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    dkirschner's Road 96 (PC)

    [June 25, 2023 02:10:06 PM]
    Really neat narrative adventure game. It's like a road trip simulator and reminded me of something like a hybrid between 80 Days and a Telltale adventure, except in a pretty unique setting. I say "pretty unique" because the game is set in an authoritarian country with an upcoming contentious election, and it's clearly meant to evoke the current conservative/liberal polarization. The incumbent, a conservative white man, President "Tyrak" (who cannot think of "tyrant" here?), whose campaign color is red (Republican) vs. the liberal, Hispanic (I'm assuming--Florres) woman whose campaign color is blue (Democrat). The police and the media are all pro-Tyrak. Police are caricatured as violent assholes, except the one we get to see with some depth. Tyrak has established a border wall, has a state media outlet, is drilling everywhere for oil, and sends runaway teens who try to cross the border to work in the iron mines. Less is known about Florres' policies, just that character insist she'll make things better. There is a resistance movement, who is not necessarily associated with Florres, especially the more violent wing of it, but it can be assumed that this is the case. The backdrop certainly serves to villify conservatives as authoritarian and cruel and paints liberals as democratic, kind, and oppressed, while taking care to draw a line between "regular" liberals and "extreme" liberals who might be terrorists. It doesn't give such treatment to conservatives, who of course may also be moderate or extreme.

    Anyway, you play as a series of nameless teenagers who are trying to cross the border. One by one, you guide them north by car, bus, and foot. You have to manage their energy and money; if you don't you'll be too broke to pay when you need to and you can actually die by exhaustion/starvation. Along the way, you'll meet a series of story NPCs with each teen and uncover their complicated backstories and web of relationships. Without giving anything away, there is the aforementioned "good cop," a trucker, another runaway, a hacker, a cab driver, a pair of robbers, and a news broadcaster (my favorite).

    I was intrigued by both the narrative uncertainty of what would come next, of who I was going to meet and what I would learn about them, as well as the gameplay uncertainty of whether I would find food, be able to afford what I needed, and ultimately, whether I'd be able to make it to the border. And if a teen makes it to the border, crossing the border is another story. Not all your teens will make it across. In fact, I made it on my first try (before I understood what the game was doing) and thought, "Wow, I beat this game in an hour? Weird." I proceeded to get arrested or die on nearly every other attempt!

    The game says that "every road trip is unique" and talks about procedurally generated routes, so I gather that you'll encounter the NPCs in various orders and scenarios. However, there is an overarching series of events that unfolds regardless of the procedural generation. Your dialogue choices affect outcomes of scenarios, when and how story NPCs will encounter one another, as well as the ending of the game itself, though it wasn't clear to me that my choices were affecting anything outside of immediate scenarios as I was playing. After each of your teens dies, is arrested, or makes it across the border, you'll see a news report mentioning something that happened on your journey and a current political poll. The entire time, the poll was roughly 2/3 Tyrak and 1/3 Florres (along with like 20-30% "abstaining," which totals to like 125% of the vote, and I have no idea if the developers overlooked the math here, or if it's a joke or what can't have 65% Tyrak, 35% Florres, and 25% abstain...).

    Because I wasn't really sure what the impact of my actions was, especially in the beginning before I understood much about the NPCs and their relationships, and before I suspected how I might be influencing things, I initially didn't play in an ideologically consistent way. You can generally choose important dialogue choices that signal you as a revolutionary (burn it down and rebuild!), a pro-democracy person (vote for change!), or an opportunist (as long as I get out, I don't care what happens!). Though it makes sense not to be ideologically consistent between trips because you are playing as different teenagers. But you, the player, probably have a perspective, and it does make sense to influence the story how you want; therefore, you might play all the teens in the same way. I ended up trying to play a hybrid of the revolutionary and pro-democracy person, and actually wound up with the "good" ending, which is the democratic one.

    There is a new game+ feature, which carries over how much of each NPC's story you have completed (I was about 85% complete on average) and your abilities (each NPC can gift you an ability like lockpicking or new dialogue options for speaking to police; I got four of six). I started new game+, which opened with a new scenario for one of the NPCs, and I was thinking, "Oh, neat, I can just play until I 100% all the NPCs' stories!" But then the next scenario was one I had played in my first run, and I realized that it must repeat scenarios from game to game, even in new game+. I might watch the rest of their stories on YouTube, because they are fun and interesting.
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    dkirschner's Road 96 (PC)

    Current Status: Finished playing

    GameLog started on: Saturday 24 June, 2023

    GameLog closed on: Sunday 25 June, 2023

    dkirschner's opinion and rating for this game

    Dunno what to expect. Road trip with political themes? How interactive will it be? -------- Quite interactive! Really neat narrative structure.

    Rating (out of 5):starstarstarstarstar

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