Road 96 Review (PC): Grand Theft Autonomy

Do you know that pitch that says your choices matter? Well, they do in Road 96. Get ready for a meaningful road trip - available on PC and the Switch.

Road 96 is a masterclass in creating an intricate network of events and characters, carefully weaving them all together to be part of the big picture. Do I sound a little like Dirk Gently right now, eh? Well, that’s the idea, and it manages to pull it off. How the story unfolds is entirely down to your actions and not preconfigured setpieces.

Taking its inspiration from the likes of Tarantino and many others, you take control of some teen runaways on their respective journeys as they flee Petria and its tyrant President Tyrak. Along the way, you’ll meet seven recurring agents that help cement a thoroughly engaging and entertaining tale where each individual can inspire change in some way or another.

Choices genuinely matter in Road 96 gameplay as there’s almost always free will in a situation. From dialogue options, you can opt for a political statement, encouraging others to vote for the rival party led by Torres, or side with a ‘rebel’ force called The Brigades, or get the hell out of Dodge and think of yourself. You can take numerous actions to shape the outcome, from vandalising campaign posters to the responses in conversation you use.

Road 96 Review - Sharing recipes
Sharing recipes. Source: Screen capture

Road 96 Review

It’s possible to give replies that follow a pattern – i.e. a political one, but that’s not how life is, and you may find yourself mixing up your responses – and actions – with theft, kindness, antagonism and political force – there’s no right or wrong. You can earn money through jobs, playing games and stealing. The same applies to food and drink – essential in keeping your character alive through their trip.

For each checkpoint towards your goal, your character will lose health. Once depleted, you’re arrested by the dreaded RC (Road Control), and it’s over for that character and onto the next (there are multiple, nameless characters to choose from). Consuming food, drink and getting rest will restore health, keeping them alive to fulfil their destiny – which is down to your actions. You can die in the game, but without giving away spoilers, it’s all part of the bigger picture and won’t result in a game over but shape how the conclusion pans out.

There are seven key characters in the game that you will meet, depending on the routes you take; each time, a new experience as you’re playing as a new protagonist. When engaging in one of these character arcs, you’ll see an indicator on the map/loading screen confirming how much of their account you have completed. Bear in mind that 100% does not mean the end, as your choices may differ each time, so it really is encouraged to replay again and again – at the very least, to see the alternative endings. I said before that DigixArt’s game is ambitious, but when it comes to decisions, Road 96 delivers.

Road 96 Review - Networking
Networking. Source: Screen capture

You’ll be able to make decisions on your method of transport too, as well as the manner of getting across the border (and it changes each time as security get more clued up). The free movement during these sections can be a little clunky, though – especially on one of the routes. It’s only minor, but your character will keep walking when you let go of the button, or they’ll strafe to one side when walking in a straight line due to a handful of invisible walls. Road 96 offers a tremendous amount of freedom with your decision making, but not so much in physical exploration.

Are You Gonna Go My Way?

There is a fair amount of mini-games to play throughout Road 96. This ranges from arcade games to air hockey, gas station work to avoiding traffic at speed. Alas, this did feel like filler, and considering how strong the story is, it didn’t need it but breaks the game up with some variety. Admittedly, air hockey was a nice addition, and I never once conceded a point. Skill, McGill.

Engaging with NPCs is the highlight, though, as you can shape the outcome with what you say. All conversations are voice acted, and for the principal players, these are great, but some of the lesser NPCs in Road 96 were a bit like caricatures – the same voices popping up quite often. You’ll have your favourites, and the more you meet them, the more you empathise with them, regardless if you agree with their actions. I loved Fanny (insert your joke here), but Alex, despite being likeable, overused their street talk a little too much. It was clear why they were doing it, but that didn’t stop it from being annoying. 

Road 96 Review - Border patrol
Border patrol. Source: Screen capture

At least you’ll get some abilities from these characters the more you speak with them, and these can help you further into the game with the hacking option, improved conversations with the police, lockpicking and more. There are also a considerable amount of cassettes you can collect and play throughout the entirety of the game. The music in Road 96 is predominantly electronica, and as a 90s kid, I’d love to have seen some licensed stuff like Soundgarden, Cypress Hill – even New Kids On The Block for nostalgic purposes (honest!), but I have to say that the soundtrack is solid. There’s ample time to listen to the tunes (and purchase separately if desired).

I’m an advocate of consequences for one’s actions, and Road 96 deals with this exceptionally. Don’t be put off by the political tones if you’re politically ignorant (I am). It’s fundamentally about the choices we make and interactions with others. Do you want to make a change? Happy for things to stay as they are, or do you want out and let someone else deal with? The decision is yours, as will be so many more choices throughout your journey in Road 96, from beginning to end.

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