Heya Hiya! This is Adam KuveNiemann partnering up with Kreenpananas Gaming to take a look at Road 96: Mile 0. This new release from Digixart is a prequel to their 2021 game, Road 96. The original sits at 79 on Metacritic, and thrusts you into a road trip to escape an oppressive governmental entity. The newest installment explores the decisions that lead to that classic act of rebellion: running away from home.
As someone who has not yet played Road 96, I wanted to see how the prequel stood on its own. Let’s kick it in gear and see how far this game can take us.
So, what is Road 96: Mile 0 all about? This story is set in a fictional dystopian police state that approaches its heavy subject matter with an air of quirkiness and defiant angst. You follow two teenage protagonists from different backgrounds who dream of change.
As a player, you alternate between two worlds of gameplay: a very inventive and visually engaging rhythm-action style game and a fairly straightforward world-exploring point-and-click where your choices “matter.” But do they? Before discussing any shortcomings, it’s worth highlighting some positive aspects of the game.
What was successful about this game? First of all, those rhythm-action segments are the highlights of this piece in my mind. These sequences explore specific narrative ideas as if thrown into a psychedelic dreamscape. The protagonist avoids obstacles while skating along to original songs that pay homage to classic punk rock songs from the 90s. The controls can be shaky, especially with the camera constantly changing perspectives in a way that looks very cool but is not particularly fun to play. However, I was excited by the next-level visuals thrown in there. The tracklist for Mile 0 and the accompanying visual extravaganza are the easy standouts of the game.
I also appreciated what Mile 0 is going for in terms of tone. At times the lightly satirical piece seems like an approximation of the randomness of games like Psychonauts. However, ultimately any saving grace of this game could not overcome its setbacks.
Inventive as the rhythm sections of this Mile 0 are, they are stitched together by equally uninventive exploration stages. In these scenes, you walk around areas like the City Square with limited options for interaction. Mostly, you can choose to talk to strangers on the street or interact with objects (mostly posters) and decide to vandalize or repair them. Whichever you choose leads to text that indicates there are consequences to your actions. (Bum bum bum!!) However, those consequences are not particularly felt by the player.
These choices lead to multiple endings, much like the original Road 96, however, your decisions do little to affect any gameplay or story before that ending point. So the constant drone of consequences to your actions ultimately feels like an empty threat that grows emptier and emptier as you go along. It reminds one of those feelings as a teenager when
a parent tells you not to do something but refuses to reprimand you further. At a certain point, I was just testing boundaries. I started tearing down every poster I could find in order to max out my anti-authoritarian bar and to see what happened next. From what I discovered: very little.
I’ll note that I was playing on the PlayStation 4, and the options for dialogue, vandalism, and pretty much everything were unnecessarily hard to highlight using the controller's thumbstick. Clearly, this was designed with a PC user in mind, but I’m just trying to select the dialogue option to move forward. Why so finicky??
Perhaps the reason the choices felt so inconsequential resides in a disconnect between the characters (who feel every conflict) and the player (who feels none of it). At least... this player didn't. The game’s portrayal of its fictional government felt so obviously fascistic and on-the-nose oppressive that it made no sense for me to make choices that supported their small-scale regime–even if one of the main characters is related to the despot in charge.
So, what happens when a character is conflicted over a choice (“Should I listen to my father?”), but the player is not (“Obviously not! Get it together, Zoe!”)? Largely it leads to a disconnect between the story and the audience. The game ends up feeling overly simplistic, like it’s talking down to you and telling you what to think rather than experiencing those thoughts organically.
After making it through about half the story in three hours of gameplay, the game struggled to keep me compelled with either its gameplay or its story for much longer.
With failings in gameplay that hold the game back from being particularly fun to play, Road 96: Mile 0 instead chooses to highlight its story. However, because this game’s approach to storytelling ends up mired in unambiguous ideas of “right” and “wrong,” there’s not much to hold it up beside a quirky tone, an homage to the days of teenage rebellion, and some genuinely impressive rhythm game sequences. Basically playing through those trippy “music videos” were fun, but not enough to keep me engaged in the game. (But hey, if you felt otherwise, let me know in the comments!)
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Road 96: Mile 0
Developed by Digixart
Published by Digixart & Ravenscourt
Now available on: Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
Adam KuveNiemann (he/him) is an actor, gamer, and papa based in the Bay Area. He likes nerdy stuff, funny stuff, and getting way too invested in trivialities. Adam is also co-host of the podcast “Green Eggs… and Man?” where he over-analyzes the Dr. Seuss bedtime classic one-page-per-episode to ensure there aren’t hidden demonic messages being sent to his child (spoiler alert: there are). Learn more at www.AdamKuveNiemann.com or at www.coolwebsite.pizza (a real website that he actually pays for)