|Release Date||July 22, 2016|
Disclaimer: Review code provided
Death Road To Canada is a road trip simulator that takes place during a zombie apocalypse. It’s already happened. The zombies are already everywhere. What you need to do is navigate the dangerous American highway and get your randomly assigned protagonists to Canada, where sanctuary supposedly awaits from the undead hordes. Because there’s always a fabled safe harbour in a zombie apocalypse story.
You’ll spend most of your time in Death Road To Canada split between three things: plundering the various towns and locations for critical supplies to continue your journey, making choose your own adventure style decisions that can have positive or disastrous effects on your journey, and watching a car drive along a road. You’ll also be laughing. It’s quite a funny game, with plenty of humorous asides to keep the grim inevitability of death partially at bay. When you’re not laughing you’ll probably be nodding your head along to the excellent chiptune-esque soundtrack.
Like a lot of games these days, Death Road To Canada trades its stock in being rogue-like and procedurally generated. Every road trip is different, the events and places that you come across randomly generated to keep you on your toes. You begin with two randomly assigned survivors with random stats, traits, perks and weapons, and you can meet new ones that you can recruit along the way. There’re quite a few different types of survivor that you can comes across, and they all generally have something to contribute to your group.
Some survivors will be better at fighting, some will have more of an aptitude for maintaining and repairing your vehicle, some will be able to use medical supplies to heal injuries. And so on. I’m sure you get the idea. You’ll never know who you’re going to start as, or who you’re likely to bump into, though there is a mode you can select that will populate the game with characters you’ve previously found. You’re also able to create custom characters that can be seeded into the game, though this can be a friendship ruiner if you create your friends who manage to screw up barricading a cabin so badly it gets you killed (TOM!).
Your job is simply to keep your charges alive long enough so that they make it to Canada. As the name of the game implies, this is a pretty tall order. You need to gather supplies from various locations that are generally teeming with zombies. Food and gas are the critical items that you need – one keeps your party alive, the other keeps your car going. You’ll also need to gather weapons and ammunition to fight off zombies, as well as medical supplies for when you’re inevitably hurt.
As long as you’re not an idiot when making decisions and keep a level head while you’re gathering resources…you’ll probably still wind up dead thanks to Death Road’s RNG system that, basically, wants to kill you. Massive difficulty spikes can and will appear from nowhere, even if you’re having a relatively good time of it thanks to good decision making. You can spend days of in-game time doing everything right, only to suddenly find yourself fighting off hordes of enraged zombies in a tiny room in a siege that you can’t escape from for one in-game hour. From there it’s death and back to the beginning.
How you deal with the game randomly deciding to kill you will determine how much you can get out of Death Road To Canada, because these events are completely random, and you’ll never see them coming. While there is an onus on player choice running throughout the game, these enormous difficulty spikes have nothing to do with your choice. You’ll simply be watching your car driving along the road, only to be suddenly informed that your group has been caught in the sewers and you must make a run through an angry horde of zombies to safety. Never mind the fact that you never sent them anywhere in the first place.
It’s not just zombies that can kill or hinder you either. Bandits are, of course, a fairly massive problem in the zombie apocalypse – though they are generally confined to text-based multiple choice segments. You car can break down or run out of gas, forcing you to ditch it and keep going to Canada on foot, which is extremely dangerous and will see you run into all sorts of bother that will hurt or even kill you until you find another car. Luckily the game sidesteps repetitiveness by presenting you with the tonnes of random events that can happen during the course of Death Road To Canada.
From finding new survivors that you can choose to recruit to your party or not, down to being ambushed by bandits or being attacked while stopping for the night. There are also some less “standard” events such as coming across a wounded moose or having one of your party be possessed by a demon who demands a slice of pizza. In my time with the game and the many attempts I made to reach the Canadian border I very rarely saw repeating events, so at least the game screws you over in different ways each time.
When you’re scavenging you’ll be playing a top-down action game. Entering a new location sees you setting up your party by distributing the various weapons amongst them, or even deciding to leave people behind to rest if you so choose. Here you need to navigate around or through the zombies while you try to find supplies, or try to survive onslaughts during the aforementioned siege or runner events. There’s a lot of variety in the different weapons that you can pick up, and remarkably they all perform vastly differently from one another.
Wrenches and metal pipes are big, heavy weapons that can do massive damage to zombies, sometimes killing them instantly. However, if they’re being wielded by someone with a low fitness stat, then that character is going to get tired swining it pretty quickly. When characters get tired their weapon swings start getting slower, and you can leave yourself open to being attacked between swings. Lighter weapons such as golf clubs or knives use less stamina and attack faster, but do less damage and break easier. Guns, of course, are guns. Get ammo, reload, shoot to kill.
It’s the controls that really let down the otherwise well thought out and implemented combat mechanics in Death Road To Canada. It never really feels like you have full control of your avatar, nor does it ever really feel like you can accurately predict what you’re actually doing. Death Road looks like a twin-stick, and probably should have been one, but it’s not. As such it’s impossible to aim, and you can only really swing or shoot in the direction you’re travelling. It’s also really difficult to judge whether you’re actually going to hit a zombie when you swing a weapon. Combat is unsatisfying thanks to a set of inconsistent controls, making fighting zombies a frustrating experience.
I can’t deny that I found some fun in Death Road To Canada – it’s a funny game with a great soundtrack and a really interesting premise. The road trip aspect of the game is really cool and somehow quite novel in the zombie genre. The characters you can come across are diverse and the random events keep things interesting and intense, and can sometimes cause you to do a double-take when one of your comrades is suddenly possessed by a demon asking for pizza. But the further into the game I went, the more I found myself frustrated by the extreme and sudden difficulty spikes, which are not at all helped by sloppy combat controls that make you feel as though you’re not really in control of your character. Death Road To Canada is a fun game that I got some enjoyment out of, but it’s held back by these issues that only get more annoying over time.
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