Home HOT A stunning network of interactions – Road 96 review

A stunning network of interactions – Road 96 review

A stunning network of interactions – Road 96 review

It’s Petria, not America. Not now, but 1996, a world of collecting cassette cassettes, a place where a political narrative involving the public and many players might play out without the embarrassing interference of social media. Roads, hotels, fast-food restaurants, and cable TV celebrities.

Nevertheless, this flawed universe revealed to me at least one ideal location. A desert camping beneath the stars, thousands and thousands of them, blown sugar all over the vast brilliant sky, that’s where life begins. The sky above seemed to be illuminated from inside. Below, blazing flames and closely grouped campers. A walkway that winds between the vans leads to a cardboard stack and a dancing guy. After a short period of sleep, I went to sit with another traveler on a perch with a view of the whole area. After we finished playing the trombone, we were told to go on. I believe it was three in the morning.

A beautiful location. I could have spent hours there. However, that’s precisely the purpose of Road 96: it’s a story-based game with scenes, discussions, and interactions, but you’re never still. In 1996, an almost dictatorial government exists in Petria, which is on the verge of a heated election. This is the type of environment where dialogue has slowed down and where teenagers are more inclined to want to escape to the border—where there is a wall, of course—than to stay and see what the next administration has to offer. You take on a succession of those teenagers, one by one, as they hitchhike, walk, steal automobiles, and save money for taxis as they make their way to the wall. Geographically speaking, each new adolescent brings you back to the beginning, far away from the crossing once again, but time is of the essence. When your last teen finally makes it to the border, it’s election day. Because this is a narrative game similar to Life is Strange, with lots of small choices, the result depends on the story you weren’t always aware you were piecing together from those encounters, conversations, and scenes—the specific recipe it turned out you were following.

Thus, in certain areas, it functions as a roguelite, but even at its finest, it never really feels like one. It wants you to narrow the distance between you and the wall by concentrating on each individual voyage, which lasts around an hour. In addition to managing your money and energy meter—both of which are necessary if you want to cross successfully—you also navigate through a series of randomly mixed vignettes featuring a recurrent cast of characters. John may be able to help you; I adore him! John is a bear-like truck driver who probably knows a little bit about himself since his vehicle is named Grizzly. In one vignette, a giant had to compress himself into the passenger seat of a little car, a gesture that was both humorous and touching. He had eight balls on the gearshift and lacked fingers on his right hand. The tenderness of a person who has reached enormous growth. In addition to empty energy drink cans labeled “Life” that he chugs, he has secrets rattling about in his vehicle and is in love with the voice on the CB radio.

As you dip and rise through this game like a cosmic sewing needle, you keep running into John. You play many characters, but they all have the same goal in mind: to reach that boundary. John almost killed me the first time I met him. The second football game we ever played. Well, a little map reading on the third occasion. The majority of the game consists of multiple-choice dialogues as you explore the surroundings, move the camera, and converse with the person you were paired with this time. If you’re quick, you may be able to get an energy bar or some spare cash. To break things up, there are also amusingly corny mini-games. But mostly, as more of the tale becomes clear to you and as your luck changes on this specific run, you ask questions and listen to replies.

Not everyone can match John’s greatness. It is scarcely fair to say that. A policeman, some other runaways, some silly people, and something much more sinister are there. Every time you see them, you’re in a different body and they’re in distinct parts of the same narrative. What you know at any one time and what the character you’re acting as knows create an intriguing unresolved conflict. In this way, Road 96 seems like a time-loop game even though it isn’t one. Actually, Hal Hartley’s Cloud Atlas is a better description of how it feels.

It’s entertaining and never boring. Dazzle is the foundation of character development; it’s wide yet has a tendency to blend one trait with another in every person you encounter, creating an intriguing conflict that becomes clearer with time. A terrifying person may be a fairly humorous guy. The humorous personalities have a sad side as well. Guilt makes a harsh person vulnerable. It’s effective: a sprightly surface-level approach to depth, I suppose, appropriate for an eight-hour game. Most Petrians are precisely two, assuming the classic Fitzgerald comment about how every American is a dozen distinct individuals is accurate.

You’ll see plenty of the border throughout the whole game, so I won’t give anything away. The different storylines disappear in between runs, and the game takes on a much more traditional gameplay style. Every character you’ve seen during the journey has a completion meter, and you can view the permanent enhancements you’ve amassed—these may enable you pick locks, hack objects, or even hit it fortunate while trash diving, for example. It’s basically about having new discussion possibilities, I suppose, which is what some of these enhancements provide. The way the game sometimes displays things is funny: characters that represent percentages, a map of the region that doubles as a completion meter and a web.

To be honest, I really enjoyed Road 96 from the beginning to the end—my finish, which is probably not yours. At the beginning, I loved it for its abundance of possibilities; by the end, I loved it for its complex web, its cartoonish characters and occasionally silly animations, its depiction of the South West akin to Road Runner, its sporadic procedural mucking, and its refusal to truly represent the 1990s as anything more than a veneer slapped on current political issues. This is a game with a few missing fingers and a nice heart, much like John.

One last point. I’ve discovered, rather by accident, that Road 96’s intricate network of connections and exchanges provides a beautiful illustration of how many of us acquire knowledge. While reading Joe Moran’s First You Write a Sentence again this week, I was attempting to recall a line about sickness by poet Ian Hamilton Finlay. (“Illness is a sort of exile from the everyday”), but wouldn’t “The smaller the country, the larger the stamps” be more appropriate for Road 96? Just now, after lunch, Finlay was once again in the park, reading a book on pebbles when he made the tiniest of cameo cameos, calling Jim Ede’s Cambridge home “the Louvre of the pebble”.

I slightly raised my head. Even if they are fake, those completion meters capture what I believe is true: we learn by chance—by running into things we don’t expect to, by reading about things we think we are reading about somewhere else, or by hearing things over the disorganized static of a switched channel. The world is made up of fragments. Moreover, a few parts fit together.


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