrative and lore is interesting. Although, I don’t think it’d be nearly as good without the characters being as fun as they typically are. One line of dialogue will spark connections between characters you didn’t think existed. Learning how the actions you helped one character take affected another. The story is also able to balance comedy, drama, introspection along with dread and fear which is by no means an easy feat to accomplish. I don’t want to delve too much into specifics about the story as that is basically the gameplay.
However, on top of the fun characters there are two elements that stand far and above the rest of the game. Firstly, the soundtrack. The soundtrack is perfect, each character having their own musical cues and styles. Which builds the emotions their trying to build to the ambient music to emphasize nature. The character Zoey’s theme ‘The Road’ by Cocoon is a song that sticks in my head constantly.
The other element is the geographical design. The image of the mountain looming at the end of each journey is gorgeous. The waterfalls and trees in that area. Climbing that mountain eventually gives you spectacular views. Cliffside roads as well. The art style will ensure that it won’t age poorly. However, each location looks great. The dingy old underused gas stations and diners look great giving you the exact feelings one on the road will give you. However, the nature scenes are by far the best executed.
I find it challenging to find proper flaws with the game. While I wish it did something differently. It’s something I also realize wouldn’t of been possible in either the story they wanted to tell or with the scale they had to work with. It’s a twenty dollar indie game, they’re gonna have limitations with the scale. I do hope it’s successful because i’d love to see a sequel with a bigger scale and more characters. And perhaps allowing it to be a little more aimless. It’s a game that uses what it has to the best effect. Leaving little to be asked for on top of what it delivers. Road 96 is ultimately a delightful road trip that delivers more on the journeys than the destinations. And for you own good: say that you like dinosaurs.