Today, DigixArt will release its latest title, an adventure game that sees you play as a teenager fleeing an authoritarian nation. Known as Road 96, this title is a dialogue heavy, narrative experience at the forefront, which serves as both a harrowing look at the price of freedom, but also a delightful take on how a group of seemingly distant characters are all intertwined.
Based over a series of chapters, alike a Telltale game, Road 96, asks players to manage energy levels as teenagers travelling thousands of miles to a dangerous border crossing in the hopes of escaping a nation that is drowning in oppression. It's a road trip experience, where you'll have to hitchhike, walk, or pay your way across the beautiful yet deadly nation of Petria that is on the brink of a civil war, of which along the way, you'll find yourself frequently encountering the same bunch of characters that are absolutely vital to the core storyline.
As this game works as a series of chapters, each chapter will see you play as another teenager, a character that to you, the player, is nameless and faceless. The teenagers themselves are hollow characters that serve as a vessel for your journey, with the real narrative stars being these recurring figures you'll meet on the road.
These characters range from celebrity broadcasters, known for being a force of propaganda for the authoritarian party (that's Sonya), masked criminals (Stan and Mitch), or even a young genius kid (Alex), and there are six of these people to meet and discover their stories. Every character at the start of the game seems distant to one another, barely connected at all, and simply wild personalities that struggle to benefit the plot. But, as you progress the story, you learn that there is more to these figures than meets the eye, and that each is actually incredibly closely connected to one another (I won't delve into how they are connected to prevent spoilers).
Meeting these people along your journey at different locations teaches you more about these characters and what drives them, and will often see you part from them with a new trick to use down the line - for example the ability to hack, thanks to Alex. These mechanics you learn open up new options in how you explore the world, and are carried across chapters between teenagers, as is any new information you pick up along the way. Oh, and since this is a dialogue, narrative heavy game, any decisions you make that could impact the world, for example voicing your opinion on the government or graffitiing on an authoritarian poster, will also influence the next teenager's road trip.
But, that's all the progression between chapters, as the goal for each chapter is to simply make it to the border crossing at the end of Road 96, and to flee the country. You'll either succeed and find the warm embrace of freedom, or die along the way - it's pretty black and white in that regard. This means any money you loot or earn, any gear you pick up, for example car keys, and even your energy levels (which I'll touch on a little further in a moment) are locked to each teenager, essentially making it a new game every time a new chapter begins.
As for the energy levels, this system is incredibly basic. Each time you move on from an encounter, you'll lose a few bars of energy. Lose them all and you die. But, you can find places to rest, eat food, or drink beverages to top your energy back up, so it's never really that much of an issue to worry about. This even stretches to survival in general, as I found it rather hard not to escape Petria, only losing one teenager across the six chapter storyline. To a degree, this is handy, because it allows you to completely focus on the narrative of Road 96.
Despite its grim underlying nature, Road 96 is a heartfelt adventure of human connection. Even though you shouldn't feel attached to your faceless, nameless character, you do. And even though the recurring figures you meet along the way and merely specks in a grander journey, you become immersed and captivated by their motivations and hidden secrets. It's a really engaging narrative experience.
But, as Road 96 is also a videogame, you are given the freedom to wander around the locations you travel to. You have no control of picking where you end up, it's randomly generated in that regard, yet when you do make it to a new encounter, you can look around, chat with any of the few NPCs, spend any money you've saved up, and even play a few minigames, some of which are tied to the storyline. These can include driving a car down a straight road (it's not that exciting, you simply have to use the left and right arrow keys to avoid traffic), or even using knowledge from past encounters to help solve a mystery at the core of the storyline. While fun, these are infrequent and short, and basically serve as quick jolts of energy in an otherwise slow-paced narrative tale.
As a final note, one of the areas of Road 96 that I found to be a highlight was its soundtrack. The music for this game is catchy, upbeat, and of a 90s theme, and every chance you get to whack on a cassette tape, you'll find yourself instantly searching through your collectible list of tapes amassed over the many chapters of the game.
Even though Road 96 isn't very long (you can probably get through the full game in around seven hours), this is a compelling and engaging narrative-driven tale that manages to convey emotion between its eccentric cast of characters incredibly well. The core underlying story is not always the easiest to digest and hits some rather heavy marks, but that should be expected when following a narrative revolving around teenagers fleeing an authoritarian nation on the brink of civil war. If you're looking for an easy-to-play, and thoroughly entertaining game then you can't go too wrong with Road 96, as this adventure title won't hesitate to surprise.